If I tell you about the Castle of Brescia, a very long chapter opens. The castle of Brescia is certainly one of the most important symbols and among the things to see in Brescia is absolutely fundamental, it characterizes the city so much.
In spite of myself, however, I feel that it is not given the attention it deserves. It is a little gem just a stone’s throw from Piazza Duomo, which even if they are uphill is still just a stone’s throw. Just to give you a sense of how far it is from the city, the photo you see below is taken from the short uphill walk to Brescia Castle starting from Piazzetta Tito Speri.
Brescia Castle and the appellation of the Lioness of Italy
I guess you non-Brescian readers have already heard of the“lioness of Italy” and the“ten days of Brescia” …right?
If you have never happened to hear of it, I will give you a little mention of it.
In 1849 Brescia was under Austrian rule, it was a stormy time for the Habsburg forces that dominated the northern cities. There was a lot of tension and they were busy keeping the situation under control. In the previous year, 1848, there had been the famous 5 days of revolt in Milan. They were an “appetizer” to what would happen only a year later.
Indeed, in Brescia in March 1849 there was a popular uprising against foreign rule. Citizens in rebellion attacked the headquarters of the Austrians, namely the castle. For 9 long days, the Brescians led by Tito Speri fought against the foreigners by besieging the city fortress and barring the city gates. Numerous were the barricades, especially in the area of S. Eufemia. The Austrians bombarded the city from the top of the castle. On the ninth day, the Austrian soldiers barricaded on the Cidneo Hill received additional help led by General Haynau. They entered the castle from the Strada del Soccorso, the general took command of the troops and demanded unconditional surrender from the rebels on pain of destroying the city.
The Brescians were not intimidated and strengthened their rebellion against the regime. They defended the city to the last; many fell while honoring their country. Unfortunately, the Austrian forces were outnumbered as well as being aided by bombardment from the castle. The Brescians gradually lost their various defenses in the city and found themselves surrounded in several places.
At that point the decision was quite logical, resisting with the few men and ammunition left was foolish, so they brokered the surrender on a number of conditions and with a disproportionate set of fines. The city was thus rendered helpless by the Austrian forces, who claimed further casualties and looted.
Despite the surrender, this Brescian resistance against foreign domination went down in history, and the Ten Days of Brescia earned the very important appellation of the Lioness of Italy. An appellation that was later translated into coats of arms and symbols that have depicted and characterized the city of Brescia ever since.
The Castle of Brescia: changes over the years
The castle of Brescia, at that juncture, returned to wartime use, albeit for ten days, as it had previously been used as a prison, something that also happened later. In 1861, with the birth of the Kingdom of Italy, the castle ends its military functions. In 1878 it begins to be reused as a green area with a completely different connotation from the past. It becomes the garden of the city.
In 1904 the use of Brescia Castle as a place for various exhibitions and displays intensified, the specola or astronomical observatory was inserted. In recent decades it has housed a zoo, an old locomotive from 1909 has been inserted, which can be seen as soon as you enter the castle’s main entrance; there are museums, botanical gardens, even tennis courts. The slope that turns to the north is characterized by being the largest urban vineyard in Europe.
There is also a very large model railway that is open to the public on Sunday afternoons. As a child I was so fascinated by it that I would often have people take me to see it on Sundays and stay for several dozen minutes staring at it, knowing that sooner or later I too would have my own model railway. This idea, as time went by I have, unfortunately, abandoned it.
The museums in the Brescia Castle
Returning to the museums, inside the castle you can find the museum of arms and the museum of the Risorgimento, the latter of which is unfortunately closed due to renovations.
In short: the castle definitely deserves to be counted as one of the most important things to see in Brescia. There are no other realities within the city nucleus that are lucky enough to have such a well-preserved castle usable by all. This is precisely its strength, the fact that it does not limit entry through the payment of a ticket. Of course, guided tours are there because not all the rooms are open to the public.
I was saying…it is a livable castle, anyone can enter and relax in its gardens, anyone can sit for hours admiring the city from above, and most of all anyone can wander the inner lanes and get lost in the meanders of its history.
I have not given you a list of how the castle is composed, what its structural features are, for that there are the guides I mentioned a few lines ago who are really very good and knowledgeable. If you want to visit it slowly and also take a guided tour. Then you have to consider at least 3 hours of time, so it is a good choice to combine it with a visit to the city.
How to get to Brescia Castle?
- Take the uphill road that starts at Piazzetta Tito Speri
- Use Via Castello that goes up the cidneo hill near Piazzale Arnaldo
- Take the access road that leans toward the castle near the beginning of Via San Faustino.
The first way I have shown you is obviously pedestrian, the other two are passable by car as there is a parking lot at the top in addition to kiosks and bars.