Stenico Castle: Fortress, Residence and Museum.
The Castello di Stenico is one of the most important and atmospheric buildings in the region of Trentino. Since nearly one millennium it dominates the routes towards the Giudicarie valleys, but the history of the place is far more ancient! On the castle hill, perhaps, over 2000 years ago already gathered the Stones – a fiery people exterminated in 118 BC by the legions of Roman consul Quinto Marzio. Afterwards, a Roman settlement was founded here, and later also a Paleo-christian basilica.
The Prince Bishops of Trento then turned it into a stronghold of their power over Western Trentino, keeping it from half of the 13th century until the end of the 18th century and establishing here the seat of the Captain of the Giudicarie, who was entrusted with looking after justice in the area. The fortress, enclosed by an ample circle of walls, is composed of several buildings, fruit of the various add-ons and renovations that followed one another over the centuries. The most ancient nucleus is elevated above the ill-fated “Torre della Fame” (“The Hunger Tower”), dating to the 12th century, and that was mainly used as prison. Legend goes that the prisoners were left there to starve, and that their cries were heard as far away as the village.
Castel Stenico, acquired in 1975 by the Autonomous Province of Trento, is today an annex of the Museum of Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, and it is open to the public. The visitors can see part of the Provincial collections of art hosted here, and admire the rooms beautifully furnished with precious pieces of furniture, splendid paintings and frescoes – together with a collection of old weapons and ancient tools of daily use.
Hunched on the brow of the hill that dominates the village, this castle retains the solidly imposing appearance of a fortified building. In the interior, the elegance of the space and the refinement of frescoes and sculptures testify to its use as summer residence of the Prince Bishop of Trento (Principe Vescovo di Trento), who entrusted the government of the area to the Captain of the Giudicarie. A new series of objects dedicated to applied arts can be seen in the rooms, providing visitors with an account of the creativity and skill of the craftsmen who worked in the Trentino region over the centuries.
The main parts of the castle are as follows:
– the ‘Edificio Nuovo’ (New Building): built by the Austrian government to house the territory’s administrative offices;
– the ‘Palazzo Nuovo’ (the ‘New Palace’): dates back to the time of the Prince Bishop of Trento Federico Vanga. Includes characteristic arched two-light and three-light windows;
– the ‘Torre della Fame’ and Cistern: a prison was built in the ancient tower; on the floor a trap door provided the only access to the cell below, where prisoners were condemned (to death by starvation);
– the Palazzo Hinderbach: built in 1477 by the Prince Bishop of Trento Johannes Hinderbach, this building is set against the ‘Casa Vecchia’;
– the ‘Casa Vecchia’ (‘Old House’): on the ancient walled house – the first bishop’s property within the castle – this building was commissioned by Prince Bishop Georg von Lichtenstein and was built at the end of the 14th century;
– the ‘Palazzo di Nicolò’: was built by Nicolò from the Bozone family, the feudal lords of the castle;
– the ‘Palazzo di Levante’: was built during the 19th century on medieval structures and along the external walls.
Other individual notable rooms include:
– the Chapel of St. Martin: located on an ancient medieval site of worship, it contains an important pictorial cycle from the Romanesque period, depicting evangelical scenes and images of saints (13th century);
– the Judgment Room: a dark and atmospheric space which was used for administering justice in the territory;
– the Council Room: this large bright room was used by the castle residents for official receptions. A 15th century fresco provides a symbolic narration of the history of the territory;
– the Flower Room: the walls are adorned with a delicate pictorial frieze with floral motifs from the 15th century. Sometimes this room is also being used for temporary exhibitions;
– the ‘Putto’ Room: located in the ‘Palazzo Hinderbach’, this room contains a refined Renaissance pictorial frieze showing ‘putti’ and the standards of one of the most important Prince Bishops of Trento, Bernardo Cles (16th century);
– the Kitchen: these are the castle’s old kitchens, with their large fireplace, arranged with objects from the Museum’s collections: copper pots, wooden utensils and ceramic vessels;
– the Bishop’s Room: an intimate and reserved room, heated by the nearby kitchen and with a curious hidden ‘lavatory’;
– the ‘Torre della Fame’ and Cistern: a prison was built in the ancient tower: on the floor a trap door provided the only access to the cell below, where prisoners were condemned (to death by starvation). Nearby is the cistern for collecting rainwater;
– the ‘Camin Nero’ (Black Fireplace) Room: decorated with an elegant Renaissance frieze depicting battle scenes, it takes its name from the imposing fireplace in black Ragoli marble;
– the Medallion Room: allegories and personifications of the virtues face each other through fake ‘oculi’ in the 16th century pictorial frieze. The walls retain traces of evocative 14th century paintings.
