There are around 45,000 castles, towers and villas in Italy. We have selected the 21 most fascinating ones for you.
Fairytale places can make you feel like a king and queen for a day. Enveloped in history and magic are castles. They reign supreme in the narrow streets of picturesque villages, perched on majestic mountains, surrounded by enchanting forests and woods or lapped by the waves of the sea.
These castles, so different from each other and so beautiful, tell distant stories on the borderline between reality and fantasy, populated by more or less famous and more or less real characters. But certainly full of intrigue, impossible loves and wars.
All you have to do is read our article and find out which of them you can live your fairy tale.
I am intrigued by the life that old castles have seen and still partly retain. Who knows how many dreams are left on the towers.
21. Acquafredda Castle in Siliqua (Sardinia)
The Castle of Acquafredda is an essential testimony of a fortified structure of the Middle Ages, located in Siliqua in southern Sardinia, about 30 km from Cagliari. It stands on a hill of volcanic origin at the height of 256 metres above sea level. The site, called Domo Andesitico di Acquafredda, has been declared a Natural Monument by the Region of Sardinia.
From the discovery of a papal bull dated 30 July 1238, the castle already existed. It was still widely believed that the famous Pisan nobleman Ugolino Della Gherardesca, Count of Donoratico, built it. In 1257, he became Lord of the southwestern part of Sardinia after the fall of the Giudicato of Cagliari.
He fell into disgrace, so the Count was imprisoned in Pisa in the Torre dei Gualandi, later called the Torre Della Fame, where he died in 1288. The vicissitudes of Count Ugolino became famous thanks to the profound verses of Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy (Inferno canto XXXIII).
20. Melfi Castle (Basilicata)
The castle of Melfi stands on a hill of volcanic origin. It overlooks both the historic centre and the entire inhabited area. It has the typical appearance of a medieval castle city, with the walls still intact, which formed a compact and impassable defence system for the whole town at the time. Its defensive system consisted of a moat, a rampart and a wall of ten towers (seven rectangular and three pentagonal).
The behest of William of Altavilla built the castle in 1042. The court held four papal councils, and in 1089 the first crusade against the infidels to the Holy Land was launched by Pope Urban II. The castle later became the property of Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, and it was here that he promulgated the Melfi constitutions in 1231.
Today, the castle of Melfi houses a national archaeological museum. With priceless archaeological finds from various tombs discovered near the Volture-Melfese area.
19. Rocca di Arquata del Tronto (Marche)
The Rocca di Arquata del Tronto is a medieval fortress built as a stronghold to control the territory, with tactical and defensive functions. It stands on a cliff in Arquata del Tronto, a municipality in the province of Ascoli Piceno. It has isolated and austere, a green park furrowed by the fortress's paths and lanes. Since 1902, the fort has been an Italian National Monument.
The history of this fortress has a legend: The Legend of Queen Joan (most likely Joan of Anjou, known as The Crazy). The story goes that the queen invited young shepherds to her room in the highest tower to spend the night with. If dissatisfied, the woman did not hesitate to hang the unfortunate ones from the manor's buildings.
18. Caccamo Castle (Sicily)
On the road from Palermo to Messina, at the foot of Monte San Calogero, stands the medieval village of Caccamo, overlooked by its imposing castle, one of the largest in Italy. The first historical information dates back to 1160, but history intertwines with legend.
Two ghosts are said to roam the castle. One is that of Matteo Bonello, one of the first owners of the court, brutally tortured. The other is the ghost of a young monarch who fell in love with a soldier: the king, opposed to their relationship, had the boy killed and imprisoned his daughter in a convent, who died shortly afterwards. Since then, both ghosts have wandered restlessly through the rooms of the palace on full moon nights.
However, apart from the ghost stories, the castle also preserves a great deal of beauty. From its terraces, it is possible to enjoy a breathtaking view, where the gaze loses itself between the green hills of the Sicilian hinterland and the changing blue of the sea of Cefalù.
