Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Fortresses, Castles & Palaces in Italy

Immerse yourself in Italy’s history through its captivating fortresses, castles and palaces. Found throughout the country, they tell us about diverse epochs and influences. From the fortified hilltop manors of the Middle Ages to the lavish Renaissance châteaux, Italian castles encapsulate the region’s multifaceted past. They bear the signatures of the Lombards, Normans, Swabians, Aragonese and more, each group leaving their imprint. Whether marvelling at the defensive prowess of medieval fortresses or the artistic flair of Renaissance estates, exploring Italian castles is an enlightening journey through the varied stages of Italy’s past.

Alghero Medieval Walls

One of the most striking and picturesque features in Alghero are the medieval walls surrounding the town’s historical centre. Canon and catapults, towers and forts along the way are a fascinating reminder of Alghero’s rich history. Like many places, these walls were built and then repaired and developed over the centuries. Alghero was a fortified Genoese port town as early as the 11th century. In the mid 1300s the Catalans repaired the walls, but much of what we see today was built in the 16th century by the Aragonese.

Aragonese Castle of Baia

The Aragonese Castle in Baia, Italy, has a rich history.  The hill on which it was built, over-looking the gulf of Baia,  had a Roman residential complex, thought by some to have been the villa of Caesar. Construction of the castle began in 1495 by the Aragonese, shortly before the invasion of the area by the French. Over the centuries, the castle was expanded, fortified, and restored by various rulers, and had many function, from a military fortress, a prison for WW2 prisoners of war, a military orphanage. Since 1984 the castle has been home to the Museo archeologico dei Campi Flegrei.

Aragonese Castle of Castella

This is undoubtedly one of the most evocative castles in Calabria. It is located on a small strip of land, surrounded by the waters of the Ionian Sea, in the hamlet of Le Castelle in the municipality of Isola Capo Rizzuto. The origins of the area where the fortress stands date back to the Magna Graecia period, but there are numerous traces of successive populations. In Roman times, Hannibal, who was preparing his retreat from Italy, took refuge here. At the same time, traces remain of the Byzantine, Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese phases. Its primary function was always defensive, and rulers never used it as a residence. Although some castle areas cannot be visited, as they are still being restored, the visit is free of charge and offers a splendid panorama.

Aymerich Castle, Laconi

Set in a public park created in 1830 are the ruins of the medieval Aymerich Castle. Although much of what we see today dates to at least the 13th century, it is thought that there was an earlier settlement probably dating back to the 12th or even the 11th century. The castle was built to defend the borders of the Judicate of Arborea from the Cagliari Judicate. In the 19th century, when the ruling family of the fief of Laconi were living here, the castle was destroyed by fire. Visitors are free to walk among the ruins and see  the vaulted arch entrance that is flanked by a rectangular tower, and the remains of the palace, with its Catalan-Gothic windows.

Capodimonte Museum

In 1738 King Charles of Bourbon ordered the construction of the Royal Palace that today houses the Museum. It was initially founded as a hunting reserve, but ended up becoming one of the residences of the royal family, in which part of the Farnese Collection was exhibited from the very beginning. Already in the 18th century it was an obligatory stop for visitors to Italy, given the importance of the works on display. The Museum, opened on 5 May 1957, is one of the most important picture galleries in Europe, and houses in its 124 galleries numerous works by great names such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio and Titian. In addition to these are extraordinary collections of porcelain and decorative arts, tapestries and royal furniture, as well as Roman sculpture.

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte, or ‘Castle of the Mountain’, with its wall of 25 metres high was once part of a more elaborate citadel built by Emperor Frederick II in the mid 13th century. That curtain wall has not survived and all that remains is an octagonal castle 56 metres in diameter, with eight octagonal towers. Often described as one of Frederick’s more fascinating castles – with a unique blend of Classical and Islamic features, it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1996 and appears on the Italian one-cent euro coin.

Castel Sant'Angelo - Hadrian's Mausoleum

Castel Sant’Angelo is one of the most important historical sites in Rome. Now a museum, the structure was first built on an artificial mound on the northern banks of the Tiber River. It was built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and is wife Sabrina. In the early medieval period it was converted into a military fortress. Given its proximity to St Peter’s Basilica, in the 14th century it was converted into a residence for the Popes. The Vatican also used it as a prison. All of this history is on display to visitors , including the Papal chambers and  their exquisite frescoes.

Castle of Melfi

Founded in the 11th century by the Normans at a strategic point that allowed passage between Apulia and Campania, Melfi Castle are one of the most beautiful in Basilicata and the site of significant historical events. Five synods, known as the Councils of Melfi, occurred inside it. In the third of these, Pope Urban II called the first crusade to the Holy Land in 1089. Frederick II promulgated the famous Constitutions of Melfi in 1231, the legislative code of the kingdom of Sicily. Over time it was enlarged and renovated, achieving its multi-styled appearance and the ten imposing towers surrounding it. While inside, you can visit the National Archaeological Museum of Melfese, which houses the splendid Roman sarcophagus of Rapolla.

Castle of Rocca Calascio

A popular location for films such as LadyHawke, The Name of the Rose and The American, this ruined castle is the highest fortress in the Apennines. Construction started in the 10th century, as a military fort, although it has never been used in battle. The original single watch tower was converted in to a larger fortress in the 13th century, with the addition of a square, walled courtyard around the central tower, and four towers at the corners. The castle was severely damaged during an earthquake in November 1703. The castle and the nearby town is a popular tourist destination in summer.

