Brescia Castle

Castle in Brescia

Brescia Castle
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Marco Assini

The castle of Brescia (called the Falcone of Italy) is a fortress built in the Middle Ages and perched on the Cidneo hill , in close to the historic center of the city of Brescia.

The first settlements on the Cidneo date back to the Bronze Age , 9th century BC , but the first real construction was a small temple dedicated to the Celtic god Bergimus . The real reorganization of the hill is to be attributed to the Romans who at the end of the 1st century BC inserted the perimeter within the city walls. Also by the Romans, in the 1st century AD a monumental temple was erected which must have corresponded almost perfectly to the dimensions of the keepvisconteo: the ancient retaining walls and the foundations of the staircase within this area can still be seen today. With the passing of the centuries and with the advent of Christianity , the Cidneo area increasingly assumed the role of a sacred area: an early Christian martyrium was built, then replaced by a large basilica, demolished in the 18th century after the explosion of a powder keg , which had severely damaged her. Today only one of the two façade towers remains of the basilica, known as the Mirabella tower, probably built in turn on a scalar tower from the Roman era.

During the early Middle Ages news regarding the area became increasingly rare, but from the year one thousand onwards they continued to increase, even if there is no exhaustive information regarding the fortifications built. Between 1237 and 1254 the enlargement of the walls was carried out which gave Brescia the appearance that would have characterized it until the end of the 19th century . In this period the area was dotted with walls from the Roman age and rich in religious buildings, and numerous markets and fairs were held there. During the Visconti domination , massive restructuring works were carried out on the city defenses: in 1337there is the birth of the Cittadella Nova, a wall that starting from the castle incorporated within it the buildings of the ecclesiastical and civil power of the city, or the area of ​​the Broletto and the Duomi, which at the time were the Old Cathedral and the early Christian basilica of San Pietro de Dom . The only evidence of this extensive restructuring work that has come down to the present day is the Keep  , intended as the residence of the garrison captain with rooms decorated with polychrome bands and geometric and floral motifs, only partially preserved.

At the same time, the keep was also surrounded by a defensive system consisting of six towers, covered passages and perhaps drawbridges. The Strada del Soccorso was traced, then enlarged in the sixteenth century , an escape route to the north, often used by the adversaries in the following centuries (see later).

In 1426 Brescia passed under the dominion of the Republic of Venice , which immediately took care to renovate the city fortifications hard hit during the war against the Milanese, resulting in a complete overhaul of the city walls in 1466 which were lowered and surrounded with embankments and moats. The castle was only marginally affected by these changes and the only works of arrangement concerned the towers that were changed from a square to a circular plan: of these only a tower of the northern perimeter has survived. In 1509the French army defeated the Venetian one and took possession of Brescia and its castle. During the period of domination beyond the Alps, new works were undertaken to enlarge and reinforce the walls but were never completed; However, the monastery of San Martino paid for it and was demolished to make way for the walls that should have been built in its place. It was precisely in this period that Brescia went through its darkest period, disputed between the French masters and the Venetians who were trying to reconquer it. The maritime republic took the city back in 1512 , at the cost of many deaths and enormous sacrifices, with the tragedy culminating on February 19, when the city was soldiers from almost every political party, from the French (who used the Strada del Soccorso to enter the fortress) to the Gascons, from the Germans to the Swiss, including Cremona and Mantua.

Modern Age
In the second half of the sixteenth century , with the return of the Venetians and the stabilization of the government, further improvements were made to fill the defects that emerged during the war, such as the expansion of the aforementioned Strada del Soccorso. After heated discussions on the possibility of creating a new wall towards the front facing the city, also as a result of tensions with Spain which ruled the Duchy of Milan, in 1588 the project to build the bastion walls was approved: therefore the bulwarks of San Pietro, San Marco, San Faustino and della Pusterla were built. The fortress was also equipped with buildings for the storage of supplies (the Small and the Big Mile), ovens, barracks, religious buildings, cisterns and powder magazines. Due to the displacement of the conflict line with Milan on the Adda and the consequent concentration of defensive efforts on Bergamo, the strategic function of the castle ends in this period, which history will never want to be involved in any war activity again, starting a slow decline of the structure. Subsequently only the defense system was strengthened with many fire stations, but for a long time the castle did not receive any major modernization.

