November 11, 2005
Of the three castles in Bellinzona, my favorite was Castillo de Montebello, which rises above the city like a graceful stone galleon.
Montebello was built circa 1300 and later connected to the city's defenses via walls. The fortress served as part of the city's defenses for many years, until falling into neglect in the early 1400s. When walking around the castle, look for what looks like lines of red brick embedded into the walls; these indicate where the first series of extensions and renovations (1462-1490) started from. The workmanship of the late 15th century gave the castle its shape as can be seen today.
Today, the castle is among the best surviving examples of Swiss medieval military architecture and is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
There is limited parking at the northern entrance to the site, or you can easily walk up from the train station in under 15 minutes.
Entering the castle via the functional drawbridge, you first pass into the fortified barbican before continuing over another drawbridge and into the main fortress. It is possible to holes in the walls in the towers built into the outer walls; when this castle was active, there would have been wooden floors and bunkhouses there.
At the western end of the inner fortress, you will find stairs that allow you to climb onto the outer wall. Be careful; the rocks can be slippery in wet weather, and only a single bar protects you if you put your foot through the machicolation. However, there are lovely views from here, as well as some very photogenic angles to view the inner keep.
Within the inner keep, you will find the Civic Museum, which houses a good-sized collection of archaeological finds from sites around Ticino, including prehistoric and Roman artifacts. The oldest relics are found at the bottom of the tower, and as you climb, you move forward in time.
One item of particular historical note is that the best castles were built over their own water source. Montebello has a well within the keep that even today provides an excellent aquifer - so good, in fact, that it must sometimes be pumped out to prevent overflowing.
If you are a Renaissance Faire buff, perhaps you will want to time your visit to coincide with La Spada Nella Rocca - "The Sword in the Fortress" - a 3-day celebration held each June, next slated to be June 2-4, 2006, and one of the largest ren faire celebrations in Europe. This is an extremely popular attraction in Bellinzona, and one that is celebrated not only in the castle but in the town as well.
From journal Bellinzona - Gateway to Southern Switzerland