Verrès Castle, Aosta Valley

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Castello di Verrès (French: Château de Verrès) is a fortified 14th-century castle in Verrès, Aosta Valley.

valle-daosta

The castle has been referred to as one of the region’s most spectacular medieval structures. It was one of the first instances of a castle built as a single building rather than as a collection of structures surrounded by a circuit wall. It was created as a military fortress by Yblet de Challant (Italian: Ibleto di Challant) in the fourteenth century. On the other side of the Dora Baltea from Issogne Castle, the fortress is perched atop a rocky outcrop. The fortress commands both the entrance to the Val d’Ayas and the village of Verrès. It appears to be an austere cube from the exterior, thirty meters long on each side, and almost devoid of ornamentation.

The castle, built as a fortress for the military, rests atop a rocky promontory above the Évançon River and rules the town of Verrès. Its location gave it control over the region below, including the central valley and the Val d’Ayas pass, which was at the time an important route, in addition to making it challenging to reach and simple to defend.

Yblet de Challant
Yblet de Challant

History

The De Verretio family owned a fortress at Verrès, and the first records confirming its existence date to 1287. The Bishop of Aosta and three aristocratic families that were vassals of the Counts of Savoy—the De Turrilia, De Arnado, and De Verretio—were fighting for control of the region at the time. Striking arguments between the De Verretio and the prelate over the years resulted in the diocesan casaforte at Issogne in 1333.

The property of the De Verretio passed into the hands of the counts of Savoy in the middle of the fourteenth century after they went extinct without leaving any potential heirs, and they gave it to Yblet de Challant in 1372 as payment for various services rendered in their service.

The castle was completely reconstructed by Yblet, who created a fortress that was virtually impenetrable and different from the majority of other modern castles in the area, which were made up of a series of structures encircled by a circuit wall.

When Yblet passed away in 1409, his son François de Challant inherited the castle and his other belongings. On August 15, 1424, Amadeus VIII, the Duke of Savoy, bestowed upon him the title of first Count of Challant. Verrès remained one of his most significant estates, but he made no significant changes to the castle.

Verrès Castle, Aosta Valley, before 1942
Verrès Castle, Aosta Valley, before 1942 (source)

Without male heirs, François passed away in 1442, leaving his estate to his daughters Marguerite and Catherine. As a result, the castle of Verrès became the focal point of an inheritance dispute between Catherine, who asserted her right to it under her father’s will, and some of her male cousins, including Jacques de Challant, who challenged the will on the grounds that Salic law forbade succession in the female line.

During this fight with Jacques, Verrès developed as one of Catherine and her husband Pierre Sarriod d’Introd’s strongholds. According to legend, Catherine and Pierre left the castle on Trinity Sunday in 1449 and went to the town plaza, where they danced with the local young. This significantly boosted public sympathy for Catherine, and it is reenacted every year during the Verrès Historical Carnival.

After her husband was killed in an ambush in 1456, Catherine was compelled to give up her possessions, including the Verrès estate and castle, which went to Jacques de Challant, the second count of Challant. The castle then followed the ups and downs of Jacques’s lineage, going first to his son Louis, then to his nephew Philibert, and last to Philibert’s son René, who moved into the cozier castle at Issogne after renovating it.

The castle had not undergone any specific restorations or upkeep since it was built by Yblet some 150 years previously. With the assistance of the Spanish commander Pietro de Valle, a renowned military architect, René repaired the fortifications in 1536 to account for the appearance of weapons. He had pieces of artillery brought from his fief of Valangin in Switzerland and had a circuit wall built around the base of the cubic construction with counterforts and polygonal turrets that could handle guns. René must also take care of the newly installed windows, new gates with Moorish arches, and the vestibule that is currently accessible via a drawbridge.

The property of Rene de Challant, who died without leaving any male heirs, passed to his son-in-law Giovanni Federico Madruzzo, who was married to his daughter Isabel. This led to a protracted legal dispute with other male Challant family members, again based on the Salic law, which stated that Isabel was not entitled to her father’s property.

The Stairway in the Castle of Verrès (1390 A.D.)
The Stairway in the Castle of Verrès (1390 A.D.) (source)

As a result, the House of Savoy directly took control of Verrès castle, converting it into a lookout and military garrison. However, in 1661, Duke Charles Emmanuel II ordered the dismantling of the castle’s armaments and had them moved (along with those of Saint-Germain Castle) to Fort Bard, which was in a better position to control the Aosta Valley. Verrès was left behind.

The legal issue between the Challant family and Isabel de Challant’s heirs was finally resolved in 1696, and the castle was given back to them. The castle remained their property until the eighteenth century, when they no longer lived there and it fell into ruin. The sturdy outer walls held up well, but the upper story was left exposed to the elements after the timber roof was taken off as retribution for not paying taxes.

It was finally purchased from Alfredo d’Andrade in 1894 by the Italian government after a series of transfers, and it was then placed under the supervision of the Superintendency for Monuments of Piedmont and Liguria, which carried out restoration work. Following the Second World War, the castle was designated an Italian National Monument and placed under the control of the Aosta Valley, which in the 1980s repaired the stone casing. In 1994, a final restoration was started.

The castle was shut down in 2004 to allow for structural reinforcement and modification. It has allowed guided visits since since it reopened in 2007.

Featured image: wikipedia

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