Usually when people think of the Po plain, they imagine picturesque landscapes covered in banks of fog; but if you look closer, as the fog lifts, in the open countryside and in the historical town centres, imposing and suggestive fortifications slowly appear. Residences of great military commanders, places of imprisonment or battle, places of culture and legends, intrigue and passion. It is not surprising as we are talking about a territory that for centuries has been a through passage and meeting point between different cultural and commercial areas. The cities that had to defend themselves with strongholds,fortresses, look out towers, walls and moats were much sought after. Many of these sights are still around today, some in good conditions,others less so, some reduced to ruins, but no less fascinating for this reason; others, during the course of history, have been incorporated in palaces, residences and farmhouses.
Here are some examples.
Along the River Serio, the well conserved Castle of Malpaga rises, it was the residence of the great 'condottiere' Bartolomeo Colleoni. It is a fourteenth century castle, square in design with a central courtyard, with swallow tail battlements, a drawbridge, surrounded by a moat. Later other external buildings were added along with sixteenth century frescoes of the Flemish school. Near Malpaga there is also the castle of Martinengo, the fortress of Romano di Lombardia, also belonging to the Colleoni family, but built by the Visconti's between 1200 and 1300. Many castles were built or finished by the Visconti family; amongst the most impressive is the Visconteo Castle at Pagazzano. Today it is still surrounded by a moat fed by a canal, with the drawbridge, facing the countryside, still working. Then there is the Castle at Brignano Gera D'Adda, a fortified village transformed into a rich country residence in seventeenth century. Friezes, statues, columns and raised turrets in Baroque style were added. And more, the outstanding looking castle at Cassano which reflects in the waters of the River Adda; and the proud castle of Trezzo built by Bernabò Visconti on the ruins of an ancient Longobard stronghold, at the time considered one the most outstanding structures in Lombardy. Today there are only its remains but its powerful main tower, 'il Mastio' still dominates the river from the top of a cliff. In the 'Cremasco', at Pandino. Bernabò had a residence built for hunting. At that time the territory was still full of woods with many animals including wolves, at times they would reach the cities in search of food. Once more in the area of Crema, the castle at Soncino still appears today in all of its former splendour, it was vital for the defense of the Duchy of Milan due to its position on the River Oglio. The Sforza family reinforced the medieval structure so that it became solid and imposing with square towers and a terrace, tall and heavy swallow tailed walls, a moat and a drawbridge were also added. These are just a few examples of the enormous wealth of castles that during the course of time, no longer needed for their original use, have been converted for other uses, in a justifiable attempt to keep them alive. Many today are agricultural co-operatives, offices of corporations, cultural offices, businesses. In most cases, the conversions have not touched the proud centuries old history of such buildings. History re-enacted during numerous festivals that every year are organised by local councils and associations, helping us to escape from today's frenzy and inviting us to step back in time.