A real leap into the past, in a fairytale atmosphere among castles, vineyards and forests.
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After an ascent accompanied by vineyards, we reach the famous Eppan Castle. The imposing castle towers on a steep rock face above the village of Missiano. From here, one dominates the Etsch valley, and several other castles can be seen, both on the same orographic side of the Etsch river (Castel Corba and Castel Boymont) and on the opposite side of the valley (Castel Greifenstein, Castel Neuhaus).
This one in Eppan is one of the most important medieval defensive constructions in South Tyrol. According to leading scholars, the spur was already occupied or even fortified at the time of the Raetians, more than two thousand years ago.
The Raetians were an ancient population settled in the Central-Eastern Alps between Italy and Austria, whose material culture is identified as being in continuity with the earlier Luco-Meluno culture that developed between the end of the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age.
The Rhaetian civilisation had as its epicentre the present-day Trentino or, in general, the whole of the historical Tyrol, developing in the entire pre-Alpine area of Veneto (Veronese, Vicentino, Trevigiano), in the Feltrino and Bellunese areas and finally spreading beyond the Alps to the Engadine in Canton Graubünden in Switzerland.
Following the conquest of the Alpine arc under the Roman Emperor Augustus between 15 and 16 CE, the Rhaetian peoples were subjugated to Rome and later included in the province of Raetia.
However, this medieval fortress as we see it today dates back to 1125 CE, built at the behest of the Counts of Appian. The former seat of the Counts of Eppan was located in the vicinity of the village of St. Pauls in Eppan: its precise location is unknown, however, its identification as either Altenburg Castle near St. Pauls or Freudenstein Castle in Eppan is debated. The reasons for the relocation are said to lie in the lack of security provided by the old castle since there was an ongoing conflict with the Counts of Tyrol, from which the Counts of Eppan eventually came out as the losers.
After the latter ambushed a papal embassy on its way to Frederick Barbarossa’s imperial court in Germany in 1158, the castle of the Eppan counts (not clear which one) was subjected to a retaliatory attack by the Duke of Bavaria and Saxony, Henry the Lion, imperial allies, who destroyed the castle. Later, the manor was rebuilt, and in 1315 it passed to the Tyrols Counts, who gave it to several families. This explains the Ghibelline swallow-tailed battlements, the hallmark of the imperial faction.
Since 1911, it has been owned by Enzenberg Counts, who also took care of the consolidation of the ruins at the most endangered points.
Preceding the castle is a small, rectangular building. This chapel has three apses cut into the wall thickness of the short side. Inside, you can admire frescoes that are among the best preserved in the Tyrol. These are paintings in the Romanesque style; the chapel dates back to 1131 CE. The exterior contains parts of frescoes that seem to recall the legend of King Theodoric, whose soul was lost while hunting a deer. Inside, there are scenes from the New and Old Testament with profane and sacred subjects. The apse displays the cycle of the wise virgins and the foolish virgins (a parable of Jesus told only in the Gospel according to Matthew) forming a truly impressive artistic impact.
We now come to the castle, admiring its still valiant and proud appearance. At present, the ruins appear consolidated and have also been partly restored. Inside is a refreshment point, where you can also obtain the keys to the castle’s Romanesque chapel, which is still well preserved.
The entrance to the castle, which underwent numerous additions and extensions over the centuries, is guarded to the north by a complex series of defence structures and watchtowers dating back to the late Middle Ages. Most of these date back to the 16th century. Outside the walls proper, a semi-circular tower, open towards the interior, was built to house firearms.
From the castle is possible to enjoy a spectacular view, well worth the effort of the climb. After a last breath of fresh air, we make our way to our next destination: Boymont Castle.