Perched on majestic mountains, immersed in fairy-tale landscapes or lapped by waters… Italian castles , so different from each other, tell us stories that are long gone, on the border between reality and legend . Let yourself be led between crenellated walls, towers, curiosities and ancient characters.

10 – Rocca Calascio, Calascio (Abruzzo)

Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo

Photo by Ra Boe. Inside the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park , at 1460 m, stands the Rocca di Calascio, in the province of L’Aquila. The imposing medieval structure, entirely built in white stone, is one of the highest in Italy . Perched in the mountains, it overlooks the ancient village below, now uninhabited. Its undoubted charm has made it a perfect set for several films, including the unforgettable ” Lady Hawke ” and ” The Name of the Rose “, but also the more recent ” The American ” with George Clooney.

9 – Marostica Castle, Marostica (Veneto)

Castle of Marostica, Veneto

Photo by Alessandro Vecchi. In reality there are two castles, Superiore and Inferiore, joined by a wall about 1800 meters long. In the pretty town of Vicenza, four gates along the walls allow access to the historic center characterized by the unmissable Piazza degli Scacchi . Every two years a real game is played here with living characters in costume . Opposite the Lower Castle and the Piazza stands the Doglione, also known as Rocca di Mezzo, once a customs post.

8 – Aragonese Castle, Ischia (Campania)

Aragonese castle of Ischia, Campania

It stands on an islet and is connected by a masonry bridge to the ancient Borgo di Celsa , known today as Ischia Ponte. Thanks to Alfonso V of Aragon, access to the castle is possible through a tunnel dug into the rock. Before then it could only be accessed by sea. The tunnel, 400 meters long, is illuminated by high skylights which at the time also served as “leakholes” from which boiling oil, stones and other materials were thrown on any enemies. In this castle, in 1952, some scenes of the film ” The corsair of the green island ” with Burt Lancaster were filmed.

7 – Castel dell’Ovo, Naples (Campania)

Castel dell'Ovo, Campania

It is the oldest castle in the city of Naples and, not surprisingly, it is one of the prominent elements in the famous panorama of its gulf. It no longer has its original appearance due to various reconstructions over the centuries. Its curious name derives from an ancient legend : the Latin poet Virgil, also considered a magician in the Middle Ages, hid an egg in the dungeons with the ability to keep the entire fortress standing. Its breakage would have caused not only the collapse of the castle, but also a series of disastrous catastrophes for the city of Naples. During the 14th century, the castle suffered extensive damage. To prevent panic from spreading among the people, the queen had to swear that she had replaced the egg.

6 – Scaliger Castle, Sirmione (Lombardy)

Scaliger Castle of Sirmione

One of the most complete and best preserved castles in Italy. It is a rare example of a lake fortification . The castle is bathed on all sides by the waters of Lake Garda. On one side there is the dock, once a refuge for the Scaliger fleet. The walls and the three major towers have dovetail battlements. Behind the latter emerges the imposing keep, with the cells intended for prisoners below. It is possible to access the walkways and even reach the top of the latter, as well as enjoy the splendor of the dock. A sad love legend has it that on stormy nights Ebengardo’s soul wanders through the castle in search of his Arice…

5 – Castel del Monte, Andria (Apulia)

Castel del Monte, Apulia

Surely it is one of the most mysterious in Italy . Castel del Monte is a 13th century building built by Emperor Frederick II, in today’s Municipality of Andria, on a hill at 540 m. It has an octagonal plan with an octagonal turret on each corner. No moat or military architectural element, it does not reside in a strategic position, it has narrow spiral staircases that are decidedly uncomfortable for defense and escape functions, loopholes that are too narrow to shoot arrows, no stables. It was certainly built according to precise mathematical-astronomical geometries as well as taking into account numerous symbolisms .

But is it really a castle? According to a recent hypothesis, it could be a place for body care on the model of the Arab hammam. In fact, it has multiple and ingenious water canalization and collection systems, cisterns and the oldest bathrooms in history . It also has a particular shape as well as an obligatory internal path. Its unusual shape also seems to recall that of a crown.  

4 – Castle of Fénis, Fénis (Val d’Aosta)

Fénis Castle, Val d'Aosta

A scenographic structure: its position on a gentle hill and its elegant crenellated walls lead us to think of an almost fairytale-like, rather than defensive, representation function. It is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Italy .

Masks with an apotropaic function (that is, useful for chasing away evil influences) on the walls, a fresco depicting St. George killing the dragon, the courtyard with a series of wise men drawn (one different from the other) holding parchments with proverbs and moral maxims in Old French, the surrounding nature… it all brings back legendary lives from a distant bygone era. Cinematographic curiosities : various scenes of ” Fracchia against Dracula ” and of the television miniseries ” The Black Arrow ” were filmed in the castle . 

3 – Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome (Lazio)

Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, Lazio

It stands on the right bank of the Tiber, a short distance from the Vatican to which it is connected thanks to a fortified corridor. Modified several times, many rooms were used as a prison. The most infamous cell was the one called Sammalò: the condemned was lowered into it from above and, due to the limited space, he could not stand or lie down. Some cells were reserved for politicians and still others for important personalities. The “dungeons” were escape-proof. There was a luxury cell , reserved only for prisoners of a certain value. The name of the castle derives from the vision of Pope Gregory the Great: Archangel Michael sheathing his sword. This vision was interpreted as an omen of the imminent end of the plague, which actually happened. To commemorate the event, a statue of an angel crowns the building. Some curiosities : Puccini set the last act of ” Tosca ” here; the castle is one of the settings of Dan Brown ‘s ” Angels and Demons “; appears in the video game ” Assassin’s Creed “.

2 – Castello Sforzesco, Milan (Lombardy)

Sforza Castle in Milan

It is one of the main symbols of Milan and its history. It was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, on the remains of a previous fortification. Over the centuries it has undergone considerable transformations. It is one of the largest castles in Europe . The outermost wall of fortifications, called “Ghirlanda”, is the oldest part. The four corners are made up of towers, each oriented according to one of the cardinal points. They have two different shapes: South and East cylindrical, North and West square. The entire perimeter is still surrounded by the ancient moat, which is no longer flooded. The Torre del Filarete, the tallest and most central, is the main entrance. The rear facade is the oldest and here is the so-called Ponticella di Ludovico il Moro: a bridge structure that connected the ducal apartments to the external walls which have now disappeared. Ludovico was locked up in his rooms due to the mourning caused by the loss of his beloved wife Beatrice d’Este, then called for this reason ” Salette Nere “.

1 – Miramare Castle, Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia)

Miramare Castle, Friuli Venezia Giulia

The Italian castle par excellence to feel like princes and princesses for a day! Surrounded by a luxuriant park, it towers over the sea , majestically observing the Gulf of Trieste. A prestigious building with an enchanting view! It was built by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg to share it with his wife Charlotte of Belgium. Definitely a gesture of a true gentleman of the past! A luxurious noble residence that has kept its precious original furnishings . In the park there is also the Castelletto : a smaller building which served as a temporary residence for the couple during the construction of the castle. The only drawback: the very sad love story of the fairy-tale couple. Carlotta lost her reason after the killing of her husband in Mexico and the splendid castle and the romantic Castelletto became the sad scenario of the unhappy fate which did not allow them to enjoy this wonderful home.

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