-the world as I see it
I spent the first week of September in Trento participating in a conference on the health assessment of timber structures. I must say that the venue of the conference couldn’t have been better because the autonomous province of Trento has a rich history of building with timber. As part of the conference, a guided tour to the Buonconsiglio castle- Trento’s best known landmark, had been arranged for all the attendees.
From a distance, the Buonconsiglio Castle appears to be a single entity, but as you get closer, you will notice that is more of a complex- an amalgamation of three different structures. In the image below, you can see the Castelvicchio (the grey stone portion with the tower on the left) and the Magno Palazzo ( the part in white masonry on the right). The portion connecting the Castelvicchio and the Magno Palazzo is called the Guinta Albertiana, which is the most recent addition to the castle. As my camera wasn’t able to get the whole castle in the same frame, I just uploaded a picture of the section of the building highlighting all the three parts.
The Buonconsiglio Castle, when originally built in the 13th Century, was quite small. It consisted of just the Castelvicchio, meaning ‘the old castle’, which was then only a tower surrounded by low walls. The castle was more of a fortress back them. During the two centuries that followed, the level of the walls was raised twice. If you look at the facade, you will notice three levels of merlons, which corroborates the fact. Merlons are tooth-like projections that generally top the walls of towers or fortresses in medieval architecture. The spaces between the merlons are crenels and the openings within merlons are called embrasures. The merlons are of the Ghibelline kind as can be seen from their swallow-tailed shape. Although the Buonconsiglio castle was initially built for defense purposes, it transitioned into a place of residence for the Prince-Bishops of Trento and more recently into an art museum for the Province of Trento.
Trento today is a rich province in the North of Italy, located very close to Austria. Earlier, it had been a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and went on to become a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor ruled from Germany but he had to go to Rome to be crowned by the Pope. As Trento formed the passageway to Italy, he knew it was vital for him to maintain peace and good relations with the region. So the Holy Roman Emperor allowed for the creation of the Bishopric of Trento- a territory that would be ruled by a Prince-Bishop appointed by him. In addition to executive, legislative and judiciary responsibilities, the Prince-Bishop had power over religious matters as well. He reported to both the Emperor and the Pope. Although the title wielded a lot of power, a Prince- Bishop never had an army and because of his vow of celibacy he did not have any heir of his own either (at least not legally) . `
Though the castle was first enlarged by the Prince-Bishop George I von Liechtenstein, the changes and expansion made by the Prince-Bishop Johannes (Giovanni in Italian) Hinderbach were more significant. The most striking addition was the Venetian loggia on the third floor. The crenellated walls of the fortification were provided with Guelph Cross windows, an architectural feature of the Renaissance time to make it seem more like a residence. An interior courtyard with a colonnaded open gallery was constructed. With its closed balconies and crow-stepped gables, elements of German architecture were also seen in the castle.
When you enter the castle and stand in the courtyard, take a look at the column capitals. One of them is emblazoned with a mitre, another one with an eagle sable (the one found on Trento’s coat of arms). The frescos on the upper portions of the walls, though faint, are fairly discernible. The interior is in red and white marble and is in harmony with the colour scheme of a major chunk of Trento’s built heritage.
The Magno Palazzo was built under the orders of Prince-Bishop Bernardo Cles. In stark contrast to the medieval Castelvicchio, this Renaissance style palace was connected to the old castle by a suspended passageway. Visitors had to enter through the old castle in order to get to the palace as there wasn’t a separate entrance. Since the Guinta Albertiana hadn’t been built yet, the visitors could get unobstructed views of the city sprawled before them. Talk about finding ways of getting appreciation 😛
The ceiling of each room in the interior of the palace is decorated with themes ranging from Greek mythology to stills from everyday life. In one of the rooms, scenes from Aesop’s fables are painted on the walls. I recognized the one of the fox and the stork with the ‘one bad turn deserves another’ moral.
In the 17th Century, Prince–Bishop Francesco Alberti Poja made the last major addition – the Giunta Albertiana which basically unified the entire castle and provided a sense of continuity.
After the temporal and religious powers of the Prince-Bishops were wrested, the Buonconsiglio castle fell into disrepair. The Austrian Government used it for military purposes and even tried some of the members of the Italian irredentism movement. This movement aimed at unifying all the territories that once housed Italian inhabitants with Italy. After WWI, the castle complex was converted into a museum and remains so until date. The restoration and repair efforts that have been carried out on the castle are commendable.
The guided tour was followed by the inauguration session of the conference in the main hall of the palace. The day ended with us enjoying some cocktails and appetizers in the castle gardens.