Castelgrande and the wall
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The Fortress of Bellinzona is the largest and the only example of a defensive structure still visible in Europe consisting of several castles and a large defensive wall. Originally built by the Dukes of Milan as a defense against Confederate invasion, it blocked the entire Ticino Valley northwards.
The first human settlement on San Michele hill dates back to 5500/5000 B.C., in the Neolithic period. The first archaeologically confirmed fortification was constructed in the fourth century A.D. The presence of a fort is also recalled in a number of documents dating back to the sixth century. It was in the fourteenth century that the castle was first called Castrum Magnum, or “Castel Grande”. This is its name today as well. However, during the Swiss occupation it was called Uri (1630) or Altdorf Castle, and in 1818 the Castle of San Michele.
The castle complex that is currently visible dates back to a range of periods: the earliest construction from the thirteenth century was built upon during a “Milanese” phase (1473-1486), which was followed by a restoration in the early 1600s and considerable overhauls in the 1800s. Its current appearance is the result of the most recent restorations (1984-1991) directed by architect Aurelio Galfetti.
The castellated wall is divided into 3 segments. From one of these, 2 branches of walls spread all the way to the city, and at one time linked up with those coming down from Montebello Castle. It was these walls that protected the hamlet long ago.
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