Medieval castles in Aosta Valley

Chenal Castle

Chenal Castle was built probably in the 13th century and had a rectangular floor plan. It belonged to the lords of Montjovet and only later became property of the Challant family, following the marriage between Ebalo the Great and Alexie of Chenal: in this way the two houses could control the passages along the road between Chenal and the Montjovet castle. The castle is nowdays in ruins.
Founded: 13th century | Location: Montjovet, Italy

Champorcher Tower

As the Bard Fortress, Champorcher Castle also belonged to the powerful Lords of Bard, until the fratricidal war between William and Hugo in 1212. Little is known of this early building: we know that it was burned down by order of Hugo of Bard, which might suggest that it was constructed mostly of wood, like many buildings in the late Middle Ages. It was probably reconstructed in the same century, and definitely before 127 ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Champorcher, Italy

Saint Germain Castle

Saint Germain castle in Montjovet played an important part in the history of Val d’Aosta. Few traces remain of its original structure and its construction date is not known for certain. At the end of the 13th century, the Savoy became the owners, replacing the Montjovet family. As already happened in Bard, in this case too, the pretext was provided by the abuse of power that Feidino Montjovet acted on villagers and wa ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Montjovet, Italy

La Tour de Villa Castle

Originally, La Tour de Villa castle was comprised almost entirely of the central tower. The restoration works did not re-build the western part and the northern part, leaving instead a beautiful court yard with views over the plain. Today, the complex is made up of two well-distinct parts: one part is the 12th century tower and the other inhabited part is a semi-circular structure which dates back to the 15th century. T ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Gressan, Italy

Arnad Upper Castle

The upper castle of Arnad is mentioned first time in a papal letter in 1207, but there is no information about its origins or first owners. It was probably built by Saverio di Arnad in the late 12th or early 13th century. The next owners, Vallaise family, lived in the castle throughout the 14th century. Due to the inadequacy of the structure and the lost military function, the castle was abandoned in the 15th century. T ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Arnad, Italy

Nus Castle

The Nus castle stands above the same name village on a rocky projection, which dominates the entrance to the valley of Saint-Barthélemy. According to available documentation, the building can be traced at least as far back as the end of the 13th century, although the quadrangular turret, which collapsed at the start of the 20th century, and which stood in the eastern sector of the castle, can be compared to the towers e ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Nus, Italy

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.