Stone fortresses perched atop rocky hilltops, crenellated towers, majestic palaces and romantic ruins – Italy’s cities and countryside are rife with castles testifying to its turbulent history. The range of castles, towers, battlements and ramparts date as far back as pre-Roman times, many having been restored to their original glory. Children and adults alike will thrill to the discoveries that castle adventures offer.
The impressive Castello Sforzesco, located in the center of Milan, dates back to the 14th century when it was the home of the powerful Sforza dukes who ruled Lombardy. Over time, the castle passed to foreign conquerors and went from palace to impregnable fortress. Today, the castle is Milan’s major art center, housing seven museums, including ancient and Renaissance art, musical instruments, and furniture. The castle is an architectural masterpiece where visitors can easily spend a day just admiring the castle grounds, the restored architectural details and the gardens before venturing into these fascinating museums.
In the heart of ancient Verona lies the imposing Castelvecchio, with its city walls intact. The castle museum houses medieval sculpture and works by Veronese artists as well as weapons. Kids will love the walk across the Adige River on the fortified Ponte Scaligero, used as an escape route in medieval times.
Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo has a colorful 1800 year history. With its dark past, it is one of Rome’s favorite landmarks for locals and visitors alike. Originally built in 135AD by the Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself, this perfectly round structure was later incorporated into the city’s walls. In medieval times, Vatican popes turned Castel Sant’Angelo into their personal fortress, connecting it to the Vatican by a hidden tunnel. Later still, the castle became a fort and then a prison, before finally housing today’s museum, replete with the building’s history.
When traveling through the Chianti region, Monteriggioni, originally a fortified bastion later turned into a walled community, was built by the city of Siena to protect itself from Florence. It sits high atop a rocky crag, its walls and towers facing Florence and impregnably intact to this day.
Among the famous castles in Italy’s countryside, Castle Churburg in south Tyrol tops the list. Situated high in the mountains in an alpine setting, it is home for the last 500 years to the Trapp family, made famous by the musical “The Sound of Music”. This lavish 13th century castle features well preserved rooms and arcades, and houses the world’s oldest armor, as well as a massive collection of arms and armors.
In Italy’s south, Emperor Fredrick II built impressive castles, the most famous of these perhaps being Castel Del Monte in Puglia. Built in 1240, the castle features classic, gothic and Arab elements in a unique octagonal construction, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg) in Naples is steeped in legend. Jutting out into the Bay of Naples, the castle is an imposing fortress built on the ruins of a Roman stronghold. Legend has it that Virgil hid an egg within a secret chamber of the castle, and as long as the egg remained intact, Naples was to be safe.
The majestic castles of Italy, the fortified bastions, imposing battlements and crenellated structures, some restored to their former beauty and others still occupied by their original families, offer a glimpse into Italy’s stormy history of battles and conquests. Both young and old will love exploring these testaments to military might.
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