The castles of the Borgia

Anyone who stays in Lazio cannot miss a visit to the castles of the Borgia, the family that, in the sixteenth century, imposed its power not only on the region, but played an important part in the Renaissance history of Italy, thanks to unscrupulous political alliances, intrigues, crimes and ecclesiastical careers successfully undertaken by Alfonso and Rodrigo Borgia, elected to the papal throne, and by many other family members who wore the cardinal’s robe.
These castles were the setting where some strong intertwining of their lives took place, and the buildings remain a witness of the power and past glory of their family.

The Fortress of Nepi

Nepi Castle has a very ancient history. The archaeological findings date back to the eighth century BC. The site was probably inhabited since ancient times by Etruscan or Faliscan populations thanks to the natural protection constituted by the ravines, gorges of volcanic material with very steep walls deeply engraved by the water courses. These are located on two sides of the area and formed a natural barrier to enemy assaults. We know that already in pre-Roman times, the town was equipped with defensive structures because some historians report that Furio Camillo had to work hard to conquer the area. Later, the Romans also worked to make the city inaccessible, but it was only in the early Middle Ages that we found certain evidence of the fortifications, their use and the strategic importance of the site.

During the greek-gothic wars, the ancient fortress controlled the via Amerina, an important communication route between Rome and the exarchate of Ravenna and in the seventh century, Pope Gregory the Great sent an army to the rescue of the city during the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Lombards.
In the 11th century the quadrangular tower was built, now incorporated into the keep, and when the city was established as a free municipality in 1131, further strengthening works were carried out: another tower with a trapezoidal base which was to serve as a defensive and sighting structure, and a turret on the northeast side. All the most important and noble families who, over the years, fought for control of the area stayed in this fortress: the Prefetti di Vico family, Matilde di Canossa, the Colonna, the Orsini, the Caetani and the Anguillara families.

rocca_dei_borgia nepi

Between the end of the 14th century and the middle of the 15th century, the oldest square tower was transformed into a circular tower, but it was only with the nomination of Rodrigo Borgia as governor of the city in 1479 that important extensions and reinforcements of the structure took place. In just twenty years, the four towers with the Borgia cardinals’ coats of arms were built at the corners of a defensive quadrilateral developed around the oldest central core, the raising of the circular tower to make it an infallible observation point of the surrounding territory (from the Cimini Mountains, to the Bracciano Lake up to Monte Soratte), the rearrangement of the whole building in a three-story residential building and the construction of the door called Borgiana. The work was entrusted to Antonio da Sangallo Il Vecchio who, at that time, was building the nearby fortress of Civita Castellana.

With the election of Rodrigo as Pontiff, the Nepi government passed first to Ascanio Sforza and, following the end of the political alliance with the Sforza family, to Lucrezia herself, who stayed here until around 1500 making the Rocca even more sumptuous, she created a large reception room on the ground floor, using the first floor as housing for residents and the last floor for guests. From 1503, the fortress became the refuge of her brother Cesare, known as Valentino.
The fortress later passed into the hands of other important families, such as the Farnese family who carried out further strengthening and embellishment works, only to be abandoned when Nepi lost its strategic role in the territory.
An important restoration work that was carried out in the early 2000s made the castle open to the public.

The Rocca dei Borgia in Subiaco

The ancient fortress that rises above the town of Subiaco and dominates the Aniene Valley has very ancient origins. Built around the year 1000 with purely military functions, it has long been the symbol of the temporal power of the abbots of Santa Scolastica. Around the middle of the 15th century, the Rocca Abbaziale hosted all the most important families of the time: Colonna, Barberini, Borghese, the Spaniards De Torquemada and Borgia.

rocca-borgia di-subiaco

In 1476, it came into the possession of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who ordered its reconstruction so that it could become an impregnable fortress of great strategic importance since it was located on the border between the Papal State and the Kingdom of Naples. A huge quadrangular tower was built in communication with the ancient medieval castle through a narrow walkway equipped with a trap. Battlements, defensive loopholes and prisons were also built.
It was here that during his stay, in 1480, Vannozza Cattanei gave birth to Lucrezia, daughter of Cardinal Borgia who soon became Pope Alexander VI. After his election to the papal throne, the fortress was entrusted to the Colonna family who refined it by creating decorated rooms and apartments with allegorical frescoes. After 1608, the fortress became a possession first of the Borghese and then of the Barberini.
In 1778, Pope Pius VI ordered a new restoration that gave the fortress the appearance of a residential building even more. He negated the other tower, eliminated the trap and the prisons and ordered new frescoes by Liborio Coccetti and the Zuccari brothers. After 1915, the fortress was abandoned.
Subject of a recent restoration, it is visible to the public and, in September, is the evocative scenery of the so-called Borgian Processions, a costume event aimed at promoting the magnificence of the Renaissance era.

Borgia Castle in Passignano sul Trasimeno

The Borgia Sulpizi Castle, also known as Villa Miralago, is located on a hill overlooking the lake, surrounded by woods and a nine-hectare private park with tall plants and centuries-old trees. Belonging to the female side of the Borgia family, it has an original medieval core, consisting of the tower and minor buildings, including a mill. Located in Umbria in an area of great strategic importance, between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal State, thanks to its position, it also allowed an excellent sighting of Lake Trasimeno, up to the promontory of Castiglione del Lago, and was often used as an avant-garde of the army.
In the 16th century, the grandchildren of Ippolita Borgia, firstborn of Girolamo who was the son of Cesare Borgia, acquired the property, transforming it into a splendid castle, with a large courtyard, a great reception room and numerous quarters embellished with frescoes, arches and coffered ceilings.
Summer residence of the family for many centuries, it was restored by the Borgia Mandolini in the 18th century according to the neo-Gothic style, which was so fashionable at that time.

Borgia Castle in Passignano sul Trasimeno

The castle was then sold to the Florentine counts, Massini Nicolai, who in turn sold it in 1933 to the industrialist Ottavio Palombaro. Confiscated by the Nazis, the castle returned to its rightful owner at the end of the war.
Anglo-Tuscan writer, Giorgio Harold Stuart, who was the administrator of the Palombaro family and lived in the castle, told a particular paranormal esoteric experience lived in the castle in his book L’Italia dei fantasmi.
Today, the castle is an enchanting accommodation facility, which allows its guests to relive the allusions of other times.

Laura Luciani Italy Trails Blogger

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