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Rocca Maggiore in Assisi, Umbria

Italy &…Castles

Italy is truly an incredible country on many different levels and with an abundance of places to visit, from vibrant cities to picturesque small towns, every traveler can find feasts for the eyes and palate. The country also has a great number of medieval castles that are fascinating to visit, covering the span of the Italian peninsula from north to south. The Italian castles are among the most beautiful castles in Europe.

We begin with the Aragonese Castle located on the island of Ischia in the Campania region. The medieval castle is perched on a volcanic rock that is now linked to the Island of Ischia by a rock causeway. Originally it was a separate island, with its first fortress built during the fifth century BC. The ancient walls, churches and the ramparts of Ischia Castle were built primarily between the 14th and 17th centuries. They blend perfectly with the islet’s dark rock face. Seemingly cocooned in time, visitors explore the 16th century cathedral, frescoed catacombs and the dungeons of Bourbons, but best of all, once you are done touring the extensive castle, you will cross the causeway and find yourself back in beautiful Ischia.

In the Vento region, visitors describe the magnificent Scaliger Castle of Malcesine, overlooking the Veronese side of Lake Garda, as one of the most beautiful castles in Italy. Much of the castle was built in the early 17th century by the Republic of Venice. It was built on a fortress from the 12th century by House of Scaligeri, the former Lords of Verona. From the castle tower you will enjoy a 360-degree view of the lake. During its history, it has belonged to various noble families, but now the castle is a national monument and is open to the public. Today, the castle hosts the Museum of Natural History of Lake Garda and Mount Baldo.

Dating as far back as the 13th century, Scaligero Castle has long been an inspiration to artists and is another spot that visitors should not miss when visiting Lake Garda. Located in the Province of Brescia on the banks of the lake in the town of Sirmione, it is a fairytale setting along one of Italy’s most iconic lakes. The castle stands at a strategic place at the entrance to the peninsula, surrounded by a moat and it can only be entered by two drawbridges. Within the castle grounds you will find little coves and streets to explore, with cobbled medieval turrets that make a visit all the more memorable. It regularly ranks among the top 30 most popular locations to visit in Italy.

While many of the castles featured here are beautiful, Rocchetta Mattei, located on the outskirts of the Metropolitan City of Bologna, is included as one of Italy’s strangest castle. From the outside, the looming fortress looks like it was created by a half dozen designers, none of whom spoke to one another, but was the creation of the remarkably eccentric Count Cesare Mattei, who was best known for his homeopathic plant-based cures. Since the 13th century, there has been a fortress sitting on the scenic hilltop in the northern Apennines where the Rocchetta Mattei now stands. Mixing Gothic, Romanesque, Moorish, Renaissance and numerous other styles, the castle’s layout is seemingly arbitrary and a labyrinth of interconnected rooms. After Mattei’s death in 1896, it was donated to the City of Bologna, which declined the gift! It has been restored during the past 20 years and is now open by appointment on weekends.

Sforza Castle, in the center of Milan is one of the best castles in Italy to explore. Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, he employed numerous artists to decorate the castle, including Leonardo da Vinci, who frescoed several rooms. The castle was enlarged during the next two centuries, becoming one of the largest citadels in Europe. It now houses ten of the city’s museums and art collections. Its Biblioteca Trivulziana holds one of Leonardo’s manuscripts, the Codex Trivulzianus. Amazingly, in 2012, previously unknown paintings by Caravaggio were discovered in the enormous castle.

Boccale Castle is an imposing one perched atop a steep cliff on the Tuscan coast, known as the Cala dei Pirati, or Den of Pirates. Set amid the wild landscape of the rocky coast that surrounds it, the castle is one of the many historic fortifications and watchtowers that dot the coast road south of Livorno. Originally built in the 16th century by order of the Medici family, the castle was transformed into a residence in the late 19th century. It is not possible to enter the building, but in spite of this, Castello del Boccale can be enjoyed from a distance, making the surrounding scenery all the more beautiful and intriguing.

Trieste in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia is truly one of the most beautiful and amazing cities in Italy and is has become one of the trendiest destinations in country. The Castle of Miramare is a relatively recent addition. It was built in 1856 by Archduke Maximilian, who later became Emperor of Mexico. He much preferred Trieste. He had fallen in love with the area and built a marvelous castle in which to live with his wife, the Empress Carlotta. It mixes various architectural styles, such as Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic, but unlike Rocchetta Mattei, the result of Miramare is both harmonious and beautiful. The castle is sited on the Gulf of Trieste, surrounded by 54 acres of botanical gardens that the Emperor himself had a hand in designing.

Odescalchi Castle is located on the southern shore of Lake Bracciano, about 20 miles north of Rome. Built in the 15th century, it combined the functions of a military defensive structure with a palatial interior, as was befitting the Papal families of the powerful House of Orsini and the notorious Borgias. It is one of the largest and best-maintained castles in Italy and has frequently made the society papers, hosting numerous celebrity weddings. The historical museum within the castle premises has valuable artwork from the Middle Ages, with paintings, frescoes and decorations, as well as manuscripts, furniture and ancient weapons.

Castello di Fénis is the most famous castles in Aosta Valley of northwestern Italy. With its many towers and battlemented walls, the castle has become one of the major tourist attractions of the region. Its origins date back to the mid-13th century and has maintained its present form since 1420. Restored over the course of the last century, the castle is now a museum. Despite its impressive defensive structure, the castle was not built for military purposes, but to serve as a prestigious residence.

Finally, Rocca Maggiore in Assisi, Umbria, dates from the 12th century and for centuries was the main defensive structure of the area. The castle’s towers offer beautiful and charming panoramas of the valley and countryside below, while the various halls within host reconstructed themes inspired by medieval life.

Make sure to keep these locations in mind when you prepare your itinerary and discover the most beautiful castles and fortresses of Italy.