Under the new French dominion the castle did not undergo improvements and was used as a prison and barracks: the same fate would befall it shortly after under the Austrian dominion . Despite this, the Cidneo was still an excellent point of defense and attack. In 1849 during the city revolt of the Ten Days of Bresciathe Brescia population rose up against the Austrian garrison following the refusal of payment for the lack of support for the Imperial Royal government during the first war of independence (unlike other cities, in Brescia there were no previous blatant uprisings, small riots and requests for civic guards, gatherings and formations of pro-independence groups led by Zanardelli but no revolt and the removal of the troops from the city took place peacefully, which is why the Brescians did not intend to pay). Part of the duration of the uprising is due to the fact that the Mazzinian guide did not believe the rumor coming from the countryside that the Piedmontese had lost in Novara, prompting the approximately one thousand active fighting citizens to continue in the resistance.Mantua . After ten days of fighting the city was reconquered by the Austro-Hungarian troops, thanks to the support brought by General Julius Jacob von Haynau , who entered the fortress using the Via del Soccorso.

Contemporary Age

After the second Italian war of independence , in 1859, the Brescia castle returned to being used as a simple military prison. Shortly after the municipality bought the hill and the restoration work was started, which slowly led to the military distortion of the fortress making it much more similar to the place it is today, that is, a leisure center and venue for public events in Brescia. In 1904 , on the initiative of Dominatore Mainetti , president of the Brescia Chamber of Commerce, and Federico Bettoni Cazzago , mayor of the city, the Brescia Industrial Exhibition was organized within it, an economic event of the highest importance, inaugurated personally by King Vittorio Emanuele . III . For the occasion, important folklore shows and various sports competitions were organized and some temporary pavilions were created to host the exhibition. The castle was covered with an interesting provisional Art Nouveau cladding, under the direction of the engineer Egidio Dabbeni , and was connected to Corso Zanardelli by an electric tramway.

In August 1909 it was the site of another exhibition, dedicated to electricity, and organized by the ASM Brescia which, a few weeks earlier, had been entrusted with the production and distribution of electricity in the city.

After this last exhibition, the castle was recovered as a public area on the initiative of the council of the mayor Girolamo Orefici . It became the seat of the local Museum of the Risorgimento, housed in the halls of the Grande Miglio, and of the Museum of natural sciences  to which the zoological garden was soon annexed . The area outside the ramparts became an urban park.

Today the castle houses the Museum of the Risorgimento , the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum , containing armor and weapons from the medieval period, the Specola Cidnea and two large railway models.

It is possible to visit the internal and hidden environments of the fortress thanks to guided tours by the Brescia speleological association , which for years has conducted explorations of passages and ducts, bringing to light forgotten paths.

For anyone arriving in Brescia , from any direction, the imposing stony mass of the Castle marks the panoramic profile of the city. The fortification complex, occupying an area of ​​about 300×250 meters, is one of the largest in Italy , and completely covers the Cidneo hill . Having never had a specific function as a feudal castle, nor as a noble residence, it is immediately evident how the fortress, well integrated into the city context, is richer in religious and military buildings rather than residential and executive structures in the strict sense. of the term.

The castle is accessed via an imposing sixteenth- century monumental portal , attributed to Giulio Savorgnan and built on the inspiration of the military architecture of Michele Sanmicheli , adorned with a large Lion of San Marco and the coats of arms of the Venetian rectors. On the sides you can admire the ramparts of San Faustino (left) and San Marco (right). Crossing the entrance, following the path to the right, you reach the bastion of San Pietro, also meeting a sixteenth-century well to which two stone lions by sculptor Domenico Ghidoni were affixed in 1890. Following the path on the left, however, you first notice the bell tower of the former sanctuary of Santo Stefano Nuovo, then skirt the Haynau building, so called because from here, in 1849 , the Habsburg marshal Julius Jacob von Haynau directed the military operations against the Brescia insurrection. On the large square above the San Faustino bastion there is a characteristic steam locomotive, one of the symbols of the Castle, which at the beginning of the twentieth centuryit carried out the Brescia-Edolo route. On the right, near the long building of the officers, there is the entrance to the Soccorso road. Beyond, you will find the buildings of the Piccolo Miglio, now an exhibition venue, and the Grande Miglio, where the Museum of the Risorgimento is housed. Here is also the entrance to the covered passage that leads to the fifteenth-century Coltrina tower.

Going up the ramp you reach the fourteenth-century wall with an entrance equipped with a double drawbridge: on the right rises the tower of the Prisoners. Proceeding to the left, you go along the keep, inside whose wall you can still see traces of Ghibelline battlements. Finally, we reach the northern gardens, with the top of the Coltrina tower on the left, the Martyrs’ pit in the center (where in 1945 some members of the Resistance were shot) and, on the right, the tower of the French. From the fourteenth-century drawbridge, otherwise, you can reach the top of the fortress with the square of the Mirabella Tower, where you also have access to the keep that houses the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum. Inside, moreover, the remains of the foundations of the Roman temple are visible.

The Brescia Castle appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Brescia!

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Visiting Brescia Castle



Address: Castle of Brescia, Via del Castello, Brescia, Province of Brescia, Italy
Duration: 20 minutes

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