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Sasso Corbaro Castle, aerial view taken from the south-east.


Sala Emma Poglia

Osteria Sasso Corbaro
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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 about 1889).
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 corner.
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).

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