17. Aragonese Castle in Ischia (Campania)
Ischia, the largest island in the Gulf of Naples, is home to the Aragonese Castle. Alfonso of Aragon built it in the 15th century on an islet already occupied by the Greeks centuries earlier.
The castle will take you on a long journey through time: from the splendours of Vittoria Colonna's wedding to the British bombing of 1809. It reached a period of total abandonment, only to see the light again thanks to restoration work, the intuition of a far-sighted lawyer from Ischia.
The castle contains no less than twenty-five centuries of history, with churches, convents, prisons, lush gardens and breathtaking belvederes suspended between sky and sea in a timeless atmosphere.
16. Buonconsiglio Castle in Trento (Trentino Alto Adige)
Buonconsiglio Castle is one of the best-known buildings in Trento and one of the largest monumental complexes in Trentino Alto Adige. It comprises buildings from different eras, enclosed within walls in a slightly elevated position above the city.
- Castelvecchio: the oldest nucleus, dominated by an imposing cylindrical tower;
- Torre Aquila, at the southern end, which houses the famous Ciclo dei Mesi (Cycle of the Months), one of the most remarkable pictorial cycles of profane themes from the late Middle Ages in Italy;
- The Magno Palazzo, which is the 16th-century extension in the Italian Renaissance style and which preserves a critical Mannerist pictorial cycle in an excellent state of preservation;
- Giunta Albertina: the last part, 17th century and in Baroque style.
15. Royal Castle of Moncalieri (Piedmont)
The Royal Castle of Moncalieri stands on the top of a hill in the historic centre of Moncalieri, the metropolitan city of Turin. Together with the other Savoy residences, it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1997.
The current structure of the castle is horseshoe-shaped, facing north, with four massive parallelepiped corner towers. The lateral bodies have five storeys, and the brick walls have strong buttresses. The southern façade overlooks a small Italian garden and has two cylindrical turrets, the remains of the ancient 15th-century castle. The belvedere at the northern entrance is original.
Its English garden is enchanting, extending over the hill for about 10 hectares. Inside are the Cavallerizza building (the largest Savoy residences), the Casa del Vignolante, the Torre del Roccolo and the water lily pond.
14. Ursino Castle in Catania (Sicily)
Frederick II of Swabia built Catania's Ursino Castle in the 13th century. The manor had certain visibility during the Sicilian Vespers as the seat of parliament and, later, as the residence of the Sovereigns of Sicily of the Aragonese dynasty, including Frederick III. Today, it is the Civic Museum of Etna seat, formed mainly by the Biscari and Benedictine collections.
A particular piece of history is when the castle was a prison. The government divided the large rooms into new walls and ceilings on the ground floor. They created smaller rooms where the prisoners stayed like damned souls in the so-called Dammusi, small dark cells infested with rats and scorpions tarantulas. Traces of this page in the castle's history are the hundreds of graffiti that fill the walls and door and window jambs of all the rooms on the ground floor and even the inner courtyard.
13. Castel del Monte in Andria (Apulia)
Castel del Monte stands in Andria, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Bari. A perfect octagonal design built according to the mysterious laws of sidereal space.
It stands on one of the highest elevations of the Murge. It takes very little to realise that it is not a military structure: there is no moat, no drawbridge, no positions for bows and crossbows, no machicolations, no stables, no dormitories, no kitchens, no storerooms, no dungeons for prisoners.
Frederick II built it in the 13th century. The castle's building is still obscure: there are no relevant documents, except for a few letters referring to the court as a hunting lodge. But considering the height of its walls of just over 20 metres, it is unlikely that Frederick II thought of the castle as a place for his hunting parties.
It is much more likely that these walls had something to do with the sun and the zodiac. The architects may have drawn a plan drawn by the sun: thus, the castle as a kind of sundial.
12. Castel Nuovo in Naples (Campania)
Castel Nuovo, or the better known Maschio Angiono, is a symbolic castle of Naples. It is in the heart of the city centre, not far from Piazza Municipio and Galleria Umberto I.