Cly Castle

Cly Castle is a typical example of a Valdostan medieval fortress. Namely a central square tower surrounded by a defensive wall, and placed in a strategic location to exploit the natural defensive elements of the setting. Tree-ring analyses indicate that the castle was built in 1027 AD, making this one of the oldest castles of its type in the Aosta Valley. Of particular note is the Romanesque chapel within the fortification. Inside the chapel are frescoes from three distinct periods in the 13th and 14th centuries. Sadly, these are not well preserved, due to preservation and vandalism.

Doria Castle

The construction of the castle dates back to the second half of the 13th century by the Genovese Doria family. Given its position, it was a highly coveted fortress over the centuries, as it allowed the control of the maritime routes passing through Sardinia. It passed through many hands. From the Doria family and the Judges of Arborea, the 15th century and the Aragonese, and in the 18th century to the Savoy dynasty. From its bastion, the castle offers visitors breath-taking views of the town and the striking coastline. The castle has been renovated and now houses the Museum of Mediterranean Interweaving.

Eleonora d'Arborea Castle

The castle is the only one still habitable on the island, and is preserved in perfect condition. It was built between 1188 and 1195 at the behest of Pietro I Judge of Arborea, to defend the borders of his Judicate from the Judicate of Cagliari. It witnessed events that marked the history of medieval Sardinia, such as the Battle of Sanluri, which decreed the end of the Judicate of Arborea. Over time, it lost its defensive functions, eventually becoming the seat of the Risorgimental Museum Duke of Aosta, which contains various historical relics of the Risorgimento and the First World War. The rooms of the castle still house their original furniture, with pieces ranging from the 17th to the 20th century.

Fénis Castle

This Medieval castle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Aosta Valley. The castle has a typical defensive layout, which includes a pentagonal keep with towers at each corner. The keep is surrounded by a double wall complete with battlements, watchtowers and walkways. Built on top of a small hill and contrary to first impressions, the castle did not have a military or defensive purpose. Rather, it was a prestigious family residence. What visitors see today dates to the early 15th century.

Fort Bard

Strategically situated on different levels of a rocky spur above the town of Bard in the Aosta Valley, Fort Bard is an 1830 rebuild of a series of defensive structures destroyed in 1800 by Napoleon. The Romans were the first to exploit the strategic nature of the spur and its role in protecting the passe into the Aosta Valley. By the end of the 1800s it was no longer used for military purposes and became a prison. Following extensive renovations, the fort opened to the public in 2006, with various exhibitions, including the Museum of the Alps.

Gradara Castle

In 1150 the powerful De Griffo family decided to build a castle on top of a hill to become a focal point for the passage of goods and men. Two walls surround it: one encircles the fort, while the other protects the village. In 1920 it was purchased by the Zanvettori family, who undertook the restoration of the entire structure. It was the site of the tragic love story of Paolo and Francesca, narrated by Dante in his Divine Comedy. The medieval complex is one of Italy’s most impressive and best preserved fortified villages. You can walk on its crenelated walls, cross the drawbridge, and visit the fortress’s interior while also exploring the beautiful village of Gradara.

Issogne Castle

One of the most well known manor houses in the region, the Issogne Castle is located in the middle of the town of Issogne. With archaeological evidence that it was built on the ruins of a 1st century AD Roman villa, the first documented mention of the mansion is not until a 12th century papal bull that was issued in 1151. As a Renaissance seigniorial residence, the castle is much more lavish than its nearby contemporary, Verrès Castle. It is particularly admired by tourists for its frescoes showing scenes of daily life from the late Middle Ages.

Malaspina Castle

The chronology of its construction is uncertain, with historical records suggesting a date of 1112, while archaeological data point to the 13th century. It was built as a lookout point, specifically to control Temo River, an important access route to the hinterland. It is still possible to walk the castle’s ramparts, admiring in all its beauty the picturesque landscape of Bosa, in which the colours of the houses in the old town are enhanced by the river flowing through it. Inside is the Palatine Chapel of ‘Nostra Signora di Sos Regnos Altos’, which houses a cycle of frescoes unique to Sardinia, dating back to the 14th century.

Norman Swabian Castle of Gioia del Colle

The imposing castle in the historic centre of the town was built for defence by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, on his return from the Fourth Crusade to the Holy Land. It is typical of his style: a roughly quadrangular structure, impressive curtain walls surrounding an inner inner courtyard and imposing corner towers. Despite alterations of the following centuries, as Puglia changed hands, the interior is well preserved and includes the throne room. Today the castle houses a National Archaeological Museum; entry to both the castle and the museum only requires one ticket.

Palazzo Regio

Located in the historic Castello quarter of Cagliari, the Royal palace, also known as the Viceregio (or Viceroyal palace), was built in the 14th century as a residence for the king’s representatives in Sardinia. It was used as such by the Aragonese, the Spanish and the Savoyards, each of which left their own mark in their adaptations. Today it serves as the administrative seat of the Metropolitan City of Cagliari. After climbing the grand 18th century staircase entry is only €3, for which you can see the ornate Council Chamber and various private and state reception rooms.

Pitti Palace

Once the chief residence of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, then the 18th century base for Napoleon, and following the unification of Italy, the nation’s principal royal residence. Today the 15th century palazzo is the largest museum complex in Florence. The palace became the treasure house it is as the Medici family and their successor amassed their luxurious possessions here. In 1919 King Victor Emmanuel III donated the palace and its contents to the state. Besides the royal apartments, there are a number of galleries with varied collections, including the Palatine Gallery and its collection of Renaissance paintings.