The Adamello-Brenta Natural Regional Park
The Adamello-Brenta is the largest protected area in Trentino and one of the major nature reserves in the Alps. It covers a territory of 620 square km, ranging from the lowest altitude of 477 m and the maximum of 3,558 m (summit of the Adamello). To the west, the reserve includes part of the Adamello-Presanella, a real ‘kingdom of water’ with vast glaciers, tumultuous torrents, spectacular waterfalls and dozens of small glacial lakes; to the east, it comprises the fairy tale group of the Dolomiti di Brenta, where the magnificent Val di Tovel – with its mythical ‘Red Lake’ – is also found. This territory offers a very rich heritage in terms of flora and fauna; it includes also the last population of brown bear to have remained in the whole Alpine range. The goal of the protected area is to conserve nature, but also to promote an economic development which can be respectful of the local resources.
Part of the territory of the Adamello-Brenta Natural Regional Park lies within the municipality of Stenico; the most relevant local sights are described below.
The “Casa del Parco” Flora
Water and the marvelous world of plants: these are the two linking threads of this visitor’s centre, the “Casa del Parco Flora” (“Flora House”), situated within the Rio Bianco-Stenico Nature Area, included within the Adamello-Brenta Regional Park. The theme of water – shaping the landscape, life blood of the Earth and essential resource for man – is dealt with along the outdoor trail that skirts the roaring Rio Bianco waterfalls and crosses the stream ravine. The plant heritage of the park is also a theme that is being illustrated both in the “Casa del Parco” – where the richness of the flora and the relationship between man and plants is described – and outdoors, along an educational trail that presents all the main plant habitats and vegetation formations found in the park, and also explains the features of the various parts of a plant.
The “Casa del Parco” is dedicated to the world of the plants of the Adamello-Brenta. The exhibits on the lower floor are centered on the use of wild plants by man. The local communities have always made use of these plants for nourishment, or for healing purposes. The wood of the different tree species has also found several uses, while grasses from the meadows and pastures have played a fundamental role in the economy of these mountain areas, largely based on animal farming.
The set-ups on the upper floor offer a more ‘scientific’ panoramic view on the vegetation of the park, helping to discover the most important species within the different habitats. The local flora – and its exceptional richness – is also being dealt with here, together with the ecological preferences of the different plant species and the measures that the Park is putting into place in order to conserve this extraordinary natural heritage.
The building of the “Casa del Parco Flora” was once the most important building in Stenico, after the castle. At the end of the 1800s – in the midst of the Austro-Hungarian domination – this was the ‘Imperial Regio Casino di Bersaglio’, where the most skilled 'tiratori' (shooters) of the area would challenge each other, and a section of the house is also dedicated to document this glorious past.
The Rio Bianco Waterfall and Gorge
The Rio Bianco waterfall is one of the pearls of the Gruppo di Brenta and of the Adamello-Brenta Regional Park. It has its origins from a Karstic spring that allows water that has been channeled in the deep natural conducts among the rock layers to resurface after a route that starts many miles afar, in the high altitudes. Its peculiarity is that of being ‘intermittent’: the spring is basically inactive from late autumn to winter, while in spring – at snowmelt – it comes in full splendor, pouring down on the steep slope an incredible quantity of roaring water. The Karstic complex includes also three other springs, with a lesser water flow rate.
The trail that allows to visit the area enters into the gorge dug by the stream in a highly atmospheric setting: the small bridge and the wooden walkways on gangplanks take one face to face with the shaping strength of running water, allowing the visitor to understand the dynamics of erosion, transportation and deposition.
The Outdoor Botanical Trail
Walking uphill from the mountains to the highest peaks, the climatic conditions change progressively; with the rise in altitude one can encounter different types of woodland and other habitats, forming vegetation bands which seem super-imposed one above the other. The succession of the various types of vegetation has been recreated along this botanical trail that allows to have a synthetic indication of the main plant formations found within the park – a good introduction to the ‘live’ knowledge of plants which can be had in person when walking within the Adamello-Brenta natural park. The last section of the visit route is composed of exhibits on the life of plants: through a series of boards and games it is possible to understand what plants are for and how their different organs (roots, stem, leaves and flowers) function.