The Castles of Bellinzona are a group of fortifications located around the town of Bellinzona. Situated on the Alpine foothills, the group is composed of fortified walls and three castles named CastelgrandeMontebello and Sasso Corbaro. The Castles of Bellinzona with their defensive walls have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

Montebello Castle is located to the east of the town center. It was built before 1313 for the pro-Imperial Rusca family, who occupied the castle following the Visconti victory and occupation of Castelgrande. By the end of the 14th century it was in the hands of the Visconti. The castle was renovated and expanded between 1462 and 1490 to its current state. In the 19th century the castle fell into disrepair and was renovated starting in 1903.

Unlike Castelgrande, Montebello was not protected by natural features. It is surrounded by deep moats that protected the walls. The complex is rhomboid in shape and connected to the city walls on the south and north. The castle clearly shows the three stages of construction, with the original central keep surrounded by the 14th century walls which are in turn surrounded by the 15th century walls.

The inner keep dates from before 1313 and is an irregular rectangle. It appears that the battlemented tower with a hip roof on the north-east side of the keep is an incorrect reconstruction from 1903. Prints from the 17th century show a four-story building with a roof sloped toward the interior of the keep. The keep was built with a high, strong outer wall with living quarters and utility buildings along the inner wall. The original entrance is located high on the western wall and can only be reached by climbing an external flight of stairs. The well in the inner eastern bailey may be from the original castle.

The 14th century wall was partly included in the later 15th century wall, but some original sections can still be seen. The 14th century gateway is supported by a projecting gatehouse, though the inner and outer drawbridges are modern reproductions.

The 15th century wall is located 715 m from the original complex, with a moat on the east side and a rounded arch in the south-east side. It includes some parts of the 14th century wall. An arrowhead shaped barbican was added to the east of the moat and was protected by another moat and machicolated battlements on the north side. On the south side a gate, equipped with murder-hole, was added during this expansion.

A little chapel, dedicated to Saint Michael, leans against the wall of the more recent south-facing section; built around 1600, it is one of the few buildings erected in the castles of Bellinzona under the rule of the three Swiss cantons.

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Founded: 14th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in Switzerland

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Emilia de Groote (12 months ago)
Beautiful and amazing castle with views to the city and all the surroundings. Very well maintained and easy to access. It's a lovely panorama for tourists and for locals too.
Jürgen Rudigier (12 months ago)
Wonderful castle with a great view over the whole valley. The castle was in a great condition and you really can imagine the mid age. The short but steep way up was a great workout after the yummy “italian” food in the city.
Hrishikesh Sinkar (12 months ago)
Amazing castle definitely goto. I did a castle hike thoroughly enjoyed it
Jayashrita Debnath (12 months ago)
Beautiful castle with one of the best views of castle grande and Bellinzona city. There are a few stairs that one has to climb reach there and the entrance was initially difficult to find. But eventually, the view was all worth it. When we went there ( September and December) the museums were closed.
Shona Aitken (13 months ago)
My favourite of the 3 Bellinzona castles to visit. It's got a great view of Castelgrande, and has one of those "Grand Tour of Switzerland" shields that people like taking their photos with.
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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.