Castiglione del Lago
by Laura Zazzerini
«… between the south and the west / along the lake lies Castiglione, protruding / like a head or a peninsula over its waters, of its castle and towers / and of its fertile olive trees, proud» (Assunta Pieralli, Il Lago Trasimeno)
Castiglione del Lago «lies on a limestone promontory that, surrounded on three sides by water, projects out for half a kilometre over Lake Trasimeno like a large ship ready to sail».
It has very ancient origins and it was inhabited even in the Upper Palaeolithic, as evidenced by some archaeological finds like the Trasimeno Venus. The pile dwellings in the area date from the Neolithic when «Lake Trasimeno was much larger and its waters were not contained […] by hills and terraces» and «Castiglione was an island, the fourth largest on the Trasimeno». The history of the settlement begins with the Etruscans though, who turned Castiglione del Lago into a colony and called it Clusium Novum. Evidence that it was inhabited in the Etruscan period is given by the remains of a temple dedicated to the goddess Celati. It then fell under Roman domination and «history has it that the Romans considered cutting the isthmus to make it impregnable, but they abandoned the idea and the place was left as it was».
There aren’t any other historical records until the year 776 when Charlemagne returns Clusium Novum to Pope Adrian. Its possession, including the entire lake and the three islands, is passed on to Pope Paschal I in 817 by Louis the Pious. In 995, Otto III gave Castiglione del Lago to Perugia.
For a long time, because of its strategic position, it was contended between the cities of Perugia, Arezzo and Siena until 1100 when it was eventually taken over by Perugia which turned it into a defensive stronghold. Around the middle of the 13th century, Emperor Frederick II built huge walls to defend the settlement, transforming what was just a little castle into an actual stronghold that he called Castello del Leone, probably the origin of its current name.
From 1416 to 1424, the settlement was ruled by Braccio Fortebracci and at his death, it passed to Martin V. In 1488, it was taken over by the degli Oddi family who controlled it until the Count of Pitigliano, a Florentine general who was stationed in Camucia, decreed that they returned Castiglione del Lago to Perugia. Its Signoria was offered to the Baglioni family though after they paid 800 gold ducats to the count. After the Baglioni family, its rule passed to the Papal States until 1554 when Pope Julius III offered Castiglione del Lago to Francesco della Corgna and to Ascanio, son of Francesco and Giacoma del Monte, the pope’s sister. Under the rule of the della Corgna family, who kept Castiglione del Lago until 1645, the village became a marquisate first and then a duchy, changing its urban structure and mutating into what it is today. Definitively passed under the rule of the State of the Church, it stayed in its possession until the Unification of Italy.
Palazzo della Corgna or Palazzo Ducale
Bought by the town in 1870, it currently houses its town hall. Originally, it was built as a tower‑house for the Baglioni family who even had Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci as their guests. In 1563, Ascanio della Corgna acquired the title of marquess and began some works to completely turn it into a small palace. The palace was built from plans drawn up by Vignola and Alessi. It was built on four levels. The lowest contained cellars and stables, the kitchens and storage areas were in the basement, above them was the main floor while the top floor contained the bedrooms. It is embellished by frescoes by Niccolò Circignani, known as Pomarancio, and Salvio Savini that celebrate the glory of the della Corgnas through mythical depictions and representations of their deeds.
It was built by Frederick II of Swabia who began its construction in 1247 from plans drawn up by Friar Elia Coppi from Cortona. It has an irregular pentagonal structure with four towers at the corners (two of which were coeval with the fortress, while the other two were built in the 15th and 16th centuries to replace the previous ones that had been destroyed) and a triangular keep of about 39 metres of height. Palazzo della Corgna is connected to the first gate of the fortress through a raised walkway. It is one of the most interesting examples of mediaeval architecture in Umbria and in the 15th century it was considered to be almost impregnable.
It belongs to the Town of Castiglione del Lago and it is the largest island on the Trasimeno. In 1973 it was acquired by the Province of Perugia and today it’s home to a scientific-didactic park, part of Lake Trasimeno Regional Park. The name of the island probably derives from the term polvento, downwind. It is certain that the territory was inhabited by the Etruscans and the Romans. The oldest historical record dates back to 817 when the island is mentioned by Louis the pious who gives Lake Trasimeno and its three islands to Pope Paschal I.
Among the monuments on the island are the Churches of San Giuliano and San Secondo, the Olivetano Monastery and the Castle. More recently, we have the Giardino delle Piante Acquatiche – Piscina del Porcinai, created in 1959 by Pietro Porcinai. Regarding its ecosystem, there are mainly evergreen oaks, downy oaks, manna ashes, viburnums, laurels, butcher’s brooms, privets, pomegranates and rosemary trees, many species of insects but also foxes, beeches, hares, coypus and a great variety of birds such as grebes, coots, herons and mallards.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SOURCES
- Lupattelli, Castiglione del Lago. Cenni storici e descrittivi, Perugia, Tip. G. Guerra, 1896.
s.v. Castiglione del Lago, in P. Caruso, Benvenuti in Umbria. 92 comuni, Collazzone (PG), Grilligraf, 1999, pp. 114-117.
- Binacchiella, Castiglione del Lago e il suo territorio, Catiglione del Lago, [s.n.], 1977.
s.v. Castiglione del Lago in M. Tabarrini, L’Umbria si racconta. Dizionario, v. A-D, Foligno, [s.n.], 1982, pp. 321-326.
- Festuccia, Castiglione del Lago. Guida al Palazzo Ducale ed alla Fortezza medievale, Castiglione del Lago, Edizioni Duca della Corgna, 2008.
- Festuccia, Castiglione del Lago. Cuore del Trasimeno fra natura, arte e storia, Castiglione del Lago, Edizioni Duca della Corgna, 2017.