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The Castle and the Ducal Palace

The group of monuments composed of the Piazza Ducale and Visconteo-Sforzesco Castle as seen today, is the result of construction works which lasted over two centuries during the reigns of the Visconti and Sforza in Milan.
This was the period during which Vigevano reached its maximum splendour, becoming the ducal residence and an important commercial centre.
The town developed in a spiral around the castle which is one of the biggest fortified structures in Europe.


Its core dates back to the Longobard era (VII-X century), whilst its transformation into a princely residence was instigated by the Viscontis (in particular Luchino Visconti) and the Sforzas, in particular Ludovico il Moro. Artists such as Bramante, and, it is thought, also Leonardo, contributed to its construction.
Work on the castle was completed between 1492 and 1494. Following the end of the Sforzesca dynasty (1535) the castle passed into Spanish hands and began a slow decline. In 1696 the plenipotentiaries of the European governments, who had assembled to sign a peace treaty for Vigevano declared the castle to be unfit for use and when it became the headquarters of a garrison of the Austrian army at the beginning of the Eighteenth century, radical changes began to take place.
Around the second half of the Nineteenth century it became the barracks of the Sardinian army and later of the Italian Royal Army and remained a military headquarters until 1968.

Maschio con Falconiera_p.jpgDIMENSIONS

The architectonical complex Visconteo-Sforzesco castle of Vigevano features a group of buildings which together occupy a surface of over 70,000 square metres. It could contain Buckingham Palace twice over, St Peter’s Basilica three times over and Milan Cathedral six times over. It is considered to be one of the biggest fortified structures in Europe.

A unique construction model

From the outset Vigevano castle was not designed as solely a fortified complex to meet military and defensive needs, but also as a prestigious residence, a status symbol, and as the favourite venue for the pastimes and pleasures of the court. In this respect it represents both a forerunner of the Renaissance palace which in many cases evolved from a pre-existing castle (Urbino and Mantova come to mind), and a refined version of the traditional Viscontean citadel.


The Castle has four possible entrances:
directly from Piazza Ducale, using the staircase under the porticoes
• from Corso della Repubblica/corner of via del Popolo: access to the main courtyard which looks onto the stables, the Maschio (Keep), the Falconry and the Bramante Tower. By taking the roofed road from the main courtyard you can get to the Cavallerizza (riding stables) area
from via Rocca Vecchia, access to the Cavallerizza (riding stables) area from which you can get to the castle’s main courtyard by taking one of the two roofed roads. The other roofed road leads to via XX settembre
from via XX Settembre, by going through the vault passageway, you can reach the Cavallerizza (riding stables) area.

Summer opening time (from 29 March to 31 October)
1. Access from via Rocca Vecchia:
from Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm
Saturday and holidays from 9am to 6.30pm

2. Access from Piazza Ducale (stairs) and corso della Repubblica (disabled access)
from Monday to Friday from 9.00 to 18.30
Saturday and holidays from 9.00 to 19.00
closing of access from corso della Repubblica: 15 minutes before

Winter opening time (from 1 November to 28 March)

Closed on December 25th;
24 and 31 December - early closing at 5pm;
January 1 - postponed opening at 11am

Maschio Castello foto J. Lattari_p.jpg
1. Access from via Rocca Vecchia:
form Monday to Friday from 9am to 5am
Saturday and holidays from 9am to 5.30am

2. Access from Piazza Ducale (stairs) and Corso della Repubblica (disabled access):
from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5.30pm
Saturday and holidays from 9am to 6pm
Closure of the access from Corso Repubblica: 15 minutes before


Built from the middle of XIV century by Luchino Visconti on the same spot where it was once located a High Middle Ages “castrum”, built as defence for the inhabitants of this area. The Castle had always
been used as residence for the court of Milan.
Its transformation into the Duke’s Palace began in 1345 and it was mainly Ludovico il Moro with the guidance of Donato Bramante who gave it the appearance of a renaissance palace.
Lombard artists and artisans worked to adorn the great halls with frescoes and magnificent furnishings for the duke’s court, illustrious figures and sovereigns.
Some of the frescoes, dating to the second half of the XV century, are still visible today; the Sala dell’Affresco is particularly important and depicts a hunting scene, the favourite pastime of the
Dukes of Milan.


