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Rocca Calascio, medieval castle in Abruzzo

In the imposing peaks of the Abruzzo Apennines, in the province of L’Aquila, stands a concrete symbol of the grandeur and history of this land: Rocca Calascio.

Nestled in the mountains, this medieval fortress stands proudly, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and the peaks of the Laga Mountains.

Short history of the Castle

The name “Calascio” given to the fortress probably comes from the Latin term “Castrum Calisci”, which means “fortress of Calisci”. This name may have been associated with the presence of an ancient population or pre-existing settlement, although the precise origins of the name may be subject to different interpretations. However, the Latin root suggests a link with the presence of a fortress or defensive structure that characterized the area already in Roman times.

Its construction around the tenth century, was completed mainly for defensive purposes, because its strategic position on a rocky promontory, guaranteed a panoramic view of the Tirino Valley and the surrounding valleys, allowing important communication routes to be controlled.

Over the centuries, the Castle of Rocca Calascio has played a crucial role in the local history. During the Middle Ages, the castle was involved in numerous conflicts between the city-states of Abruzzo, becoming a defensive bulwark against enemy raids and barbarian invasions that threatened the region.

In the twelfth century, the castle experienced a period of considerable development, under the rule of the Piccolomini, a noble family of Sienese origin. Important architectural interventions were made that gave the castle its current structure, characterized by imposing walls, watchtowers and a central keep.

Over the following centuries, the Castle of Rocca Calascio gradually lost its strategic and military importance, due to political changes and social transformations that affected central and southern Italy. With the passing of time, the castle fell into a state of neglect and decay, until it became a silent testimony of times gone by.

During the twentieth century, the Castle of Rocca Calascio experienced a revival of interest and popularity, thanks to its intrinsic charm and its impact on local culture and tourism. Among the most important restoration works at the Castle of Rocca Calascio are those carried out from the 80s and 90s of the last century. During these years, targeted actions were taken to consolidate the existing structures, repair the damage caused by time and weather and make the castle accessible to visitors. Today, the castle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Abruzzo, attracting thousands of tourists and lovers of history and architecture from all over the world.

Foto: Unsplash

Architecture of the Castle of Rocca Calascio

The castle of Rocca Calascio is located on a mountain ridge of the Gran Sasso d’Italia Massif, at an altitude of 1460 meters above sea level.

It is one of the highest castles in Italy and Europe and definitely worth a visit as it has been classified among the most beautiful medieval castles in the world.

The highest castle is located here in Italy and precisely in Veneto and is the Rocca di Andraz at 1700 meters high.

The location of the Rocca Calascio was particularly favorable, in the center between the plateau of Campo Imperatore to the north, the plateau of Navelli to the southwest and the valley of Tirino to the south-east, made the fortress one of the main fortifications of Abruzzo and allowed the control of the territory, both from the defensive point of view, both as regards the paths linked to the transhumance of flocks. It was used as a military observation point in communication with other nearby towers and castles, up to the Adriatic Sea. 

Imposing and majestic, the Castle of Rocca Calascio tells stories of battles, nobility and adventures that have characterized the history of the region.

The architectural structure of the Castle of Rocca Calascio is typical of medieval fortifications, designed with the aim of resisting enemy attacks and protecting the inhabitants within its walls. The massive, thick stone walls surround the complex, creating an impressive defensive barrier against external assaults.

One of the most distinctive features of the castle are its watchtowers, strategically arranged along the walls to ensure a panoramic view of the surroundings and to signal any incoming threats. The towers, of various sizes and heights, offered a privileged vantage point for the soldiers and inhabitants of the castle, allowing them to constantly watch over the surrounding territory.

At the center of the castle stands the keep, a main tower that served as the focal point of the defensive and administrative structure. The keep, tall and imposing, housed the residences of the local lords, the council rooms and the arsenals, representing the beating heart of the life of the castle during the Middle Ages.

The architecture of the Castle of Rocca Calascio presents a mixture of styles and influences, reflecting the different phases of construction and expansion that have characterized its thousand-year history. Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance elements blend harmoniously into the castle structure, creating a fascinating mix of shapes, proportions and architectural details.

Over the years, the Castle of Rocca Calascio has undergone numerous restorations and conservation interventions, in order to preserve its structural and historical integrity. Despite the passage of time and the challenges of the mountain climate, the fortress has kept intact its grandeur and charm, continuing to enchant and inspire visitors from all over the world.

The world of cinema and television were also interested in the fortress: in the famous 1985 film Lady Hawke by director Richard Donner, Rocca Calascio was the spectacular fortress and residence, not yet restored, where the monk Imperius lived alone, one of the main characters of the film.  The catello was then used as a backdrop to scenes of The Name of the Rose with Sean Connery, there was filmed a part of The American with George Clooney and the fiction Padre pio in addition to other Italian feature films.

How to reach the Rocca 

Rocca Calascio is accessible both by car and by train, but in this case you may need to make several stages and coordinate different means of transport if you decide to take the train or plane. 

In fact, by car is the best solution, just follow the directions.

By train it is complicated, since the nearest station is L’Aquila, but the city has no direct connections with the main Italian cities; so, you have to get off in Rome or preferably prefer the railway station of Pescara and take the bus line TUA-ABRUZZO with stop in Barisciano

Once in Barisciano, take another local bus that takes you directly to the village of Calascio and from there follow the signs to climb to the Rocca di Calascio on foot, about half an hour uphill through breathtaking views. 

There is also the possibility to take a shuttle directly to Calascio that leads to the Rocca at its highest point and then continue on foot.

The shuttle service is active from 10 am to 18.15.
Tickets for the shuttle service can be purchased in the village.

Foto : Unsplash

What to see around the Castle

To climb to the Rocca Calascio you need to pass by the village of Calascio, a small medieval village that is worth a visit: it hides some artistic treasures absolutely to see.

The village is about 1200 meters high and developed independently from the fortress.

Today it has about 125 inhabitants who live by tourism and agriculture, the municipality is part of the Gran Sasso National Park and the Laga Mountains.

In the village there are six ancient churches of various eras to visit and some noble palaces; just outside Calascio there is also an archaeological site called Grottoni di Calascio, where in addition to a deposit of flint and bones of prehistoric animals, A Neanderthal femur head was found dated 80,000 years ago.

In conclusion, Rocca Calascio is an extraordinary example of human ingenuity and artistic mastery, testifying to the power and greatness of the civilizations that have shaped the history of Abruzzo and medieval Italy.

Through its imposing walls and majestic towers, the castle invites us to travel through time and immerse ourselves in the epic adventures of a bygone era, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of those who have visited it.

Foto: Unsplash

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