Charles I of Anjou commissioned the fortress and immediately took on the role of guardian. Its strategic position near the port helped the Neapolitan rulers to sleep soundly and avoid enemy incursions. Today, the castle is the Neapolitan Society of Storia Patria seat and the Naples Committee of the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento.
11. Castelvecchio in Verona (Veneto)
Castelvecchio is a medieval fort located in the historic centre of Verona. It was initially called Castello di San Martino in Aquaro due to the pre-existing church. The so-called Corte d'Armi (Court of Arms) would later build, whose existence dates back to the eighth century. The toponym Aquaro can be traced back to the proximity of the Adigetto (aquarium or canal) and to a bridge (Quaro) that would cross the same canal or river Adige.
The fortress took the name Castel Vecchio following the construction of Castel San Pietro by the Visconti family. It is currently the seat of the Civic Museum of the same name, and it is the most important military monument of the Scaliger dynasty.
Between 1943 and 1944, the trial of Fascism took place, during which the State dismissed Benito Mussolino from his position as Prime Minister.
10. Orsini-Odescalchi Castle in Bracciano (Lazio)
The Orsini-Odescalchi Castle, also known simply as Castello di Bracciano, is a 15th-century castle in Bracciano (Rome).
It consists of three outer walls and has five towers, one at each vertex of the outer fortification. It was built after 1470 by Napoleone Orsini, probably with the collaboration of Sistine workers.
Initially, the castle belonged to Braccio da Montone of the Bracci family. For political reasons, at the request of the Pope donated it to his subordinate, Captain Orsini. Proof of this is the coat of arms of the municipality: an arm holding a rose (one of the symbols of the Orsini family).
But why this 'favouritism'? Because Napoleon's brother, Cardinal Latino Orsini, was the Pope's chamberlain in the same years, they built the castle and the Sistine Chapel simultaneously.
Today the castle is owned by the Odescalchi. This family took over the Duchy of Bracciano from the Orsini family in the 17th century. Since 1952, the court has been open for guided tours and ceremonies.
9. Sammezzano Castle in Leccio (Tuscany)
30 km from Florence, stands the beautiful Sammezzano Castle, which belonged to one of the most influential families of the Florentine aristocracy: the Panciatichi Ximenes of Aragon. The brilliant Ferdinando asked to build it in the nineteenth century. It has a fascinating history through its colourful rooms, decorated with elaborate polychrome stucco in oriental style.
For a time, this magnificence housed a hotel restaurant, only to be closed and opened during FAI days.
8. Visconti Castle in Pavia (Lombardy)
The Visconti Castle in Pavia was built in 1360 by order of Galeazzo II Visconti. Later the building was the court seat under Gian Galeazzo and his son Filippo Maria.
Near the castle, the Visconti family also had a magnificent hunting park (the Parco Visconteo), which initially extended for about ten kilometres, as far as the Certosa di Pavia. Today, part of the area still exists but is no longer connected to the castle called Parco Della Vernavola.
Since the Second World War, the castle has also housed the Civic Museums of Pavia. Divided according to the historical period of the exhibits:
- Archaeological museum and Lombard hall,
- Romanesque and Renaissance museum,
- Malaspina picture gallery,
- 17th and 18th-century museum,
- 19th-century picture gallery,
- Risorgimento museum and museum of modern art and plaster casts.
Pavese Museum of the Risorgimento is particularly noteworthy, founded in 1885 thanks to donations from private individuals. The relics date from the Lombardy-Venetia Kingdom to the First World War, mainly to artefacts linked to the territory. There is also a section dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi.
7. Le Castella in Capo Rizzuto Island (Calabria)
The fortress of Le Castella stands on a small strip of land opposite the island of Capo Rizzuto and towers majestically over the nature reserve of the same name. Its current appearance results from a sum of historical superimpositions over several centuries.
The fortress' building probably was in the Hellenistic period as a military outpost. The construction dates back to around the 4th or 3rd century BC due to a wall in the seabed beneath it.
The fortress as we know it today was built by the Aragonese and Angevins and never housed the local nobility. During the visit to the fort of Le Castella, in one of its rooms, you can admire the marine protected area of the Saracen coast in all its beauty. Thanks to an underwater camera, it is possible to see the depths of the Ionian Sea, one of the most beautiful and uncontaminated seas in Italy.
