Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron Castle:
‘Great things are done
when men and mountains meet’.
-- William Blake
Like a mosaic, the Messner Mountain Museum network (MMM) provides the visitor with a unique experience at the meeting point between nature and culture – a place where we can learn what the mountains really mean to us. Each of the museums can be enjoyed in their own right, with the location and the architecture incorporated into the actual theme. But it is as a whole that the MMM museums become an incomparable place of encounter for everyone for whom the mountains are more than a climbing frame or a competitive sports arena.
The Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron Castle: a Rich History
The castle sits on a porphyry spur of Mitterberg that overlooks the confluence of the rivers Adige (Etsch) and Isarco (Eisack), to the SW of the Bolzano/Bozen basin, at the heart of South Tyrol. Sigmundskron was always something special; its strategic position goes a long way to explain its ancient, rich history. It is one of the oldest castles in South Tyrol and, with its five-metre-thick walls, it is also one of the earliest examples in the art of fortified construction. The site was important for its defesive role already during the Bronze age; then it became a fortress of the Langobards (or Lombards), situated near the frontier. The earliest extant record of the castle dates to 945 AD; at the time it was called Formicaria (and later Formigar).
In 1027 the Emperor Conrad II presented the castle to the
Bishop of Trent, and at that point it became the seat of administration for the Prince-Bishop. In the 12th Century the castle passed to high-ranking
civil servants, who thereupon called themselves “von Firmian”. Around
1473, the Duke Sigmund the Wealthy, Prince of Tyrol, bought the castle from the Prince-Bishops, enlarged it, and eventually
had it converted into a fortress, changing its name to Sigmundskron (“The Crown of Sigmund”).
Only a few minor structures of the old Formigar Castle remain, mostly
situated at the highest point in the grounds. Due to financial difficulties,
however, Sigmund soon had to mortgage the castle, which subsequently – from the 16th Century onwards –
fell into decay; at that point, also, the fortress was no longer needed for military purposes. At the end of the 18th Century, the castle became a possession of
the Earls of Wolkenstein; then, from 1807 to 1870, passed on to the Earls of Sarnthein,
and finally – from then until 1994 – to the Earls of Toggenburg.
The castle is also a poignant political symbol for the South Tyroleans. In 1957 the biggest demonstration in the history of South Tyrol took place here, under the leadership of Silvius Magnago. More than 30,000 South Tyroleans gathered at the castle to protest failure to implement the provisions of the Paris Agreement, and to call for separate autonomy for South Tyrol, at the cry of “Los von Trient” (“Away from Trent”; that is, from Italy). One tower of the castle, the Torre Bianca (White Tower), tells the main historic events which took place in Castel Firmiano. Recently, the ruins of the castle were finally acquired by the authority of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen, which started the process to turn it into what it is today.
Man’s Encounter with the Mountains
The heart of the Reinhold Messners Museum enterprise is nestled among the ancient walls of Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron, made more accessible by a modern structure in steel and glass. As the centrepiece of the Messner Mountain Museum, MMM Firmian in Sigmundskron Castle addresses the subject of man’s relationship with the mountains. In a setting dominated by the various peaks between the Sciliar/Schlern and the Texelgruppe range, the museum is spacious enough to be organised as a circular itinerary between the various works of art, installations and relics that it hosts. The round route that meanders through paths, stairs, towers and courtyards (presented below) offers visitors an overview of the world of mountains. It leads from the depths of the mountain – where their origins (orogenesis) and exploitation (as well as their natural decaying processes) are brought to life – to the religious significance of the peaks as an aid to orientation and a bridge to the beyond; from the history of mountaineering to the alpine tourist industry that we know today. The majestic outlook of the world's most famous mountains is made alive with vividness, and through engaging displays; annual exhibitions are also being held.
