Over the last month we have visited two fortresses: the 13th-16th- c. castle of the famiglia della Corgna at Castiglione del Lago, on the west side of Lake Trasimeno, and the largely 14th-15th-c. Rocca Maggiore that perches above Assisi. In both cases, the boys enjoyed climbing up the towers and skittering through some of the very long tunnels that connect parts of the respective complexes. Both fortifications are also connected to Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (himself born just east, near Ancona), who was baptized at Assisi and spent his early years in that castle, and who ordered the construction of the castle at Castiglione del Lago just a few years before his death.
The narrow, weaving tunnel at Castiglione del Lago runs for 169 meters along the north side of the rocky outcrop that dominates the Lake. Equipped with arrow/rifle slits, it monitors and protects the grounds just outside the core circuit and keep. The corridor connects to the brilliantly-frescoed Palazzo del Comune, which sits at the east edge of a medieval town which stretches further west to the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena and the edge of the 13th-c. city walls.
With its rather thin plastered walls and short wooden roof topped with tiles, the corridor does not seem terribly stout, but it was probably as useful in keeping outsiders from seeing what was happening inside as it was in keeping them out. I’ve not found any record of a siege there.
The family who expanded the castle was headed by Ascanio della Corgna, who was a renowned swordsman, governor, architect, and fought against the Turks during the Great Siege of Malta (1565) and (as a general) at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, events depicted in the frescoes of the palazzo. He died shortly after that last adventure, and his body rests just down the street from us in Perugia at the Chiesa di San Francesco al Prato. As a fierce man of battle and a steadfast patron of culture, he in many ways embodies the Japanese concept of uruwashi. Above is a fresco of the climactic moment of his famous duel with the Florentine Gianetto Taddei (recently re-enacted in the town; Corgna in red):
Castiglione del Lago is a beautiful town with the customary speciality food shops so common in Umbria, and the view from the castle at sunset is more than worth the climb:
The massive fortress above Assisi is a incongruous reminder of struggles for earthly power which nevertheless does not put into shade the marvelous structures of religion and culture in the town below:
The castle affords magnificent vistas over the river valley below and Mt. Subasio behind:
Its forward polygonal tower is a landmark for miles around, and is connected to the keep via a covered passageway, this time of thick mortared stone, with arrow-slits pointing towards down the steep slope to the north. It is about 108 meters in length:
We were fortunate for the weather; this must have been a miserable wind-tunnel in wintertime.
It is hard to fault the views, however:
Below the fortress on the north slope and in the river valley below is the Bosco di San Francesco (featured in the ‘Fashion Boys’ post), a nature preserve and art trail, featuring a work of landscape art by Michelangelo Pistoletto entitled “Terzo Paradiso.”
Three tangent circles made up of 121 olive trees, overseen by a medieval tower, focus on a stainless metal pole which elevates the work above the ground, acts as an antenna toward the sky (and a sundial back towards earth), and along with the artificial arrangement of the trees, marks and integrates a human presence in the natural landscape.