Above the medieval village of Gemona stand the ruins of an ancient castle with a thousand-year-old history.
The castle is perched above the valley at the top of the hill, reached via the 150 steps of Salita dei Longobardi: the view from the top is well worth the climb! The castle is located in a strategic position for keeping watch, on a site that has probably been fortified since Roman times, though it does not appear in written records until the time of Paul the Deacon, who identifies it as one of the castles fortified by the Longobards in 611 to defend themselves against the Avars.
In the 11th century, a noble family known as the Lords of Gemona, later to become the Lords of Prampero, appear in the documents as residing in the castle. After the Lords of Prampero had acquired the community, the Patriarch and the Commune took over ownership of the castle in the early 14th century, beginning work right away to restore it and enlarge it into a “true” castle; in the accounts of the Massari from 1349 onwards there are no traces of radical work on the castle, just a tower raised a little taller and repairs required mainly due to lightning strikes. The castle was damaged in the 1511 earthquake, but a 1571 survey found that the fortifications were in good condition.
Before the earthquake destroyed what remained of the castle in 1976, the central tower was visible (the bell tower or clock tower,with the 1784 “Community Bell”), as were the western tower, known as the “torate”, and a third tower which had been renovated and restored in the early nineteenth century and used as a prison until 1967.
Gemona Castle today: the keep, the towers and the public gardens.
In its heyday, the Castle was a fortified complex protected by three crenellated towers and a massive circle of walls. We know it was used as a quarry for building other constructions in Gemona: the ancient Ospitale di S. Michele in the fifteenth century and in 1522; in the construction of the existing Town Hall (1503,); and in the reconstruction of the walls of the main façade of the Cathedral (1825)
GEMONA PUBLIC GARDENS: A PLACE TO STROLL AND ATTEND EVENTS
The gardens are currently being renovated, adapting parts of the castle complex, including the “clock tower“ and two of the three circles of walls around the castle, dating from the eleventh, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. On the lower spur to the west are the ruins of the northern part of the keep. The public gardens reopened in December 2008 and have become a popular place to stroll due to their hilltop location; musical, cultural and theatrical events have been held here in the summer since 2010.
“This is where my grandfather asked my grandmother to marry him.” Many of the stories handed down over the generations in Gemona centre around the Castle.
There’s the story of the crow and the owl, the one about the beautiful chatelaine, and the one about the orc that appeared at sunset, all handed down since the dawn of time. Gemona Castle has always provided the backdrop for the lives of the people of Gemona. The stories also feature characters of days not so long gone, such as Adamaccio, and the poor people of the town who had themselves locked away in the prison in the Castle tower to escape the hunger and cold of winter.
STORIES ABOUT THE CASTLE COLLECTED IN THE BOOK “ACQUA IN BOCCA”
Cover of the book “Acqua in Bocca”
In 2018, the stories told about the Castle and handed down by the people of Gemona over the generations were written down. The kids of Istituto Comprensivo di Gemona elementary and junior secondary school collected the stories, and a selection was chosen by writer Chiara Carminati for inclusion in a publication illustrated with photographs by Massimo Tappari entitled Acqua in bocca. It may be DOWNLOAD HERE. (Erasmus Plus Kids Conquering Castles project, in collaboration with Pro Glemona and Damatrà Onlus.)