Conserving the Castle
Messner found a kindred spirit for the refurbishment of the castle and the exhibition blueprint in the figure of architect Werner Tscholl. Tscholl is a specialist in castle conservation; his primary objective, here, was to preserve the original structure. The challenge at Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron was to conserve the historical walls of the castle and implement the necessary measures in such a way that they can be reversed whenever required, so that the castle can be brought back to its original state at any time. Therefore, the new architectural elements remain in the background, and merely serve as a stage for the different exhibits: the glass roofs on the towers, for example, are not visible from the outside, nor are the various pipes and cable ducts. The architect restricted his choice of materials to steel, glass and iron, as materials that strike for being both modern and timeless at once.
The Landscapes of the Museum
The exhibition trail at Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron Castle also allows one to get into a visual contact with the environment, by integrating the different surrounding landscapes. The fortress, which overlooks the city of Bolzano/Bozen, offers fine panoramic views over the Texelgruppe mountains, the Ötztaler Alps and the majestic Sciliar/Schlern. Even the buildings in the foreground and the motorway (that passes through the hill on which the castle stands) are incorporated in the overall design – as examples of how man interacts with the mountain landscapes of today.
MMM Firmian is a spacious museum offering an exciting experience. It is advised to proceed in a clockwise direction around the central rock with its 10th Century chapel.
This is a Summary of what can be seen inside Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron Castle, with the suggested order of visit:
Various items relating to Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron Castle and Reinhold Messner are available from the shop, including the catalog of the museum, posters, signed copies of all of Messner’s works and other attractive gifts from MMM. The shop also sells the Messner Mountain Moments range of cosmetics, which are produced from organically grown plants by Kräuterschlössl in Val Venosta/Vinschgau (www.kräuterschlössl.it).
Restaurant and Café
Inside the museum at Castel Firmiano/Firmian Castle, in the building with the annual exhibitions and the Sala dei Cavalieri/Rittersaal, there is also a restaurant and café with a sunny garden and a cool cellar. In addition to a small but varied range of local dishes, the restaurant offers a typical South Tyrolean snack: Brezeln, apple strudel and local cakes – plus a choice of fine wines. The restaurant is only open to visitors of the museum.
Reinhold Messner: Man and “Adventurer of the Extreme”
Born in South Tyrol in 1944, Reinhold Messner has a track record of breaking with taboos – in rock climbing, on mountaineering expeditions, and as an explorer of the extreme, crossing deserts and the Poles. For four decades he has built up a wealth of experience at the margins of the world that has enabled him to create a group of museums on the subject of mountains. Reinhold Messner himself describes this project as his “15th ascent above 8,000 metres”.
His objective is to offer a study in human nature and the secrets it reveals when we find ourselves at the edge of our physical and psychic resources, at the limits of the known world. His philosophy – “no artificial oxygen, no bolts, no communication” – has made him a defender of those values that give mountaineering a dimension that has more to do with art rather than sport. Although Reinhold Messner seeks primarily to define his basics for himself, his MMM initiative has already become a global focus for the international mountaineering community.
The Mountain Heritage: Messner’s Own Words on the MMM Project
“After a lifetime spent among the vertical rock faces of the Dolomites and on the world’s highest peaks, and while still a wanderer in deserts of ice and sand, I have set myself the task of passing on my legacy. It is my wish to tell what I have experienced at the furthest points of the globe and to speak of the people who have shared fear – and sometimes even despair – with me, as well as, ultimately, the euphoria of rebirth. From a hostile world, we brought nothing back but our experiences. And at the end of every journey to the limit of our possibilities, when we were back again among human beings, all we had left was our lives – lives that had been saved, and now called out to be filled again with challenges, goals and new tasks. One of those tasks for me is my mountain museum, MMM for short, where I tell what happens deep inside us when we abandon ourselves to the mountains – to their sublime character and sheer size, but also to their dangers and mysteries. My mountain museum will ultimately occupy five locations. It will be like a big mosaic, opening our eyes to the values that have been inherent in the mountains of the Earth since the very beginning: a tale of timelessness in the face of transformation, of dangers feared by all, and of the urge for deceleration that we all so urgently need.”
