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 original Cochem Castle, perched prominently on a hill above the Moselle River, served to collect tolls from passing ships. Modern research dates its origins to around 1100. Before its destruction by the French in 1689, the castle had a long and fascinating history. It changed hands numerous times and, like most castles, also changed its form over the centuries.
In 1151 King Konrad III ended a dispute over who should inherit Cochem Castle by laying siege to it and taking possession of it himself. That same year it became an official Imperial Castle (Reichsburg) subject to imperial authority. In 1282 it was Habsburg King Rudolf’s turn, when he conquered the Reichsburg Cochem and took it over. But just 12 years later, in 1294, the newest owner, King Adolf of Nassau pawned the castle, the town of Cochem and the surrounding region in order to finance his coronation. Adolf’s successor, Albrecht I, was unable to redeem the pledge and was forced to grant the castle to the archbishop in nearby Trier and the Electorate of Trier, which then administered the Reichsburg continuously, except for a brief interruption when Trier’s Archbishop Balduin of Luxembourg had to pawn the castle to a countess. But he got it back a year later.
The Electorate of Trier and its nobility became wealthy and powerful in large part due to the income from Cochem Castle and the rights to shipping tolls on the Moselle. Not until 1419 did the castle and its tolls come under the administration of civil bailiffs (Amtsmänner). While under the control of the bishops and electors in Trier from the 14th to the 16th century, the castle was expanded several times.
In 1688 the French invaded the Rhine and Moselle regions of the Palatinate, which included Cochem and its castle. French troops conquered the Reichsburg and then laid waste not only to the castle but also to Cochem and most of the other surrounding towns in a scorched-earth campaign. Between that time and the Congress of Vienna, the Palatinate and Cochem went back and forth between France and Prussia. In 1815 the western Palatinate and Cochem finally became part of Prussia once and for all.
Louis Jacques Ravené (1823-1879) did not live to see the completion of his renovated castle, but it was completed by his son Louis Auguste Ravené (1866-1944). Louis Auguste was only two years old when construction work at the old ruins above Cochem began in 1868, but most of the new castle took shape from 1874 to 1877, based on designs by Berlin architects. After the death of his father in 1879, Louis Auguste supervised the final stages of construction, mostly involving work on the castle’s interior. The castle was finally completed in 1890. Louis Auguste, like his father, a lover of art, filled the castle with an extensive art collection, most of which was lost during the Second World War.
In 1942, during the Nazi years, Ravené was forced to sell the family castle to the Prussian Ministry of Justice, which turned it into a law school run by the Nazi government. Following the end of the war, the castle became the property of the new state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate). In 1978 the city of Cochem bought the castle for 664,000 marks.