Below the main floor of the Ducal Palace there are still two floors. One has been completely restored, while the other, which overlooks the courtyard in via Riberia, is still to be renovated.
The restored floor can be visited only through guided tours and is composed of three parts: the floor -1 of the Palazzo Ducale, the former military prisons obtained in the mezzanine floor of the Strada Coperta (Covered road) and the Duchess rooms.
From the adjoining rooms of the floor -1 of the Ducal Palace can be seen the so called Loggia delle Dame (Ladies’ Loggia) and the eighteenth century buildings in via Riberia. On the south wall can still be seen a fresco of the Savoy military period. In the evocative hall under the “Loggia delle Dame”,
can be still admired the base of the old southeast-facing tower built in the Visconti period. On this floor there are also the rooms that belonged to the Duchess Beatrice D’Este: here worth of notice are the remains of the private chapel of the Duchess and the fifteenth-century frescoes, designed for the
female wing of the Ducal Palace where Beatrice D’Este lived.


The rooms called “Prisons” consist of seven rooms with a corridor that runs to the last room from where you can admire part of the Piazza Ducale (Ducal Square). Originally they could be rooms for servants of the Duchess and only later on they were used as military prisons, probably after the city of Vigevano passed under the Savoy domination. The prisoners’ writings are still visible on the terracotta tiles.


It was probably built in the XIV century but redesigned by Bramante in 1492. The most ancient part is the ground floor which is divided into large rooms covered by crescent-shaped vaults. The elegant upper open arcade is attributed to Donato Bramante: consisting of round arches supported by slender granite columns with capitals similar to those in the ducal stables
Remains of frescoes can be noted on the external walls, both above the columns of the loggiato, and above the gateway, where the letters “Dux Bar” can been seen, traceable to the figure of Ludovico il Moro when he still held the title of Duke of Bari.
The building is connected to Palazzo Ducale by means of a raised walkway, an arcade, also attributable to Bramante.  The chronicles of the time tell that falcons were released from here to accompany the Duke’s court on their hunting expeditions in the woods lining the Ticino river and in the Lomellina countryside.


It is the surviving part of the “Ladies’ Palace”, built around 1490 by Donato Bramante commissioned Ludovico il Moro, and located beside the Ducal Palace.
The surviving loggia displays the typical features of Bramante buildings such as the cloister of S.Maria delle Grazie and the Sanctuary of S.Ambrogio in Milan.Its profile consists of seven round arches made of white marble resting on columns topped with elaborate dark stone and flower-patterned capitals. The loggia originally overlooked a hanging garden where rare plant species were grown.  This was the “female” of the Castle, the exclusive residence of Beatrice d’Este and her ladies in waiting.  It must have been richly adorned with frescoes by Bramante himself. The garden was known as the “Duchess’ Garden”. Below the level of the garden were the underground Castle cellars.

The removal of the garden and its dirt patch was one of the consequences of the heavy-handed and often reckless works carried out during the Nineteenth century aimed at turning the Castle into a barracks for the royal army.


The term “Sala dell’Affresco” comes from the discovery and restoration of an ancient illustration. It is located on the left-hand side of the“Maschio” (Ducal Palace) and was an integral part of the ancient palace. The restored fresco probably dates back to the time of Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1466-1476), the eldest son of Francesco Sforza. Surviving fragments of the fresco show us that the original must have displayed vivid colours and a detailed composition. According to scholars it is among the rarest
surviving testimonies of the great decorative schemes started by Galeazzo Maria Sforza in the castles of Milan and Pavia.

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published on 2018/12/12 09:53:00 GMT+0 last modified 2019-05-13T16:45:37+00:00