The Five MMM Museums
central headquarters in Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron and four branch museums devoted to
individual themes, Reinhold Messner has created a mountain museum network that
is truly unique. He describes the project as his “15th ascent above 8,000
metres” – and makes use of it to render visible and available his legacy, to communicate to visitors his knowledge
and experience, and ultimately to tell the stories that derive from man’s encounter with the
The MMM network currently comprises five locations, which form like a mosaic scattered over South Tyrol and the Dolomites’ region: MMM Firmian in Sigmundskron Castle near Bolzano/Bozen is the heart of the Mountain Museum; MMM Ortles in Solda/Sulden is devoted to glaciers and the world of eternal ice; MMM Dolomites on Monte Rite in Cadore, just south of Cortina, has its focus on rock and mountain climbing in the Dolomites; MMM Juval in Juval Castle in the Val Venosta/Vinschgau relates to myths and the holiness of mountains. Lastly, a fifth mountain museum opened in 2011: MMM Ripa in Bruneck Castle (in Brunico/Bruneck, Val Pusteria/Pustertal), which tells the story of mountain peoples around the world.
The Roundtrip of MMM Museums
The five locations that make up the Messner Mountain Museum are interconnected. The paths and roads that link them are part of an overall experience, and unfold in an itinerary that, from west to east, allows one to cross several valleys between the Central and Eastern Alps; from the high, snow-capped peak of the Ortles (3,902 m) to the Dolomites. The visit of any of the museums is completed and deepened by the visit of the other sites; the themes that are being dealt with in any one of the locations are varied, therefore the routes taken to reach them also become part of the experience. With the exception of the annual exhibitions in the individual satellites, all the main events take place in the central facility.
From MMM Firmian in Bolzano/Bozen the journey takes you to the Val Venosta/Vinschgau (MMM Juval) and to Solda/Sulden (MMM Ortles). Both locations are accessible by train, bus or car; from the train stations in the lower valley floor there are signposted paths that can take you to the MMM museums through amazing scenery. All these buildings stand in fine walking country, with some particularly attractive itineraries in Solda/Sulden and to Martello/Martell via Madritschjoch; some of the itineraries can also be taken in winter with skis and ski rackets, to enjoy a mountain experience to the full.
Bolzano/Bozen is also a good starting point for a day-trip to the Dolomites and Monte Rite (MMM Dolomites). The route will take the visitor through the highest Dolomite passes along the Great Dolomite Road (Grande Strada delle Dolomiti) between Bolzano/Bozen and Cortina. Zoldo there are beautiful trails in the woodland that will take you to the Museum in the Clouds (as the MMM Dolomites on Monte Rite, 2,181 m, is also known). This museum can be reached via several other routes through the Dolomites, including from the Val Pusteria/Pustertal and Cortina d'Ampezzo; the Dolomites are accessible from the south via the Alemagna National Road too.
Please consult also the page on the so-called ‘Culturonda Dolomythos’: an initiative that has been devised by the province of Bolzano (South Tyrol), divided into twelve thematic areas, and whose aim is to propose alternative ways with which to explore the culture of the Dolomites. One of these itineraries is dedicated precisely to man’s relationship with the mountains as well as the myths and legends of the Dolomites, and the MMM network is an active participant and supporter of the initiative.
Getting to Castel Firmiano “The Ecological Way”: MMM Firmian and Green Mobility.
The visitors are invited to reach the museum with an alternative means of transportation other than the car. Here are some ideas on how to get to Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron without a car:
20 min. walk from Ponte Adige/Etschbrueck, path no. 1;
25 min. by bike from Bolzano/Bozen town centre (cycle paths: Merano/Bolzano/Ora-Meran/Bozen/Auer; Bolzano/Appiano/Caldaro-Bozen/Eppan/Kaltern);
30 min. by train from Merano/Meran + 20 min. walk from Ponte Adige/Etschbrueck station; 35’ by Bo-bus – the shuttle tourist bus of the city of Bolzano.