Further to my two previous posts on Castello Visconteo close to the southern tip of Lago Maggiore where we stayed in October, we were also given a short tour of the owners’ private quarters. Did you notice there is a coat of arms carved in stone on the gatepost and the façade of the castle? It is that of the House of Visconti, the noble family that ruled Milan from 1277 until 1447 when the last Visconti Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria, was followed by his son-in-law Francesco Sforza. The same heraldic emblem can still be seen at numerous places in Milan, even in the logo of some Milan-related brands such as Alfa Romeo. (Have a closer look at my post on the Sforza Castle here to spot a few.)
The Visconti emblem is exceptional: a human sticking out of the mouth of a serpent. There are at least two interpretations. It can be seen as a serpent swallowing a human, usually a child, often described as a Moor. According to another explanation, the serpent is giving birth to a child. As the motto of the noble house was ‘I will not violate the snake’s uses’ (‘Vipereos mores non violabo’) I am inclined to vote for the former legend.
However, you never know. As the Duchy of Milan was part of the union called the Holy Roman Empire a biblical explanation is also entirely possible, perhaps deriving from the story of Jonah surviving in the stomach of a great sea creature and being swallowed out after three days thanks to the mercy of the Creator. What could be a more appropriate symbol for a medieval dynasty?
There is a splendid hall for the family crests on the ground floor corner of the castle. A striking band of coats of arms painted on the walls is bordering the exquisite coffered ceiling. The multi-coloured shield-shaped crest plate with the imperial eagle on the wall behind the table is truly impressive. In fact, this spectacular hall serves as the setting for the civil weddings at the municipality of Castelletto sopra Ticino. This is not only a great arrangement but also a clever one as the present mayor lives only a few steps away as a resident of the castle.
An Italian noble house would not be thoroughbred without a Pope of their own, don’t you think? That of the Visconti family was Teobaldo who was Pope Gregorius or Gregory X from 1271 to 1276. You may have heard of the historical case when it took the cardinals almost three years to decide on the new Pope. It was Teobaldo who was finally chosen even though he was not a cardinal. During his reign, he initiated reforms aimed at limiting tactics, distractions and outside intrusion in the selection process by establishing the papal conclave with a detailed set of rules as the method of election.
The tour ended under the owners’ private portico. From there we could have a better look at the oldest structure of the castle, the southeastern tower, at the back of the inner courtyard.
Farewell little castle, I hope to see you again one day equally alive and well.