Castelvecchio (Old Castle) is a medieval castle located in the historical center of Verona, currently used as the seat of the homonymous civic museum. The castle is the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty, the family that ruled the city in the Middle Ages.
Initially, the fortification was called Castello di San Martino in Aquaro, a name derived from a pre-existing church located on this place, dating back to the 8th century. The complex took the name of Castelvecchio after the construction of Castel San Pietro.
The construction of the castle was commissioned by Cangrande II della Scala in 1354. The fortress was placed to the south of the municipal wall, and took the form of a fortified residence, around the large rectangular enclosure of the Court of Arms (Corte d’Armi). The castle was completed in 1376 by Antonio and Bartolomeo II della Scala.
At the same time, Ponte di Castelvecchio, the fortified bridge over the Adige, was built. The bridge, for the exclusive use of the castle, served as an escape route to the Adige Valley, preventing the river from becoming an insurmountable barrier.
During the domination of the Visconti family, who took the place of the Della Scala family for a few years, the new defensive stronghold of Castel San Pietro was built, which led to a decrease in the defensive function of the Castle of San Martino.
Under the Venetian domination of the city, the castle was used as a barracks, artillery arsenal, armory and warehouse for food reserves. Part of the castle was also used as a prison.
At the beginning of the 19th century, during the Napoleonic occupation, the castle was heavily transformed into an arsenal. The buildings in the northern court were demolished, and between 1802 and 1805 new barracks were built along the west and north sides of the same court.
In 1805, Arco dei Gavi, which was integral part of the fortification, was dismantled by the French for reasons of military security and, for the same reason, the adjacent Clock Tower was completely demolished.
Under the Italian Administration, in 1870, the Castelvecchio Bridge was opened to the public and made passable with the opening of a Gothic arch in the perimeter walls, near the ruins of the Clock Tower.
Between 1923 and 1926, there was an extensive restoration of the castle directed by the architect Ferdinando Forlati and by Professor Antonio Avena, during which the Clock Tower was rebuilt.
The aerial bombardments of 1945 severely damaged the eastern wing of the castle, while the retreating German troops destroyed the Castelvecchio Bridge. The reconstruction of the wing was completed in 1947, under the direction of the architect Alberto Avesani, while the bridge was reconstructed by Piero Gazzola between 1948 and 1951.
The layout of the castle is the result of several construction phases, and of the transformations and restorations that have taken place over the centuries. However, three main parts can be distinguished: the so-called Corte della Reggia of Scaligera, to the south, Corte d’Armi, to the north, and to separate the two previous ones, the so-called Corte del Mastio (Court of the Lookout Tower).
Between Corte del Mastio and Corte d’Armi stands a high crenellated curtain wall, an imposing remnant of the municipal era walls. The curtain extends from the Clock Tower to the bank of the Adige, near the bridge.
To the north, is the crenellated, almost rectangular enclosure of the Corte d’Armi, protected on the external perimeter by a dry moat and equipped with four towers, crenellated and covered by wooden roofs.
In the eastern wall, overlooking Corso Castelvecchio, a tower-gate with a drawbridge is inserted. A secondary entrance, also with a drawbridge, is located next to the corner tower on the Corso. The enclosure ends on the bank of the Adige with the fourth tower, at the base of which opens a small door.
The castle is dominated by the lookout tower (Mastio) that stands on the bank of the Adige, near the fortified bridge. At the base of the tower, is the fortified Ponte di Castelvecchio with three large unequal arches.
The Castelvecchio Museum, one of the most important museums in Verona, was restored between 1958 and 1964 by Carlo Scarpa.
The access courtyard houses a medieval lapidary. The access rooms on the ground floor contain early medieval and Romanesque epigraphs and 14th and 15th century Veronese sculptures. The Reggia Hall features detached frescoes, paintings from the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, and 14th-century sculptures and jewels (including works by Pisanello, Bellini, Carpaccio, Mantegna and Rubens).
The upper level of the Napoleonic wing features large canvases by Veronese and Venetian artists from the 16th to the 18th century (including Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese). Finally, the last room is dedicated to the works of 18th century artists (including Giambattista Tiepolo).
HOW TO GET THERE
Castelvecchio is located about 1.4 kilometers away from the Verona Porta Nuova railway station. The closest bus stop is near the castle, in Corso Cavour, on the bus Lines 21, 22, 23, 24, 31, 32, 33, 41, 61, 62, 93, 94 and 95.