6. Valentino Castle in Turin (Piedmont)
Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy purchased it in 1564 after the capital of the Savoy duchy had been moved to Turin following the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. The Castello del Valentino owes its name to the geomorphological features of the region, called Vallantinum. Because a valley furrowed by a watercourse marks the territory, the Valentino Bealera still flows uninterrupted.
Valentino Castle consists of a four-storey villa overlooking the river Po. Christina of France was the first Madame Reale. She promoted the building to a Maison de Plaisance on the transalpine model.
The rooms are all decorated with frescoes and stuccoes that follow the same narrative thread. Considering that Valentino Park is here, even the exteriors are considerable beautiful.
Since 1997, the castle has been on the list of World Heritage Sites as part of the UNESCO serial site Residences of the House of Savoy.
5. Castello Estense in Ferrara (Emilia Romagna)
The Castello Estense, also called Castello di San Michele, is the most representative monument of Ferrara. The Este family built it in 1385 as a fortress for political and military territorial control and defence. Above all, as a repressive instrument against possible revolts (considering the further increase in taxes at the time).
The castle is in the centre of Renaissance city. A peculiar feature of the court and symbol of Ferrara are its four towers. It is possible to enjoy a panoramic view of the entire city.
Over time, the fortress, which is a cultural asset, became a government and administrative seat. Since the 20th century, it has also been a temporary and permanent museum.
4. Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome (Lazio)
Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome is perhaps the oldest castle in Italy. In 123 AD, it used to be the monumental crypt for Emperor Hadrian and his family. Contrary to all the other monuments from the Roman era, reduced to ruins, the castle has accompanied the city's fate for almost two thousand years.
Michelangelo's art contributed from a funeral monument to a fortified outpost, from dark and terrible prison to charming Renaissance residence. Then it became a prison again at the time of the Risorgimento until it became the museum it is today. Castel Sant'Angelo embodies in the solemn Roman spaces, in the sober walls, in the sumptuous frescoed rooms, the events of the Eternal City, where past and present appear inextricably linked.
3. Castello Sforzesco in Milan (Lombardy)
The Castello Sforzesco is the largest fortified complex in Milan, located just outside the city centre. It was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza. He recently became Duke of Milan—built over an earlier medieval fortification from the 14th century, known as the Castello di Porta Giovia (or Zobia). Before the latter, however, in Roman times, stood the Castrum Portae Jovis, one of the four defensive castles of Roman Milan.
Transformed and modified considerably over the centuries, between the 16th and 17th centuries, the Castello Sforzesco was one of the leading military citadels in Europe. Between 1890 and 1905, it acquired its current appearance in historicist style.
Today it is home to cultural institutions and important museums. It is one of the most important castles in Europe and one of the main symbols of Milan and its history.
2. Miramare Castle in Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia)
It is one of Trieste's most popular destinations. Just outside the centre is Miramare Castle, once the private residence of Maximilian of Habsburg.
Built on the Grignano hill, the castle has a beautiful park with an Italian garden, which alone is worth visiting. Miramare Castle is built in eclectic style and retains its elegant original furnishings.
1. Savoy Castle in Gressoney-Saint-Jean (Aosta Valley)
Nestling in the Gressoney-Saint-Jean Valley in the Aosta Valley is the Castel Savoia, also known as the Castello della Regina Margherita. A nineteenth-century villa that appearances a typical fairytale castle.
The fortress is below the Colle Della Ranzola, nicknamed Belvedere, built between 1899 and 1904 at Queen Margherita di Savoia, consort of King Umberto I. The elegant residence was a summer holiday home where the queen stayed for long periods, hosting important nobles, illustrious artists and members of the literary world. After several years of disuse, the castle was purchased by a Milanese industrialist and eventually became the property of the Regione Autonoma di Valle d'Aosta.
Surrounding the castle is a marvellous alpine park, which we recommend visiting in summer.