Village of Soncino: fantasy and impregnable towers
In an agricultural plain, full of farms interspersed with small villages, ruins of ancient monastic communities as well as other fine examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture, you may chance upon Soncino, a village in the province of Cremona.
The village is surrounded by a ring wall and is laid out in a rectangular pattern, evidence of its Roman roots. It is full of enchanting buildings and churches, but if you pass outside the city wall, your attention will undoubtedly be captured by the Castle.
This castle belonged to the Sforza family, who dominated the city’s history for a long period, and built this fort in the twelfth century. In 1473, the engineer Bartolomeo Gadio began a series of modifications. The structure, made completely of brick, is characterised by four impressive towers, of which only the circular tower, the highest, was used as a lookout.
The castle walls, which are remarkable for their width and height, were designed to withstand artillery fire. They were protected by battlements and had trapdoors from which the defenders could hurl rocks and boiling liquids.
The deep moat could be crossed only by means of the drawbridge. At the end of the 1800s, the drawbridge was replaced with a ravelin, or a type of bastion that is separate from the perimeter wall and designed to protect the entrance gate.
Beginning in 1536, ownership of the castle passed to the Stampa family, who over a long period converted it into an stately home. They called upon celebrated local artists to decorate the rooms and an internal chapel was added. Some frescoes remain, in particular in the Lord’s Tower, where the head of the fortification lived. This was also the only tower that was completely isolated, as it represented the last bulwark in the event of an attack.
The underground tunnels are possibly the most fascinating part of the castle, and although they are no longer open to the public, you can catch glimpses of them as you are visiting the rest of the castle. They give the impression of a maze of secret passages that allowed the castle’s residents to escape the castle and disappear in the surrounding countryside should there be an attack.
In the internal courtyard, you can still see the well that provided water in the event of an assault on the castle. For film lovers, the castle was used as the set for Ladyhawke, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick and Rutger Hauer as well as for the film Il mestiere delle armi by Ermanno Olmi
There are other stories and locations in Soncino that are worth describing and recounting. In this article, we will focus on just one other, Palazzo degli Azzanelli, built in the 15th century, which stands out in the city landscape for its earthenware tile decorations on the façade. The two levels of the buildings are separated by a string-course with festoons, garlands and angels along its length. The windows are encircled by more earthenware tiles, to which ceramic tiles were added at a certain point in its history. The interior is also interesting, although, unfortunately, not open to the public. It contains a courtyard with spacious arches and elegant columns.
We will certainly come back to Soncino to relate the story of Ezzelino da Romano, one of the most infamous and cruel of leaders from the Middle Ages, as well as the publishing business that a Jewish family from Speyer, Germany brought to the town in 1483 and which continues to flourish today.