Medieval castles in South Tyrol

Hofburg

Prince Bishops of Brixen commissioned the construction of their fortified castle (called Hofburg) in Brixen in the 13th century. The following centuries brought about numerous revisions to the structure. Around 1600 the splendid renaissance-style interior courtyard was created and decorated with bronze-overlaid terracotta statues by Hans Reichle, the celebrated sculptor from Augsburg. During that same period, the meeting ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Brixen, Italy

Prince’s Castle

Sigismund, Archduke of Austria, had this modest castle (Landesfürstliche Burg) built in central location of Meran in the second half of the 15th century. He probably used this fortress behind the town hall as his private city residence. However, this ensemble of buildings rather resembles an artistically designed, solid building with low enclosure than a fully-developed castle. For this reason it is simply often referred ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Meran, Italy

Scena Castle

Scena castle, also called Castel Schenna, has first been documented in 1346, but this refers to a forerunner of the building. Only Petermann from Scena, burgrave from Tyrol and minion of Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, had the castle complex built in 1350, the way it appears today. In the years to follow the castle repeatedly changed hands. Among the famous owners there were the Lords of Starkenberg, the Counts of Lichtenst ...
Founded: c. 1350 | Location: Schenna, Italy

Branzoll Castle

Branzoll Castle was built around the year 1250 by the Lords of Sabiona. Between 1465 and 1671, it was the site of the Prince-Bishop"s court judge. In 1671, it was destroyed in a fire. In 1895, reconstruction began. While the castle-keep still contains parts of the former fortress, the residential tract is completely new. The view from the church square of the buildings on both sides and the castle looming over it all ...
Founded: 1250 | Location: Chiusa, Italy

Bruneck Castle

Bruneck (Brunico) Castle lies on the top of the hill that dominates Brunico, the city on the Rienza river. In the middle of the 13th century , the bishop of Bressanone, Bruno von Kirchberg, commissioned the building of the castle in order to protect his lands in the Val Pusteria, laying the foundations for the city of Brunico. The interiors of the castle host numerous emblems of the bishops who lived here: Albert von Enn ...
Founded: c. 1250 | Location: Brunico, Italy

Sigmundskron Castle

Sigmundskron Castle (Castel Firmiano) is an extensive castle and set of fortifications near Bolzano in South Tyrol. The first historical mention of the castle dates back to AD 945. In 1027 Emperor Conrad II transferred it to the Bishop of Trent. In the 12th century it was given to ministeriales, who from then on were named the Firmian family. Around 1473 the Prince of Tyrol, Duke Sigismund the Rich, bought the castle, r ...
Founded: 945 AD | Location: Bolzano, Italy

Tyrol Castle

Tyrol Castle was the ancestral seat of the Counts of Tyrol and gave the whole Tyrol region its name. The castle hill has been inhabited since ancient times. Several artefacts and one field of graves from the early Middle Ages have been identified. Archeologists have excavated a church with three apses dating from the early Christian period. The first castle was built before 1100. The second construction phase including ...
Founded: c. 1100 | Location: Tirolo, Italy

Maretsch Castle

Maretsch Castle (Castel Mareccio) is a picturesque 13th century castle surrounded by vineyards. The oldest tower of the castle has been built in 1194 by Berthold von Maretsch - according to documents he was a commissary of the Lords of Tyrol and lawyer in Bolzano. In the beginning there was only the massive donjon, which can still be seen today. In the 13th and 14th century different owners kept amplifying the castle com ...
Founded: 1194 | Location: Bolzano, Italy

Runkelstein Castle

Runkelstein Castle (Castel Roncolo) is a medieval fortification on a rocky spur near Bolzano. In 1237 Alderich Prince-Bishop of Trent gave the brothers Friedrich and Beral Lords of Wangen permission to construct a castle on the rock then called Runchenstayn. In 1274 it was damaged during a siege by Meinhard II of Tirol, who after winning the war against Heinrich Prince-Bishop of Trent, entrusted the castle to Gottschalk ...
Founded: 1237 | Location: Bolzano, Italy

Taufers Castle

Taufers Castle (Castel Tures) perfectly fits the scenery in which it is located, as the high mountains of the valley serve as background. In succession of “Castel Tobel” in 1100 AD, Taufers has been mentioned for the first time in 1225. In the first half of the 14th century the Lords of Taufers were in possession of the castle, but when the last member of the family died in 1349 the castle continually deteriorated. Th ...
Founded: 1225 | Location: Campo Tures, Italy

