Fénis Castle

Fénis, Italy

Fénis Castle is one of the most famous castles in Aosta Valley, and for its architecture and its many towers and battlemented walls has become one of the major tourist attractions of the region.

The castle first appears in a document in 1242 as a property of the Viscounts of Aosta, the Challant family. At that time it probably was a simple keep surrounded by walls. From 1320 to 1420, under the lordship of Aymon of Challant and of his son Boniface I of Challant, the castle was expanded to the actual appearance.

Under Aymon's lordship the castle got its pentagonal layout, the external boundary wall and many of the towers. In 1392 Boniface of Challant began a second building campaign to build the staircase and the balconies in the inner courtyard and the prison. He also commissioned Piedmontese painter Giacomo Jaquerio to paint frescoes on the chapel and on the inner courtyard. Under Boniface I the castle reached its greatest splendor: it was a rich court surrounded by a vegetable plot, a vineyard and a garden where the lord and his guests could relax.

The castle belonged to the lords of Challant until 1716, when Georges-François of Challant had to sell it to Count Baldassarre Castellar of Saluzzo Paesana in order to pay his debts, and for the castle was the beginning of a period of decline. It was turned into a rural dwelling and became a stable and a barn.

In 1895 architect Alfredo d'Andrade purchased it and started a restoration campaign to secure the damaged structures. In 1935 a second campaign by De Vecchi and Mesturino completed the restoration and gave the castle the current appearance. The rooms were also provided with wood period furniture.

The castle is today owned by the Autonomous Region Aosta Valley, which turned it into a museum.

Architecture and interior

The keep has a pentagonal layout, with towers at the corners. It is surrounded by a double boundary wall with battlements and by a series of watchtowers linked by a walkway.

Despite its impressive defensive structure, the castle is situated at the top of a small knoll and not of a promontory or another inaccessible and easily defensible place. In fact it was not built for military purposes, but to serve as a prestigious residence for the Challant family.

The inner courtyard, at the centre of the keep, shows a semi-circular stone staircase and wood balconies. At the top of the staicase a 15th-century fresco features Saint Georgekilling the dragon, while the walls of the balconies are decorated with images of sages and prophets and proverbs in old French. The frescoes are attributed to a painter from the school of Jaquerio.

The interior of the castle is divided into three floors: on the ground floor it is possible to visit the weaponry, the kitchen, the woodshed and the storage tank to collect rainwater. On the first floor there were the rooms of the lords of the castle, the chapel with frescoes by Giacomo Jaquerio and his school and the court. The second floor, in the attic, was dedicated to the servant's quarter and is not visitable.

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Details

Founded: c. 1242
Category: Castles and fortifications in Italy

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Uzoma Uche (18 months ago)
Fénis castle is situated on the top of a small knoll unlike many other castles built for military and defense purposes. Despite its defense structure, its function was only to be the seat of the Challant family. Its design is robust but harmonious. Its pentagonal layout features corners with round towers. An exception is the south-west corner, which has a massive tower and the southern corner with a square-plan tower. The keep is enclosed in a double perimeter wall, with watchtowers linked by a walkway. The square tower offers access to the castle and the inner courtyard has a semicircular staircase and wooden balcony, decorated with exquisite frescoes.
Nigel Denning (2 years ago)
Total waste of time. You can only go at certain times, on guided tours only, and no English language option is offered. Italian only. Oh, and I waited an hour to find this out, having arrived at 12:54, to be told its closed for lunch from 13:00 to 14:00. On the plus side, it's nice looking from the outside, and if you do speak Italian, probably worth the €7 entry fee.
Francesca Filidei (2 years ago)
The first time I visited I was only 9 years old but I could still remember I loved it. After so many years I took my kids and it was as good as I remembered. They are running guided tours of about 1 hour, that make the visit even more interesting.
Tanya D (2 years ago)
It's a beautiful castle and our guided tour was full of interesting facts. Since the castle was in disrepair for many years, it doesn't have a lot of original interiors. But the surviving frescos are very nice.
Sandra (2 years ago)
The outside is the nicest part of the castle. We saw other castles in our live with more, nicer and more of original origin decor in the inside. Only the bedroom (on the picture) is nice. Furthermore, there was only an Italian tour, no English.
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