Europe abounds with castles, palaces and fortresses. Italy has its fair share with every region boasting at least one of note. Italy News Online picks its top 10 castles in Italy, from Veneto to Sicily.
From top to toe, Italy is peppered with outstanding castles dating from Roman times to the 19th century. Italian castles have been built as fortresses as well as purely residential properties. They incorporate medieval military, Gothic, Renaissance and Byzantine architecture.
Our top 10 castles in Italy cover the length of the country, from the oldest to the one ceebrated by the writer Dante.
Italy’s Oldest Castle – Castel Sant Ángelo, Rome
Built between 123 and 139 AD, Castel Sant’Angelo in the centre of Rome is a fortress and castle originally constructed as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The popes converted the structure into a castle, beginning in the 14th century.
Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St Peter’s Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V’s Landsknechte during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Nowadays Castel Sant’Angelo is a museum.
Castello Sforzesco, Milan
The Castello Sforzesco is a medieval fortification in Milan. Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, it stands on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Extensively rebuilt by Luca Beltrami in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.
Fortress of Guaita, San Marino
Located in the microstate of San Marino within Italy’s boundaries is the Guaita Tower. One of three which dominate the small country’s skyline and appear on the national flag, it is the oldest, built in the 11th century. It also served briefly as a prison. UNESCO registered it as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
Castello di Miramare, Trieste
Built from 1856 to 1860 for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium, Castello di Miramare is based on a design by Carl Junker. According to tradition, when the archduke was caught in a sudden storm in the Gulf, he took shelter in the little harbour of Grignano just outside Trieste and chose that bare rocky spur as the setting for his home.
The castle’s grounds include an extensive cliff and seashore park of 22 hectares (54 acres) designed by the archduke.
Castello Aragonese, Ischia
The castle dominates the volcanic rocky islet on which it stands. Built by Hiero I of Syracuse in 474 BC, he added two towers at the same time to control enemy fleets’ movements.
In 1441, Alfonso V of Aragon connected the rock to the island with a stone bridge instead of the prior wood bridge (ponte aragonese) and fortified the walls in order to defend the inhabitants against the raids of pirates.
Castello di Caccamo, Sicily
The Castello di Caccamo is among the largest and best-preserved Norman castles in Sicily, and one of the largest in Italy. Built on a steep cliff, some 500 metres above sea level, it overlooks the San Leonardo River Valley, and the Rosmarina artificial lake.
It was here, in the Sala della Congiura, also known as the Conspiracy Hall, that in 1160, some Norman barons met to plot against William I of Sicily. The rebellion failed.
Castello di Fénis, Aosta Valley
The castle is in the town of Fénis about 13 km from the city of Aosta. 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.
Whilst it looks like a fortress, it was in fact not built for military purposes, but to serve as a prestigious residence for the Challant family.
The Scaligero Castle is a fortress from the Scaliger era, access point to the historical centre of Sirmione, on Lake Garda. It’s one of Italy’s best-preserved castles and a wonderful example of a lake fortress. The internal basin is once again filled with water, showing the fortress at its best.
There’s also the rumour of a ghost. And no castle is complete without a phantom!
Castello del Buonconsiglio
Designed presominantly during the Italian Renaissance, Buonconsiglio Castle wasthe residence for prince-bishops until 1803. Later, Austria acquired it for use as military barracks and later as a jail. The castle fell into decay until the 1920s when Trento was returned to Italy. Spectacular frescoes and a beautiful Venetian loggia overlook the city. The inner courtyard is an excellent example of Italian Renaissance architecture. The castle now houses the Provincial Gallery of Art.
Castello Gradara, Marche
The region of Marche in central Italy is home to Gradara Castle. A medieval fortress dating back to around the 12th century, it was added to up until the 15th century. The wonderfully preserved castle appears in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. It has a 30-meter tall keep which is protected by two walls; the outermost stretches for nearly 800 meters.