Juval Castle

Juval Castle (Italian Castel Juval) is located at the entrance of the Schnalstal valley. It derives its name from the Latin name of the mountain, Mons Jovis (mountain of Jupiter). The oldest account of the castle dates to 1278, when it was owned by Hugo of Montalban. It was probably constructed about thirty years before the first account referencing it. In 1368, it was acquired by the lords of Starkenberg, and in 1540, ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Castelbello-Ciardes, Italy

Hocheppan Castle

The Hocheppan Castle with its impressive donjon is located high above Missian, a district of Eppan on the wine route (officially Eppan an der Weinstraße). Until today, it ranks among the most important fortresses in Southern South Tyrol and has some surprises in store for art lovers, panorama fans and gourmets preferring proper meals. The castle in the environs of Eppan was built in 1130 and was, already at that time, o ...
Founded: 1130 | Location: Eppan, Italy

Velthurns Castle

Velthurns (Velturno) Castle was built by Cardinal Christof Madrutz and Bishop Johannes Spaur in Renaissance style between 1577 and 1587. It was used as summer residence of the archbishops of Bressanone (Brixen) until 1803. Once the castle was known for its deer garden, the fish pond and the huge aviary for birds, today the complex itself is a sight on its own. Worth mentioning is above all the St Catherine’s Chapel o ...
Founded: 1577-1587 | Location: Feldthurns, Italy

Boymont Castle

Boymont Castle ruins are famous for the panoramic view. It was built between 1220-1240 by the relative of the Count of Eppan. Especially in the 14th century the family Boymont played an important role. After them the Castel was in the hands of the Austrian Ulrich Kässler for a short period after he married the rich daughter Barbara of Boymont in 1413. In 1425 Castel Boymont was victim of arson and has not been rebuilt ...
Founded: 1220 | Location: Eppan, Italy

Prösels Castle

Prösels Castle (Castello di Presule) was first named in a document from 1279 and it is believed that the lords of Völs, feudatories of the Bishopric of Brixen, had built the castle here by 1200. Today the central palace with a Romanesque archway are surviving parts of this first fortress. In Italian it is sometimes called Castel Colonna, reflecting the fact that around the time of Leonhard II the Völs (Fiè) family st ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Presule, Italy

Churburg Castle

Churburg Castle (Castel Coira in Italian) is one of the best preserved castles of South Tyrol. In 1259 this building was mentioned for the first time under the name “Curberch” in a document of the archbishop Heinrich von Monfort, which had the castle built around 1250. However, already in 1297 the castle passed to the Lords of Mazia, which were in constant feud with the prince-bishopric of Chur. At the beginning of th ...
Founded: 1250 | Location: Sluderno, Italy

Schloss Thurn

Schloss Thurn (Ćiastel de Tor in Italian) is a  three-storey residential tower which was built by the attendants of the bishops of Bressanone in 1230. It has first been documented in 1290. In this context the Lords of Rodank-Schöneck were feuds of the building until 1331. In the years to follow the residential tower was amplified by a crenelated circular wall and a great hall. Also the tower was modified and two store ...
Founded: 1230 | Location: San Martino In Badia, Italy

Kastelbell Castle

Kastelbell castle was built by the lords of Montalban in the 12th century. The oldest document of castle dates back to 1238. The castle was extended from 1531 by the counts of Hendl. After fires in the 19th century it was left to decay, but restored in 1987-1995.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Castelbello, Italy

Welsberg Castle

Welsberg Castle (Castel Monguelfo in Italian) lies in a strategic position above Casies Valley. The castle was built in 1140 by the two brother Schwinkher and Otto von Welsberg. This latest wanted the overhanging upon his lands. For more than 800 years the castle had been property of the von Welsbergs, one of the mightiest families in Tyrol, who obtained the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1693 by the emperor ...
Founded: 1140 | Location: Welsberg-Taisten, Italy

Summersberg Castle

The oldest parts of the Summersberg castle is the round 'Witch Tower' dating from the 14th century. Extensions and additions were made between 15th and 18th centuries. From 1619 to 1828 Summersberg was owned by Counts of Wolkenstein. In 1880 Ignaz Vinzenz Zingerle bought the castle. The descendants of Zingerle still own the castle.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Gudon, Italy

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.