Completed in 1989 by Aurelio Galfetti, the restoration work on the Castelgrande began in 1980. The largest of the three castles in Bellinzona stands on basalt rocks and is supported by flanking walls, which extend right down into the town. During restoration work, the overgrowth on the rocks was cleared to again reinforce the bleak, fortified impression of the castle.
Castelgrande Technical Information
- Architects1-2: Aurelio Galfetti
- Location: Bellinzona, Switzerland
- Topics: Restoration, Castles, Unesco
- Project Year: 1983-1989
- Photographs: © Simone Bossi, © Trevor Patt
The comission was only about the buildings on the top of the rock. I believed it was more important to give the restoration an urban dimension. In the end, the project developes some secondary spaces to support the city producing a park, a public park in the city of Bellinzona only made of rock, stone walls, four trees and a lake in the sky. A park is a place to go and stay, an so this proposal involves a route through a public space, a void that connects people with the great landscape down to lake Maggiore, on the Alps.
– Aurelio Galfetti3
Text by the Architects
The Castles of Bellinzona are a group of fortifications located around the town of Bellinzona, the capital of the Swiss canton of Ticino. Situated on the Alpine foothills, the group is composed of fortified walls and three castles named Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro.
Castelgrande is located on a rocky peak overlooking the valley, with a series of walls that protect the old city and connect to Montebello. Sasso Corbaro, the highest of the three castles, is located on an isolated rocky promontory south-east of the other two. The Castles of Bellinzona with their defensive walls have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
The first human settlement on San Michele hill dates back to 5500/5000 B.C., in the Neolithic period. The first archaeologically confirmed fortification was constructed in the fourth century A.D. The presence of a fort is also recalled in a number of documents dating back to the sixth century. It was in the fourteenth century that the castle was first called Castrum Magnum, or “Castel Grande”. This is its name today as well. However, during the Swiss occupation it was called Uri (1630) or Altdorf Castle, and in 1818 the Castle of San Michele.
The castle complex that is currently visible dates back to a range of periods: the earliest construction from the thirteenth century was built upon during a “Milanese” phase (1473-1486), which was followed by a restoration in the early 1600s and considerable overhauls in the 1800s. Its current appearance is the result of the most recent restorations (1984-1991) directed by architect Aurelio Galfetti.
Restoration work on the Castelgrande, the largest of the three castles in Bellinzona, began in 1980. This castle stands on basalt rocks and is supported by flanking walls, which extend right down into the town. During restoration work, the overgrowth on the rocks was cleared to again reinforce the bleak, fortified impression of the castle.
The new entrance to this hilltop fortification starts at the level of the town, directly on the Piazza del Sole. A natural wedgeshaped gap in the rock – lined with concrete, however – leads to a concrete-lined, domeshaped rotunda deep within the rock. This halfsphere with its “as struck” finish concrete walls forms the entrance lobby for the lifts taking visitors up to the castle. The emergency stairs, also of concrete, are clearly separated from the rock and thus portray a space claimed by people in their fight against nature. Besides the lift shaft there is also a lightwell which permits a glimpse of the sky through a small window at the top of the 40 m shaft.
From the top of the lift shaft the visitor enters the castle’s inner courtyard. The sloping, paved area, enclosed by a new straight wall and an old curved one, creates a new space. From the outside, the strict horizontal lines of the walls emphasise the vertical line of the towers.
Preserve = Transform was the slogan hold up through the long process of restoration that lasted more than twenty years. In the relationship between ancient and contemporary, in this unavoidable conflicts someone can really face this straight comparison between past and present without subordinating the latter alleging the higher values of the past.
In the past, during 6000 years, from the birth of the Neolithic village on the hill, this relationship has been repeatedly made without the difficulties which today meets, giving the whole building that particular beauty that comes from layering different ages. I did not want to stop this process during my task, but give it continuation in the contemoporary world. However, after 25 years of works, what will be more enduring is that done quietly, disregarding major conflicts: the introduction of the territorial dimension and scale within the concept of restoration.
– Aurelio Galfetti
Castelgrande Castle Renovation Plans
Castelgrande Image Gallery
About the architect
Aurelio Galfetti (2 April 1936 – 5 December 2021) was a Swiss architect. Galfetti was born in Biasca, Ticino, on 2 April 1936. Together with Mario Botta, Luigi Snozzi, and Livio Vacchini, he is one of the foremost 20th century architects from the Canton of Ticino. One of his most important works was the renovation of Castelgrande at Bellinzona.
Galfetti died on 5 December 2021, at the age of 85. His nephew is Manuel Valls, former prime minister of France.
- Design Team: Valentino Mazza, Luigi Pellegrini, Rolf Lauppi, Renato Regazzoni, Ernesto Bomger, José Ormazabal
- Structural Engineer: Enzo Vanetta
Aurelio Galfetti Castelgrande, Bellinzona by