The first castles
In the Middle Ages, the Aosta Valley was a compulsory passage towards Alpine passes. Thus, toll collections were an important source of power and income. Since the Aosta Valley wasn't directly controlled by any authority, it was easy to take the land and appoint yourself as its lord; therefore, local nobles moved away from the towns, in search of land where they could extend their domains. Castles, towers and fortified houses arose on unaccessible elevations to dominate vast stretches of land from above.
In the Aosta Valley, first castles date back from the beginning of the XI century; often they were built on previous fortified settlements. They consisted in a square tower, or donjon, surrounded by walls. Typical examples of fortifications from the 11th and 12th century are Graines Castle in Brusson, the castle of Cly in Saint-Denis and Châtel-Argent castle in Villeneuve. Their chapels show the extreme simplicity of Romanesque religious architecture.
The evolution of defensive castles into mansions
In the following centuries, castles gets more complex. Residential functions, which were originally distributed in separate buildings, are brought together under one roof, and become more important than defensive functions. It's the case of Ussel castle and Verrès castle.
Savoy Castle stands in Gressoney-Saint-Jean, surrounded by greenery and the colours of a rocky alpine garden. Margherita of Savoy spent her summers there.
The fortress of Bard was an unconquerable nineteenth century barrier fortress. It is now a European cultural centre, with museum and exhibition spaces.
An expression of the metamorphosis of Gothic to Renaissance, Issogne castle holds surprising art treasures.
Elegant features, such as the large staircase with flying buttresses and the mullioned windows in dressed stone, are linked with the essential defence devices.
Ussel castle is an impressive single body defensive castle that seems to emerge from the rock to dominate the Dora valley and the district of Châtillon.
Gamba castle holds the regional collection of modern and contemporary art with over 1,500 works of art presented in 13 rooms of the castle.
Cly castle is one of the oldest castles of the Aosta Valley. The large defensive walls, crowned by gabled Guelph merlons, surround constructions erected between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries.
Towers and crenelated walls that evoke adventure and fairy-tale charm make Fénis castle one of Aosta Valley's most visited.
Sarre castle, the hunting and holiday residence of the House of Savoy, tells about the life of the royal family in the Aosta Valley.
While the near Saint-Pierre castle dominate from above the hill, the castle of Sarriod de La Tour stands among orchards, on a flat area ending in a cliff over the Dora Baltea.
It concentrates medieval and baroque phases, the result of the initiatives of the various members of the Challant family who over the centuries have adapted the building to the needs and tastes of the time.