Even those who have never seen Milan are familiar with one of its most significant symbols: the Castello Sforzesco was built in the 15th century on the foundations of a previous Mediaeval defensive fortification, but in the following centuries and after various additions, it was transformed into a Ducal Residence and offers some of the most significant exhibition areas in the city. Like a great number of fortresses spread around the Lombard territory, the Castello Sforzesco bears witness to the importance of conserving the architectonic works of the past and appreciating the rich heritage of Milan and Lombardy.
So let’s go on a trip of discovery of the loveliest castles in Lombardy, which still today evoke the notable largesse of its Mediaeval and Renaissance period.
Lombard castles a stone’s throw from Milan
Just a short distance out of the city, the Castello di Peschiera Borromeo, which is characterized by a moat and a lovely walled garden and represents the oldest possession of the Borromeo family in Lombardy. The Castello Bolognini in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano was instead built in a strategic position for control of the traffic on the river Lambro, and with its rectangular layout and the angular towers constitutes a typical example of Lombard Military Architecture.
Castles in the Pavia province
The Castello di Scaldasole, in Pavia province, is distinguished by its portico and loggia and has a full seven towers originating from the Middle Ages; a special distinctive element is the Ricetto, i.e. a fortified area functioning as an arms-equipped refuge for the population when there is danger.
Another symbol of the greatness of Lombard history is the Castello di Chignolo Po, also in Pavia province: built on the remains of a tower constructed in the 8th century to oversee Via Francigena, the original Mediaeval fortress was overtime set up as a luxurious palace for Emperors, Popes and Royal Families. The imposing turret and the sumptuous appearance have earned the Castello di Chignolo Po the epithet of “Lombardy Versailles”.
Castles in the Lecco province
Among the oldest Lombard Castles is the Castello di Vezio: this is a Lombard fortress erected in defense of the possessions of Queen Teodolinda which looks over the lake town of Varenne (on a branch of the river Lecco). The watchtower, the falconry center, and the charming view make the Castello di Vezio a place particularly redolent of the notable riches of the Lombardy territory.
Castles in the Varese province
The Rocca di Angera rises in Varese province and is known as the pearl of Lake Maggiore. To add to the impressive fortifications that the Visconti wanted, and owned by the Borromeo family since the mid-fifteenth century, there are the Museo della Bambola, the Doll’s Museum, and a renewed medieval garden.
Not far away, the Castello Visconti di San Vito is located at Somma Lombardo, a fortified complex erected in the 19th Century, housing an archaeological museum containing remains of the Celtic tribes of Golasecca and a collection from the period of Italian Unification.
Castles in the Bergamo province
In Bergamo province, among the most beautiful castles in Lombardy are Cavernago, which, with its double loggia and the marvelous courtyard, bears witness to the great splendor of Renaissance Lombardy, and the nearby Castello di Malpaga, the court of leading military man Bartolomeo Colleoni; there are also historical pageants and you can even get to don period costumes.
The castle of Grumello del Monte originates from the military fortress constructed in the year 1000 ad. and, with its manor and the watchtower, is still fascinating even a millennium later. Curiously, you can find a Castel Grumello in Valtellina too, i.e. a fortification dating from the 13th century, now the property of the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano - the Italian Environmental Fund).
Castles in the Brescia province
One of the most enchanting places in Lombardy is, without doubt, the Rocca Scaligera in Sirmione, built in the second half of the 13th century in typical “Scaligero” style, with dove-tailed crenellations. The building welcomes the visitor to the historical center of the Sirmione on Lake Garda and the dock, once home to the naval fleet, is one of the rare examples of a lake fortification.
The Castello di Padernello is situated in the lower part of Brescia, a fifteenth-century moated manor with a still-functioning drawbridge, with another castle, the Castello Bonoris Montichiari nearby, built in the late 19th century on the remains of an ancient fortress built in 1100 and renowned for its majestic tower and crenelated walls.
Castles in the Cremona province
Typical of the huge artistic heritage of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Lombardy is that its architecture had a defensive function as well as being a sumptuous residence. The Castello di Pandino lies in a fortified 14th-century residence and represents a classic Visconti manor: the square layout with the corner towers is enriched by an elegant inner courtyard with pointed-arch porticoes and an upper loggia.
The fascination of the Middle Ages emerges with all its imposing power in the Castello di San Lorenzo De' Picenardi, whose origins go back to the 15th century. This Cremonese castle features powerful walls originating in the High Middle Ages, while the crenelated towers were modernized in the 19th century by architect Luigi Voghera.
When writing about the loveliest Lombard castles we must not leave out atmospheric Soncino. In a fifteenth-century drawing the town is already shown to be defended by the castle; transformed into a residence for the noble Stampa family, the Rocca Sforzesca in Soncino was later abandoned, then to be restored, as documented in the archives, by Luca Beltrami, the same architect who was responsible for the reconstruction of the Torre del Filarete in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco.