This is from another private swap! It was sent to me by Pam from wintery Switzerland! As she writes me, she was at Bellinzona in May and it was amazing!
Bellinzona is the capital city of the canton Ticino in Switzerland. The city is famous for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro) that have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000. Bellinzona is home to twelve buildings or areas that are listed as Swiss heritage site of national significance. Finally, entire old city of Bellinzona is listed on the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites. In addition to the Three Castles and the city walls, the medieval and early modern city is included on the list. Three religious buildings, the Church of S. Maria delle Grazie, the Collegiata dei Ss. Pietro e Stefano and the Church of S. Biagio a Ravecchiai are on the list. The Cantonal Archives, Bagno Pubblico, the secondary school (Italian: Scuola media) on via Lavizzari 28 and the Teatro sociale are the rest of the buildings on the list.
The Three Castles, officially listed as the Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzone, have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The group is composed of Castelgrande, castle Montebello, castle Sasso Corbaro and fortified walls. The Castelgrande is located on a rocky peak overlooking the valley, with a series of fortified walls that protect the old city and connect to the Montebello. The third castle (Sasso Corbaro) is located on a isolated rocky promontory south-east of the other two.
The site of the Castelgrande has been fortified since at least the late 1st Century BC and until the 13th Century it was the only fortification in Bellinzona. During its history the castle has been known as the stronghold (before the 13th Century), the Old Castle in the 14–15th Centuries, Un Castle after 1506 and Saint Michael's Castle from 1818.
The Castelgrande hill includes a nearly vertical side on the north and a steep southern side, but is nearly flat and 150-200m in diameter. The natural shape of the hill has encouraged every man-made fortification to follow the same contours. While the Roman fort is not visible the Roman foundations were used by the High Middle Ages castle which followed. Of the High Middle Ages castle the only visible parts are a few pieces of wall that are still standing. Much of the visible castle dates from 1250–1500 with extensive renovations and some expansion in the last two centuries. Most of the area inside the castle walls is now flat, open space.
Records from the 11th to 15th Centuries as well as archeological evidence indicate that the castle grounds were once full of buildings. However most of these were pulled down by the Dukes of Milan to free up interior space. The open space was divided into 3 large baileys which served to provide temporary housing for troops that could be stationed in Bellinzona. Under the Dukes of Milan the outer fortifications were extended and strengthened. The walls were raised, extended and towers were added. The western walls were totally rebuilt and connected to the city walls.
The castle can be reached by taking an elevator from the foot of the rock to the castle grounds or by climbing steep, narrow streets from the city center through the city wall onto the castle grounds.
Montebello Castle (known as the Small, New or Middle Castle in the 15th Century, as Schwyz Castle from 1506 and St. Martin's Castle after 1818) is located to the east of the town center. It was built before 1313 for the pro-Imperial Rusca family, who occupied the castle following the Visconti victory and occupation of the Castelgrande. By the end of the 14th Century it was in the hands of the Visconti. The castle was renovated and expanded between 1462 and 1490 to its current state. In the 19th Century the castle fell into disrepair and was renovated starting in 1903.
A little chapel, dedicated to Saint Michael, leans against the wall of the more recent south-facing section; built around 1600, it is one of the few buildings erected in the castles of Bellinzona under the rule of the three Swiss cantons.
Montebello Castle houses the Archaeological and Civic Museum. The museum was opened in 1974 and is located in the tower and the former residential quarters of Montebello Castle. It is divided into two sections-history and archaeology. In the history section there are several capitals from the 15th Century and a rare 13th Century Baptismal font as well as drawings and sketchs from several artists. This section also houses a collection of ceremonial and military arms. The archaeology section includes many items from 1400–1500 B.C. as well as ceramics, glassware, funeral urns, ornamental objects and jewellery in iron and bronze from around the canton. The museum is open from March to November.
Sasso Corbaro, known as Unterwalden Castle after 1506 and Saint Barbara's Castle after 1818, is about 600m south-west of town on a rocky hill. Unlike the other two castles Sasso Corbaro is not integrated into the city walls. The first part of the castle was the north-eastern tower which was built in 1478 to close a gap in the defenses of the city. The walls and south-west tower were added later. The castle was struck by lightning multiple times during the 16th and 17th Centuries, and by 1900 was falling into ruins.
Today, Sasso Corbaro Castle houses the Sala Emma Poglia which is the "wooden room" built for the Emma family during the 17th Century. Originally located in the entrance hall of their home in Olivone in the Blenio Valley, the room was purchased by the Canton of Ticino in 1944 and housed first in the Castelgrande before being moved to the Sasso Corbaro in 1989. The room is panelled entirely in walnut and also includes the stüva, stove which provided heating. The stove bears the crest of the Emma family (an eagle and a lion rampant). The museum also houses temporary exhibits. It is open from March until November.