Bellinzona’s Three Castles

Sprawling Castelgrande

Doesn’t a town with three castles sound completely bad-ass? Really, what was so dangerous about the area or so valuable and worth protecting that one or even two castles were not sufficient?

Just like modern times, everything comes down to location. Bellinzona lies in the crossroads of several important Alpine passes, which made it a key trading center and particularly vulnerable to attacks.

Castelgrande and Castello di Sasso Corbaro

Bellinzona has been inhabited since Neolithic times.The first fortification was built in the 1st century during Augustus’ reign. In the 4th century, it was expanded as part of a chain of watchtowers and castles built to protect northern Italy from invasion.

Bellinzona’s three castles all-in-a-row not only inspired British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, but earned the area a Unesco World Heritage Site designation.

Inside Castello di Montebello’s walls

The main and largest castle, Castelgrande, sits atop the centrally located, staggeringly steep hill. This hill has had many incarnations: a Roman frontier post, the site of a Lombard defensive tower, then a Milanese-controlled, heavily fortified town.

Approaching Castelgrande

Castello di Montebello is the middle castle, built 90 meters above Castelgrande. Here, you can see the original defensive walls of the old town. The external courtyards and towers were built in the 15th century.

Entrance to Castello di Montebello

Old well

Castello di Sasso Corbaro is the highest structure, sitting outside the city walls. The first part of the castle was built in the 15th century to close the gap in the city’s defenses. It was constructed in a hurried six months after the defeat of Milanese troops at the Battle of Giornico. Its position 230 meters above the town provided better protection to the Ticino Valley.

Castello di Sasso Corbaro sits high above Bellinzona

And who says lightening strikes once? This castle got hit a number of times in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Lookout tower

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