Castles and fortifications in Italy

Castel Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant'Angelo is a towering cylindrical castle, initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. The castle was once the tallest building in Rome. The tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian was erected on the right bank of the Tiber, between 134 and 139 AD. Originally the mausoleum was a d ...
Founded: 134-139 | Location: Rome, Italy

Vernazza Castle

Vernazza Castle was built in the 15th century as a lookout tower to protect the village from pirates. It"s now largely a ruin except for the circular tower in the centre of the esplanade. 
Founded: 15th century | Location: Vernazza, Italy

Torre dei Conti

The Torre dei Conti was one of the most impressive towers that dominated medieval Rome. It was built in 1238 by Richard Conti, brother of Pope Innocent III as a fortified residence for his family, the Conti di Segni. The tower stood on the border of the territory of the rival family of the Frangipani. Currently standing at 29 metres, it was once 50–60 m tall, and gained the nickname of Torre Maggiore (Major Tower) for ...
Founded: 1238 | Location: Rome, Italy

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Extensively rebuilt by Luca Beltrami in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city"s museums and art collections. History The original construction was ordered by local lord ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Milan, Italy

Riomaggiore Castle

The Castle of Riomaggiore was built in the 13th century by order of Marquis Turcotti, lord of Ripalta, and it is one of the most important historical edifices in Cinque Terre. Indeed, the construction works were initiated by the marquis in 1260, but they were completed by the Genovese, after a period during which the property passed to Nicolo Fieschi. Back then, the Republic of Genoa was interested in strengthening the ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Riomaggiore, Italy

Sirmione Castle

Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a stai ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Sirmione, Italy

Castel Sant'Elmo

Castel Sant"Elmo is a medieval fortress located on a hilltop near the Certosa di San Martino, overlooking Naples. Documents date a structure at the site from 1275, from the era of Charles d"Anjou. Known originally as Belforte, it was likely a fortified residence, surrounded by walls, its entrance gate marked by two turrets. In 1329, using designs by the Sienese architect Tino da Camaino, king Robert of N ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Naples, Italy

Palazzo Corvaja

Palazzo Corvaja is a medieval palace in Taormina, dating from the 10th century. The origins of the palazzo incorporate an early Arab fortress, which in turn was constructed on Roman foundations. It was subsequently added to over various periods up until the 15th century. Its main body is an Islamic-style tower, and it has an inner courtyard where the Islamic influence can be seen in the arched windows and doorways. A 13th ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Taormina, Italy

Castelvecchio

Castelvecchio ('Old Castle') is the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty that ruled the city in the Middle Ages. The castle stands on the probable location of a Roman fortress outside the Roman city. Lord Cangrande II della Scala had it built along with its bridge across the Adige River as a deterrent to his powerful neighbors such as Venice, the Gonzaga and the Sforza families. Construction was ca ...
Founded: 1354 | Location: Verona, Italy

Dragonara Castle

According to some historical sources, Dragonara Castle was built in the first half of the 13th century. In the second half of the 14th century, the castle, to ensure the safety of the fishing village of Camogli, was repeatedly reinforced, receiving the necessary weapons from the Republic of Genoa. In the 14th century, the Dragonara Castle was attacked several times. Well documented are the assaults made by Gian Galeazzo ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Camogli, Italy

Porta Nuova

Porta Nuova is a monumental city gate of Palermo. It represents the entrance of the Cassaro (the main and most ancient street of the city) from Corso Calatafimi (the way to Monreale) and is located beside Palazzo dei Normanni, royal palace of Palermo. According to the historian Tommaso Fazello the original gate was built in the 15th century. After the Charles V"s conquest of Tunis, the Emperor came to Sicily. He ent ...
Founded: 1535-1584 | Location: Palermo, Italy

Porta Soprana

Porta Soprana is the best-known gate of the ancient walls of Genoa. After major restorations carried out between the 19th and 20th centuries, it has regained the appearance it supposedly had at the time of the construction of the so-called Barbarossa walls (1150 ca.).
Founded: c. 1150 | Location: Genoa, Italy

Visconti-Sforza Castle

The Visconti-Sforza Castle is a Middle Age castle located in the centre of the city of Vigevano, Lombardy.  Luchino Visconti, Lord of Milan and ruler of Vigevano since 1337, began to transform the existing fortification into a local residence for his family. The construction was continued by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, first Duke of Milan, and completed by his heirs, Ludovico il Moro and his grandchild Gian Galeazzo Sforza. ...
Founded: c. 1337 | Location: Vigevano, Italy

Porta dei Vacca

The monumental Porta dei Vacca gate was one of three built from 1155 as part of a defensive wall system. It"s characteristic circular towers are shared by the other surviving gate, Porta Soprana.
Founded: 1155 | Location: Genoa, Italy

Castel Nuovo

The building of the Castel Nuovo began in 1279 under the reign of Charles I of Anjou, on the basis of a plan by the French architect Pierre de Chaule. The strategic position of the new castle gave it the characteristics not only of a royal residence, but also those of a fortress. From the very beginning it was called Castrum Novum to distinguish it from the older castles dell"Ovo and Capuano. During the reign of R ...
Founded: 1279 | Location: Naples, Italy

Castel dell'Ovo

Castel dell"Ovo (Egg Castle) is located on the former island of Megaride, now a peninsula, on the Gulf of Naples. The castle"s name comes from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil, who had a reputation in the Middle Ages as a great sorcerer and predictor of the future. In the legend, Virgil put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. Had this egg been broken, the castle wou ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Naples, Italy

Doria Castle

The Doria Castle of Portovenere is a proper example of Genoese military architecture, even though it has undergone some structural modifications due to the progress of fortifications and firearms. When you first glance at Castello Doria, it looks like one solid piece. But it actually consists of two distinct parts positioned at different levels and enclosed in large Cyclopean walls. The exact date of construction of the ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Porto Venere, Italy

Rocca Castle

Rocca, a medieval castle with quadrangular bastions bounded by a canal with drawbridge, was built in 1124. It was the fortress of the noble family Scaligeri, who became the Lords of Verona. It was rebuilt several times and it was used by the Austrians as barracks in the 18th century. It is frequently the seat of cultural activities, especially during the summer months. It hosts the Civic Museum and of the Picture Gallery.
Founded: 1124 | Location: Riva del Garda, Italy

Porta San Paolo

The Porta San Paolo is one of the southern gates in the 3rd-century Aurelian Walls of Rome. The Via Ostiense Museum is housed within the gatehouse. The original name of the gate was Porta Ostiensis, because it was located of the beginning of via Ostiense, the road that connected Rome and Ostia where functioned as its main gate. Via Ostiense was an important arterial road, as evidenced by the fact that upon entering t ...
Founded: 3rd century AD | Location: Rome, Italy

Udine Castle

The Udine castle hill is made of drift accumulating during centuries. However, a legend about its origin says that when Attila the Hun (also called the Scourge of God) plundered Aquileia (one of the biggest cities of the Roman Empire at that time) in the year 452, he asked his soldiers to build a hill to see the Aquileia burning. This was made by filling the helmet of each soldier with ground. The first official statemen ...
Founded: 1511 | Location: Udine, Italy

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Les Invalides

Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building"s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l"Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d"Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France"s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards. Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and the chapel was finished in 1679 to Bruant"s designs after the elder architect"s death.

Shortly after the veterans" chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. Inspired by St. Peter"s Basilica in Rome, the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honour. It was finished in 1708.

Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840. In December 1894 the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was held before the main building, while his subsequent rehabilitation ceremony took place in a courtyard of the complex in 1906.

The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d"artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the Historical Museum of the Armies in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l"armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.