Aosta Valley is famous for its medieval castles, first of all the Castles of Fénis, Issogne and Verrès. Numerous castles are widespread on the entire regional territory, some of them splendidly conserved, they offer a complete panoramic of the medieval military architecture. From the massive tours of the year 1000, to the primitive castles of XII-XIII sec., to the complex fortifications of sec. XIII-XIV, up to the refined residences of beginning of 1500, Aosta Valley allows you to travel through time in the middle ages, following the evolution of the military techniques, the economic, historic and cultural changes.
The landscape is furrow, rugged and undulating and many of the hills in the Valley are crowned with castles that were constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries. They feature tall towers, each visible to another, so that the series of castles represented an efficient lookout and signaling system that stretched several hundred of miles from Torino to Martigny, in France. A message was transmitted with flags during the day and with fire during the night, and it took only three hours for it to go from one city to the other.
Interesting and unusual is the visit to Forte di Bard, which opened to the public from 15 January 2006. It is a perfect example of military architecture of the 1800 in the Alps.
In Aosta Valley there are about 150 medieval buildings, including castles, tours and fortified houses. Historical, political and geographic reasons made the region the center of important commercial routes, which brought wealth to the local noble families, allowing them to realize high artistic level buildings. It is exactly in this period that we have the best masterworks, artistic - civil and religious - of the Aosta Valley.
Today you can visit the inside of the castles of Fénis, Issogne, Verrès, Ussel (Chatillon), Sarriod de la Tour (Saint-Pierre), Sarre and the Castel Savoia di Gressoney.
The Fenis Castle, rightfully the most notorious among the Aosta Valley Castles, is one of the major examples of military and civil architecture of sec. XIV e XV. The structure, extremely complex, is the result of several interventions, made mainly from the XIII to the XV sec., by one of the most important families of the area: the Challant.
In Issogne, what from the external seems to be a simple palace, has inside a splendid mansion, miraculously preserved in its aspect of sec. 1500. The castle, built on a site used since roman era, has ancient origins: already in XII sec. there is documentation of a tower belonging to the bishop of Aosta. Very meaningful are the frescoes representing scenes of ordinary life in the middle ages.
The Saint-Pierre Castle, very suggestive for its position on top of a hill, near the parochial church, has the Museo regionale di scienze naturali. (Regional Museum of natural science)
The Ussel Castle (Chatillon), first example of mono-block castle in Aosta Valley, is used for temporary exhibitions. It was donated to the Aosta Valley Region by the barone Marcel Bich, the founder and owner of the BIC company.
The Sarre Castle, of ancient origins, was chosen by the king Vittorio Emanuele II as "pied à terre" for his hunting in Aosta Valley. It was transformed by the son Umberto I, who prepared the famous horn room, and was visited frequently by the prince Umberto II and his wife Maria José. It remained a residence of the Savoia until their exile.
The Sarriod de la Tour Castle in Saint-Pierre was reopened to the public in 2003. It is an interesting complex castle, transformed and enlarged several times during the ages. Around an old donjon surrounded by walls there are other buildings and towers which constitute a very suggestive ensemble. Not to miss during the visit are the chapel from '200, with frescoes, the viret (stairs) from '400 and the famous heads room, interesting in special mode for the 171 wood mensole that support the wooden ceiling. These artifacts were sculpted in the second quarter of XV sec., they anticipate the themes and the wooden style of the Cattedrale and of Sant'Orso. There are fantastic or grotesque figures.
The Cly Castle, that was owned by the Challant family, presents a primitive typology. The wide walls occupies the whole top of a hill that dominates the central valley over Chambave, that was already frequented during ancient ages. The donjon (dated 1027 from dendrocronologic exams) is surrounded by a romanic chapel and by some living quarters and cellars. In 1376 it passed under the direct control of the Savoia who instituted a castellania until 1550. Abandoned for centuries and reduced mostly in ruins, it is nonetheless very interesting to reconstruct the interactions with the territory and the communities.
It is owned by the town of Saint-Denis, it is open for guided visits only during the summer period.
Among the other castles that cannot be visited inside, and are the subject of restoration works are worth mentioning the Castles of Quart and Aymavilles.
The castles of Saint Germain and Chenal (Montjovet), Chatel Argent (Villeneuve), Graines (Brusson, Val d'Ayas), Villa (Challant-Saint-Victor, Val d'Ayas), Montmayeur (Avise), Chatelard (La Salle) merit a visit even if part of the old structures are in ruin. They were built for strategic reasons on elevated sites, difficult to reach, and they are for this reason sites with very nice panoramic views.
The Castles of Introd, Nus, Saint-Christophe and Chatillon are private residences still inhabited by their owners.
The Roman walls of Aosta have a lot of towers, that were transformed in medieval times in the residence of various local nobles. Important are the Tour de la Trinité, which belonged to the Signori di Porta Sant'Orso (later Signori di Quart), realized on one of the tower near the Porta Praetoria, and the Torre dei balivi, built on top of an old roman tower in the northern corner of the town. The castle Bramafam was very important, it was built near the southern port of Augusta Praetoria, and it was the place of the Visconti of the city who got later the name Challant from one of their numerous feuds.
The Castel Savoia di Gressoney, even if has medieval style, was finished only in the year 1904. Queen Margherita wanted it because she loved very much this locality, and preferred it to the castle of Sarre, residence of the royal family in Aosta Valley.
Other medieval castles, sometimes equally interesting but waiting for a proper valorization, are located also in Avise, Arvier, Morgex, Arnad, Pont-Saint-Martin, Etroubles, Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses, Saint-Marcel while torri primitive towers and small guard towers are located over the entire regional territory.
The Forte di Bard is an important fortification from the Savoia family, rebuilt between 1830 and 1838, after the destruction operated by the powerful Napoleon army in 1800, when it resisted for 15 days. The complex, designed by the military engineer Francesco Antonio Olivero, is made up by several independent parts, able to guarantee the reciprocal defense.
The Forte is the subject of an important restructuring and valorization and has been partially reopened to the public on 15 January 2006. More than 3.600 mq are devoted to permanent of temporary exhibitions. In the upper structure, called Opera Carlo Alberto, is located the important Museo delle Alpi . The gigantic complex will soon house reception structures, including an hotel de charme, a restaurant and a cafeteria.
The medieval Borgo has always been connected to the history of the Fort, as it developed among the old roman road, that is also the subject of a recent restoration.
This text is a translation of the original page in www.naturaosta.it/castelli
Courtesy of E. Massetti TangoItalia - Food Wine Travel in Italy - Home