Experience Castiglione del lago in Umbria
Welcome to Castiglione del Lago
Once upon a time, the centro storico, old town centre of Castiglione del Lago, was the fourth island of Lake Trasimeno.
However, the swampy marshes surrounding the medieval hilltop, long ago gave way to what is now somewhat-less-magical suburban moat, complete with the convenience of supermarkets and shops. The charming Medieval village fortress (Castello del Leone AKA Rocca del Leone – the Fortress of the Lion) still overlooks the cool clear waters of the lake and all the people that live here and visit her shores. It is today recognised as one of Italy’s most beautiful towns
Why was Castiglione del Lago Built as a Fortress?
The Dark Ages are defined by obscure wars with between obnoxious neighbours and/or, more often than not, the Pope. After one such battle, around 1247, a certain Frederick II of Swabia (1194 – 1250) saw an opportunity. Fred was in need of some serious Central Italian defences (part of a massive Italy-long defence system) in the wars against the Papal states. He razed the burnt and crumbling remains of Castiglione del Lago’s previous incarnation and rebuilt a walled fortress – leaving us with the medieval time capsule we have to this day. These days, fortunately, the most battle-activity this peaceful little town sees is the ‘duelling-delis’ who tempt you with spears of cheese and swords of salami.
Who was King Fredrick II?
King Freddy is one of the most incredible people hardly anyone has ever heard of.
King of Sicily, King of Germany, King of Italy, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Jerusalem, son of Emperor Henry VI of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and Constance, heiress to the Norman kings of Sicily and finally dubbed ‘Antichrist’ by Pope Gregory IX. He spoke six languages (Latin, Sicilian, Middle High German, Langues d’Oïl, Greek and Arabic), was a patron of science, poetry and art and influenced modern Italian by “the first use of a literary form of an Italo-Romance language, Sicilian.” He ruled all the lands from Sicily to Germany and gained Jerusalem in the Crusades. The Papacy naturally hated him and he was excommunicated three times. Although Rocca del Leone was one of the most solid castles in Central Italy, the Papal states did eventually win. Perugia lost its battles with Pope Paul III’s salt tax. Castiglione became a fief of Perugia’s noble Baglioni family and to this day Umbrians do not put salt in their bread!
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Castiglione del Lago: What’s in a name?
More than you might think.
There is enough debate over the origin of the name to make it interesting.
Some say there was a long-ago family who bestowed the name “Leone” Lion upon the first long-lost castle. Others say the original name of the castle, Castillonem morphed into Castiglione (Castello del Leone) over time. Academics point out that many Italian places are called “Castiglione di… something” – marketing is not a new concept – and in the Middle Ages it was customary for lords to name their castles with images of beauty and strength: “Castrum Leonis”, Castiglione, Lion Castle. Somewhat less romantically, others point out that ‘Castiglione’ is ancient Gallic.‘Cast’ meaning house or castle and ‘Ion’ means Lord. So “residence of the Lord”. But others disagree! “Castiglione” has its roots in the Latin term “Castellio-onis,” which means “oppidulum” or “little fortress”. My personal favourite is that the castle was built in a pentagon shape resembling the constellation of Leo. So that the reason I’m going with.
Ancient History of Castiglione del Lago
The fertile valleys of the Valdichiana and Lake Trasimeno have been important since ancient times. Long before Fred battled the Papal armies and indeed, long before the Pope.
Castiglione sits between Orvieto, Chiusi and Arezzo. 10 points if you recognised these places as Etruscan headquarters. The Etruscans fought the Romans. Tuscans battled Perugians. Hannibal then decimated the Romans. King Fred brought peace until his fortress fell under the control of Perugia and the Papal States.
In 1550, Pope Julius III gave Castiglione del Lago to his sister and her son, Ascanio della Corgna (1516 – 1571) who became the Marquis of Castiglione and Chiusi.
Palazzo della Corgna A.K.A Palazzo Ducale
Ascanio, when he wasn’t off fighting (which was often), was at home building a renaissance palazzo. Today it is the Town Hall, a museum and frescoed gallery artistically bedazzled by Pescaro-born Giovanni Pandolfi, Florentine Salvio Savini and, in 1574, Niccolo Circignani, (known as “Il Pomarancio”) added paintings and decorations to the Room of the Exploits (of Ascanio della Corgna) after his death.
The palazzo has a long, covered corridor that connects to the castle and you can buy tickets to see both in an office off the main square.
