When you look at the Brescia horizon, it’s easy to spot the big castle that stands on top of Cidneo Hill. Known as the Falcon of Italy, the Castle of Brescia is one of the largest and best preserved fortresses of Northern Italy and it was the first place Fotostrasse visited in Brescia during our days at Blogville Lombardy.
I remember the first thing I saw when we arrived in Brescia and it was this castle overlooking the city. Our plan was to visit the place and take pictures of everything and this is what we did. Even if you don’t mind history when you’re traveling, the Castle of Brescia might be interesting for you just because of the view overlooking the city as you’re going to see on the pictures below. But, first, let me explain some of the history here.
A little bit of history from Castle of Brescia
Originally the Cidneo Hill was the site of a Roman temple that, later, became a Christian church. Today you can see some of the remains of it on the tower know as Mirabella but don’t expect to go there and see roman ruins. Because of the view and the geography of the hill, a fort first appeared there during the Middle Ages. A few years ago, the powerful Visconti Family began expanding the fort by creating a circula fortress that could take care of everything on the valley below. This fortress was known as Mastio Visconteo.
During the 16th century, when Brescia was a part of the Venetian Republic, its massive bastions we added, together with its monumental gateway. On the drawbridge and the moat, you can still see the Venetian Lion carved in stone above the main gate that stood over the city for four centuries.
Based on the strategic position of the Castle of Brescia, you can imagined that it witnessed a lot of sieges between rival Italian Noble Families and the invading French troops. I don’t know much about the battles that this castle survived but I know that the last battle that took place there was against Austrian forces. This last battle took place during the Risorgimento and the Castle saw Brescia’s brave citizens getting their place in history by fighting Austrian army that took the Castle by force.
The locals lost but the battle was immortalised as the Leonessa d’Italia by the poet Aleardo Aleardi and, a few years later, by Noble Prize winner Giosuè Carducci. It is because of this battle, known as the Ten Days of Brescia, that the castle is now home to the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum with one of the richest collections of weaponry in Europe.
Now that you know the Castle of Brescia’s history, we can start talking about the castle itself.
As you can imagine, the Castle of Brescia got its nickname Falcon of Italy from its position of the summit of the hill, overlooking the city from above. With its more than 75.000 square meters, you can see the evolution of military techniques that made this castle almost impregnable over time. A perfect instrument to control Brescia for centuries.
To enter the castle, you have to go through the gateway. Situated in the middle of a curtain wall that connects the bastions of San Marco and San Faustino, it dates back to the end of the 16th century when the Venetian Republic was turning it into a proper fortress.
On your right side, you can see San Marco bastion. This bastion is the only one featuring a traditional shape, with openings on the base from where defenders could fire on attackers. On the left side, San Faustino stands with its medieval structure of brickwork and stone. Further east, you can see San Pietro bastion as well.
As you cross the gateway, you will be traveling through history with buildings that date from Venetian domination to others dating back to Austrian occupation and then back to medieval times as you get to the innermost walls. There you are going to see the Drawbridge that leads to the Prisoner’s Tower. This tower dates back to the first half of the 14th century and is the gateway to the topmost are of the hill. You can easily recognize the Prisoner’s Tower by looking at the lack of opening or gun ports to be used for defense. This architectural detail points it to the Visconti period from 1337 to1403.
The gateway also leads to Visconti Mastio that, today, house the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum. Despite it numerous alterations, this is the only major remaining part from the original layout of the fortress. This was one of the buildings erected on the foundations of a Roman temple and whose steps can be seen inside the building. They were found after a recent restoration work.
As I said before, the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum is one of the richest collections of weaponry in Europe with more than 6.000 pieces arranged by time period. There you can see a large variety of armor, weapons and firearms that was donated to the city in 1965 by Luigi Mazola. If you like military history, this museum was made for you.
On the northern are of the Castle of Brescia, you will find Coltrina Tower. Named after its builder, Jacopo Coltrino, its cylindrical shape is connected to the castle by a barrel-vaulted gallery featuring some openings for ventilation.
Also, on the northern side of the castle, you are going to find the Strada del Soccorso. A flight of stairs that connect the hillside beneath to the castle via fortified gateway. This relief route played a important strategic role by Gaston de Foix’s troops in 1512 and it was used again when Brescia decided to fight against Austrian occupation.
When you leave the Castle of Brescia and walk back to the city, don’t forget to pay attention to the amazing architecture of the house, the great view of Brescia and to the street itself. At Contrada Sant’Urbano you will find the Memorial to the Victims of Terrorism and political violence in Italy filled with the names of those that died in the 70’s and 80’s in the country.
You can reach the Castle from the train station in Brescia in less than twenty minutes of walk. It is pretty easy and the view is great. The Castle of Brescia can be visited daily from 08:00 in the morning to 20:00 in the evening. You don’t pay anything to visit the Castle but you have to pay €4 to visit the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum and Risorgimento Museum. More information can be found here.