Representing a clearly visible symbol of power, San Vigilio Castle has been the residence of Bergamo’s numerous rulers for centuries. It is located 496 meters above the sea level, on top of the hill that gives it its name, overlooking the Città Alta: that’s why it used to have a strategic role in case of attacks. The circle plan of the building resembles a star, featuring the four towers called Castagneta, Belvedere, Del Ponte and San Vigilio. Its basements are very tortuous: a tunnel (accessible in part) was also found, connecting the castle directly to the northern side of the hills fortification, inside the San Marco Fortress.
The first news about a fortification on the Hill dates back to the 6th century AD, even if we can’t rule out the presence some previous Roman buildings. In 889, the future king of Italy Arnolfo di Carinzia decided to conquer it, sending away the religious community inhabiting it since the VI Century, which had built a small fortress called Castello della Cappella (Chapel’s Castle), dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene.The structure thus became a strategic military post, to the extent that in 1166 Bergamo Town Council decided to build a bigger castle. Thanks to the work of Milan’s Duchy in the XIV Century and mostly of the Republic of Venice in The XV century, San Vigilio Castle underwent further enlargements and reinforcements. Many changes were carried out, including the four fortified towers provided with casemates and embrasures connected one another by a defensive wall and a protection moat.
During the XVI century the castle endured numerous sieges by the French and the Spanish. Therefore, a massive defensive wall was built, while the central medieval tower was demolished in order to let more garrisons get in; besides, the castled was equipped with the soldiers’ accommodations and the castellan’s house.
In the end of the XIX century, the castle begun to be seen as touristic attraction: the entire historical complex was purchased by the Soregaroli family to open a restaurant. It was a kind of premonition, as today the San Vigilio hill, with its two fancy restaurants, is considered one of the best places to have a romantic dinner. The San Vigilio funicular, established in 1912 to connect the hill to Sant’Alessandro Gate, also enhances the charming atmosphere
Later, the castle was bought by Bergamo’s Municipality and opened to the public in 1962, while the funicular (closed since 1976) was reactivated in 1991.
Currently the secret passage linking the San Marco Fortress with the castle can be visited, thanks to the activity of a speleological group called “Le Nottole”, which arranges guided tours on request.References:
The Château de Foix dominates the town of Foix. An important tourist site, it is known as a centre of the Cathars. Built on an older 7th-century fortification, the castle is known from 987. In 1002, it was mentioned in the will of Roger I, Count of Carcassonne, who bequeathed the fortress to his youngest child, Bernard. In effect, the family ruling over the region were installed here which allowed them to control access to the upper Ariège valley and to keep surveillance from this strategic point over the lower land, protected behind impregnable walls.
In 1034, the castle became capital of the County of Foix and played a decisive role in medieval military history. During the two following centuries, the castle was home to Counts with shining personalities who became the soul of the Occitan resistance during the crusade against the Albigensians. The county became a privileged refuge for persecuted Cathars.
The castle, often besieged (notably by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and 1212), resisted assault and was only taken once, in 1486, thanks to treachery during the war between two branches of the Foix family.
From the 14th century, the Counts of Foix spent less and less time in the uncomfortable castle, preferring the Governors' Palace. From 1479, the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre and the last of them, made Henri IV of France, annexed his Pyrrenean lands to France.
As seat of the Governor of the Foix region from the 15th century, the castle continued to ensure the defence of the area, notably during the Wars of Religion. Alone of all the castles in the region, it was exempted from the destruction orders of Richelieu (1632-1638).
Until the Revolution, the fortress remained a garrison. Its life was brightened with grand receptions for its governors, including the Count of Tréville, captain of musketeers under Louis XIII and Marshal Philippe Henri de Ségur, one of Louis XVI's ministers. The Round Tower, built in the 15th century, is the most recent, the two square towers having been built before the 11th century. They served as a political and civil prison for four centuries until 1862.
Since 1930, the castle has housed the collections of the Ariège départemental museum. Sections on prehistory, Gallo-Roman and mediaeval archaeology tell the history of Ariège from ancient times. Currently, the museum is rearranging exhibits to concentrate on the history of the castle site so as to recreate the life of Foix at the time of the Counts.