This is an excerpt from the book “Aosta Valley Itineraries”.
Valle d’Aosta Castles in the Lower Valley
Valle d’Aosta is famous for its medieval castles, first of all the Castles of Fenis, Issogne and Verres.
Numerous castles are widespread on the entire regional territory, some of them splendidly conserved, they offer a complete panoramic of the medieval military architecture. From the massive tours of the year 1000, to the primitive castles of XII-XIII sec., to the complex fortifications of sec. XIII-XIV, up to the refined residences of beginning of 1500, Valle d’Aosta allows you to travel through time in the middle ages, following the evolution of the military techniques, the economic, historic and cultural changes.
The landscape is furrow, rugged and undulating and many of the hills in the Valley are crowned with castles that were constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries. They feature tall towers, each visible to another, so that the series of castles represented an efficient lookout and signaling system that stretched several hundred of miles from Turin to Martigny, in France.
A message was transmitted with flags during the day and with fire during the night, and it took only three hours for it to go from one city to the other.
Interesting and unusual is the visit to Forte di Bard, which opened to the public from 15 January 2006. It is a perfect example of military architecture of the 1800 in the Alps.
In Valle d’Aosta there are about 150 medieval buildings, including castles, tours and fortified houses. Historical, political and geographic reasons made the region the center of important commercial routes, which brought wealth to the local noble families, allowing them to realize high artistic level buildings.
It is exactly in this period that we have the best masterworks, artistic – civil and religious – of the Valle d’Aosta.
Today you can visit the inside of the castles of Fenis, Issogne, Ussel (Chatillon), Sarriod de la Tour (Saint-Pierre), Sarre and the Castel Savoia di Gressoney.
The Forte di Bard is an important fortification from the Savoia family, rebuilt between 1830 and 1838, after the destruction operated by the powerful Napoleon army in 1800, when it resisted for 15 days. The complex, designed by the military engineer Francesco Antonio Olivero, is made up by several independent parts, able to guarantee the reciprocal defense.
The Forte has been the subject of an important restructuring and valorization. More than 3.600 square meters are devoted to permanent of temporary exhibitions. In the upper structure, called Opera Carlo Alberto, is located the important Museo delle Alpi.
The gigantic complex houses reception structures, including an hotel de charme, a restaurant and a cafeteria.
The medieval Borgo has always been connected to the history of the Fort, as it developed among the old roman road, that is also the subject of a recent restoration.
The Fenis Castle, rightfully the most notorious among the Valle d’Aosta Castles, is one of the major examples of military and civil architecture of sec. XIV e XV. The structure, extremely complex, is the result of several interventions, made mainly from the XIII to the XV sec., by one of the most important families of the area: the Challant.
In Issogne, what from the external seems to be a simple palace, has inside a splendid mansion, miraculously preserved in its aspect of sec. 1500. The castle, built on a site used since roman era, has ancient origins: already in XII sec. there is documentation of a tower belonging to the bishop of Aosta. Very meaningful are the frescoes representing scenes of ordinary life in the middle ages.
The Saint-Pierre Castle, very suggestive for its position on top of a hill, near the parochial church, has the Museo regionale di scienze naturali. (Regional Museum of natural science)
The Ussel Castle (Chatillon), first example of mono-block castle in Valle d’Aosta, is used for temporary exhibitions. It was donated to the Valle d’Aosta Region by the baron Marcel Bich, the founder and owner of the BIC company.
Other medieval castles, sometimes equally interesting but waiting for a proper valorization, are located also in Avise, Arvier, Morgex, Arnad, Pont-Saint-Martin, Etroubles, Saint-Rhemy-en-Bosses, Saint-Marcel while primitive towers and small guard towers are located over the entire regional territory.
Courtesy of Donato Arcaro, touristic and naturalistic guide