Castello di Ussel, Aosta Valley

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The castle of Ussel is a medieval castle of the Aosta Valley.

The castle is positioned to guarantee control of the entrance to Valtournenche and the Dora Baltea valley floor as it rests atop a steep ridge overlooking the town of Châtillon. The “Aosta-Ranzola” fault (east-west trending), which was created over centuries by the Pleistocene glacier, divides the castle from the rest of the mountain and rises above a serpentinite cliff. The relief is made up of lenses of magnetite that were mined through tunnels in earlier times; some of the mine entrances may still be seen near the castle.

Ebalo II of Challant constructed the castle entirely from scratch in 1343, putting an end to the family’s difficult inheritance disputes following the passing of Ebalo Magno. Ebalo Magno actually designated his four sons—Peter, James, Boniface, and John—as well as the two sons of his eldest son, Goffredo, who had passed away earlier, as his heirs when he passed away in 1323. He also stipulated that his grandchildren Ebalo II and Aimone would each receive half of the estate. The sons of Hebalus the Great did not come to an accord until 1337 when they granted Aimon, their grandson, the fief of Fénis, and Hebalus, the fiefs of Saint-Marcel and Ussel.

Only after six years had elapsed since the agreement, beginning in 1343, was Ebalo given permission to construct a castle in Ussel. The castle met the same end as many other manors in the Valley in the succeeding centuries: once Francis of Challant, the last lord of Ussel, died in 1470, it was converted into a prison and barracks before being abandoned. The castle and associated estates in the vicinity were transferred to the Passerin d’Entrèves family in 1846 after the Challant family’s dissolution, and they subsequently donated them to the area in 1983. Thanks to support from Baron Bich, an industrialist who is well known for creating the iconic Bic ballpoint pens and is originally from Châtillon, restoration work started five years later and was finished in 1999. Since the summer is the only time the castle is open for visitors, the museum was established at the same baron’s request to serve as a venue for Valle d’Aosta culture and art displays.

Ussel Castle is particularly intriguing historically because it has not suffered any subsequent building alterations that have altered its original features over the years. Up until recently, it was in ruins, but after restoration, it is once again usable, including inside during display times.

The castle marks a pivotal moment in Valdosta military architecture. It is the first example of a single-block Valdostan castle and is arranged halfway between the modern and picturesque castle of Fénis, whose simple castle layout was made perfect by being divided into several volumes, and the austere stereometric forms of that of Verrès. Particularly attesting to a less Spartan manner of living are the thinner outer walls and the decorative equipment that serves both castle life and military purposes: the loopholes are therefore flanked by actual windows with stone benches inside.

Featured image: wikimedia

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