Sasso Corbaro Castle
Sasso Corbaro (also called Unterwalden Castle from 1506, and Saint
Barbara's Castle from 1818) stands at about 600 m south-west of the
town on the highest point of the hillside on whose rocky slopes Bellinzona's
fortifications gradually took shape. Contrary to the other fortification
works, integrated into a single defence system in the 13th 15th centuries,
this castle stands alone, isolated on all sides. According to records
dating from the mid 15th century, a fortified tower already stood
on the hilltop in 1400; in the second half of the l5 century, various
Milanese military advisors advocated further fortification of the
site, as it constituted a dangerous loophole in Bellinzona's defences
through which bands of confederate marauders could penetrate into
the Ducal territories.
Work only began after 1478; the first building to be raised was the
powerful tower on the north-eastern corner of the future complex
to be followed by other parts. In 1479, a first small garrison was
quartered in the castle which was not yet completed; it appears that
work continued until 1481/82. In peacetime, the stronghold was also
used as a prison, but was not escape-proof, as records of the successful
escape of a prisoner in 1494 go to show.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Sasso Corbaro was repeatedly struck
by lightning and by 1900 was falling into ruin. Unfortunately, consolidation
work carried out in the last century has caused the loss of a huge
amount of archaeological evidence; the only source of information
regarding the original state is a description by J. B. RAHN (from
The main body of the fortress is a 25 m x 25 m square building with
square towers of different heights at the north-eastern and south-western
corners. With its thick walls, 1.8 m on the east side (the one most
susceptible to attack) and approximately 1 m elsewhere, it was designed
for defence in all directions: all the walls have machicolations
and swallowtail merlons, as does the watchtower in the south-west
The entrance to the inner courtyard of the stronghold, situated n
the west wall facing the valley, still bears traces of a portcullis
and a bolting device. The buildings which stand against the south
and west walls of the rectangular courtyard were living quarters;
two storeys high, and formerly covered by a gabled roof which started
just beneath the battlements. This wing had fireplaces, latrines
and a kitchen. On the eastern side, near a well, stands a small chapel
(derelict in Rahn's times but later restored).
Today, the powerful keep in the north-eastern corner, clearly built
prior to the other parts, has four storeys and was also used as living
quarters; however there is no surviving record of its original height
or the upper part (roof, crenellations, machicolations?).
Remains of baileys and minor buildings, probably belonging to outworks
never completed, can be seen to the south and west of the nucleus.
Surprisingly, the area external to the eastern wall, flat and therefore
in theory so vulnerable in the event of an attack, is not protected
by a moat.
Today, Sasso Corbaro Castle houses the «Sala Emma Poglia» (17th
century) as well as various exhibition and meeting rooms. The premises
were restored under the direction of TITA CARLONI (19631964) and
PAOLA PIFFARETTI (1998-2004).
< previous section | next section >