Castiglione del Lago and the Mystery of Three
It’s not too hard to guess that the esoteric symbolism of the number three, oozing out of Castiglione del Lago’s every nook and cranny, is down to the fact that Fred’s architect, Elia of Cortona was also a monk. According to religious customs of the time, it was the most magical and powerful number in the Universe and reperesented in everything from the Holy Trinity to the social divisions of the period: the clergy, nobles and peasants. There are three gates into the town: Porta Perugina, Porta Senese and Porta Fiorentina. Also three churches: La Maddalena, San Domenico and Sant’Agostino. Finally, the Rocca del Leone is triangular, and originally three main streets led to the fortress.
Santa Maria Maddalena
The 11th Century stuccoed Church of Santa Maria Maddalena, built to a Greek-cross plan, the main street, via Vittorio Emanuele (near the Porta Senese) has a panel painted by Eusebio da San Giorgio in 1580.
FESTIVALS IN CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO
Tulip festival Castiglione del Lago
The Tulip Festival has been celebrated every April since 1956. It is organized by the Castiglione del Lago pro-loco association and attracts thousands of visitors every year. The event features an opening-day parade of allegorical floats decorated with thousands of colourful tulips by the five neighborhoods. Around town the tavernasopen their doors and the streets are enlivened with local street actors playing ancient games in vintage costumes.
Coloriamo i Cieli Kite Festival
Every year in late April or May the Italian Kite Association organizes a festival called “Coloriamo I Cieli” (Let’s paint the sky attracting thousands of people from around the world. It now includes light aircraft (nearly 2000 in 2007), hot air balloons (17) and thousands of multi coloured kites.
MOVIES IN THE SUMMER
The ROCCA MEDIEVALE becomes an open-air theatre in the summer – from June to the end of August/September – so keep an eye out for the movies with English subtitles (if you speak English) and concerts in the castle. Lots of family fun for summer holiday in Umbria
Family Fun and Sporting Activities and Castiglione del Lago Beaches
There is a perfect combination of the lake and beach activities, cafes and restaurants in Castiglione del Lago and activities surrounding countryside such as horse riding, hiking, biking and Vespas. You can take a ferry to the islands or even sail there yourself!
Typical foods of Castiglione del Lago
All of Umbria is rich in history, culture, natural and man-made beauty. And what is a feast for the eyes and the heart is also a feast for the stomach. The fertile valley of the Valdichiana rolls out seasonal products that make up a rich local cuisine.
SLOW FOOD CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO
Many local varieties of vegetables at risk of extinction have been protected by the Institute of Genetic Improvement of the Faculty of Agriculture of Perugia. These can be grown by families or small businesses in the areas bordering Lake Trasimeno and only eaten locally.
Fabio and the Fagiolini Beanstalk
According to legend, once upon a few years ago, a young man named Jack, just joking, a young organic farmer from Castiglione del Lago called Fabio Berna, found a few jars of bean seeds in his grandparent’s attic. It was a giant success. Together with some other farmers, began growing Trasimeno beans again. In 2000, the Trasimeno bean was awarded a Slow Food specialty..
The creamy white Trasimeno beans have a delicate taste and the stronger colorful Trasimeno beans have a slightly nutty taste.
2,500 years ago, this type of bean was cultivated around the Lake Trasimeno by the Etruscans. High in protein, they were perfect for an ancient diet. By the 20th century however, no one could be bothered with these needy little guys that require intensive farming techniques. (During harvest the farmer has to collect the ripened beans every day rather than all at once). So they had been almost completely replaced by the easier to grow, fatter South American varieties – alas – almost forgotten.
Broccoletti del Lago
Another local delicacy that nearly disappeared thanks to introduced vegetables. Thankfully brought back from the compost heap in the nick of time. Brocoletti of Lake Trasimeno are grown in the sandy soils of the surrounding lake villages of Magione, Passignano sul Trasimeno, Tuoro sul Trasimeno, Castiglione del Lago and Panicale. The brocoletti (or camette) are actually shoots from the turnip plant. It is topped before it flowering – boiled and garnished with oil and garlic. Harvesting takes place in late winter, early spring.
Lake fish such as perch or tench grilled and roasted over lake-reed straw which gives it a special flavour. Deboned and served with olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of vinegar. This dish dates back to the ancient Etruscans.
Is perhaps the most iconic dish of of Lake Trasimeno. All the lake’s fish combined together in a fragrant tomato broth and cooked for at least 5 hours in a terracotta pot.
Regina in porchetta
Oven-baked queen carp carp flavoured with fennel, garlic, pepper and salt (a la porchetta roast suckling pig)
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