The Castle and the area of the Museums
This tour is just an approach to the knowledge of the Castle of Brescia, which is, unfortunately, by its own nature, a hard and difficult route. Standing on the impassable Cidneo Hill, overlooking the city, the place where the Castle rose has proved to be one of the most stratified archaelogical sites in Brescia.
As a matter of fact, finds of the earliest times, revealing the prehistoric origin of the town, were found here. The Castle, known as the ‘Falcon of Italy’, is one of the biggest and best preserved fortified fortresses in the peninsula and one of the most suggestive spots in Brescia, from both the historical and landscape point of view. Therefore we recommend this tour, even if it is hard, to enjoy a beautiful view of the town, to get the warlike spirit of the past ages or to enjoy a little quietness and silence after the noise of the city streets ( The drive to the Castle is slightly steep, much steeper under the entrance vault). From the square in front of the Castle we can see the outer Venetian ramparts: to the west the rampart of S. Faustino, to the east the one of S. Marco, linked by powerful curtains of walls, built in the middle 16th century, when Brescia was returned to the Republic of Venice after the French retreat.
The Access Portal, or Porta Maggiore, (1599) of Doric style, dominated by the Lion of S. Marco, carved on a stone slab from Istria, was once preceded by a drawbridge. We go through the portal (remains of a fresco above the exit portal) and we are within the Venetian defensive walls. On the left there is the ‘Palazzina Haynau’, named after the Austrian general who defeated Brescia after the ‘Ten Days of Resistence’ in 1849. From here we can easily reach The Locomotive Square of 1906 ( The Locomotive Square has a gravelly paving, the stretch to the terrace with a panoramic view has dirt paving; equipped toilets at the back of the Palazzina Haynau), and enjoy a wonderful view of Brescia; some of the performances of the ‘Estate Aperta Bresciana’ take place here. Leaving this square and going uphill along the lane, on the right we find the ‘Palazzina degli Ufficiali’ with the entrance to Strada del Soccorso and, next, ‘il Grande Miglio’ e ‘il Piccolo Miglio’ (1597-’98), the two corn storehouses of the Venetian garrison.
These are massive buildings, with rectangular plan; their groundfloor is covered by vaults and they have wall hangings in square blocks of medolo. Today they house the ‘Museo del Risorgimento’ ( The drive to the Museo del Risorgimento is very steep; access for disabled with call bell before the main entrance. The museum is accessible.), the civic collection of material dating from the end of the 18th century to the Unity of Italy (1870). Among the various antiques there are sidearms and guns, documents, French and Italian prints, paintings, busts of important people, maps of battles, flags, etc. Coming out of the museum and going on up the slope, we reach the drawbridge ( The slope to the Drawbridge is too steep) with a medieval structure (first half of 14th cent.), which links up the top part of the hill. There we find the Mastio Visconteo (first half of 14thcent.), built in the remains of a roman temple of the 1st cent.oa.C., which houses the Museum of Arms L. Marzoli (1988), unfortunately not accessible for disabled. Beside the bridge there is
the Prisoners’ Tower, a casemate divided into three levels fitted with radiating gunport. This is the only tower of the Castle which does not have any openings for the light artillery, and this could justify a dating back to the Viscontis’ age (1337-1403). On the left of the bridge there is the ‘Fossa Viscontea’, the place where the martyrs of the ‘X Giornate di Brescia’ (ten days of resistence) were shot.
The Castle and the area of the Observatory
We go back to the portal of the Castle, turn right and see two stone lions and the beautiful well. Going on along the path on the right, we get to the Civica Specola Astronomica Cidneo “A. Ferretti Torricelli”, which is an important reality of scientific popularization in Brescia ( The small drive to the Civica Specola Astronomica is steep. The Observatory is accessible.). The observatory was founded in 1953, thanks to the support of the Professor to whom it is dedicated; the telescope of the city Observatory is situated on the castle rampart of S. Marco and it has enabled the citizens to observe the wonders of the sky for fifty years. We leave the Observatory, walk along the driveon the left flanking the Prima Cinta (First Castle Wall), and reach the beautiful Fossa Viscontea ( The drive to the First Castle Wall and to the Fossa Viscontea is gravelly and somewhere uneven.).
From the Castle to the church of S. Pietro in Oliveto
We leave the square of the Castle and go on to the left, along the lane having the same name, to arrive at the Renaissance church of S. Pietro in Oliveto. Founded in the 8th century, possibly by the Lombard Queen Ansa, and rebuilt by the Augustinian friars in 1122, this church was restored by Medaglia following designs by Sansovino for the canons of S. Giorgio in Alga in 1510 ( Walk down the sloping drive keeping on the right side; beyond the roundabout, kepping right, we reach the pedestrian way, slightly steep, leading to the church courtyard; the church of S.Pietro in Oliveto has a threshold of 15cm and two steps down the entrance).
The façade, of Venetian-Renaissance style, divided in two orders by a trabeation, is crowned by a pediment with volutes, between them there is a high-relief with ‘God the Father’; beside the oblong windows there are pilasters, the portal is slightly splayed with a lunette perspectively simulating a lacunar vault; high above there is an architraved double lanced window between two niches with the statues of SS. Pietro e Paolo. The interior, with one nave with barrel vault, develops an ample iconographical program centred on the theme of the revelation and transmission of the Word of God. Remarkable is the harmonious Renaissance elegance of the columns with pilasters which frame side vaulted chapels, surmounted by an architrave.
The series of arches dividing the nave is of classical style as well as the composite capitals, supported by little columns with the sixteenth cent. busts of the Apostles in the pendentives and the rich decoration under the arches of the chapels with friezes of swags and little putti. In the keystones of the vaults supporting the dome there are the symbols of the four Evangelists; in the pendentives there are the four Doctors of the Western Church: S. Gregorio Magno, S. Agostino, S. Ambrogio and S. Girolamo. At a lower level, between the arches of the north nave, there are little busts of personages of the original church of Brescia.
The paintings kept here are of the 17th and 18th century (Ghitti, Trainini, Tortelli, Trevisani, Finassi and Segale) and develop an iconographical cycle dedicated to the Saints and the Images of the Carmelite tradition. In the lunette of the presbitery, above the organ by Antegnati, we have to point out the beautiful painting by Celesti (1647-82) “S. Domenico at the Battle of Praga in 1620”.
On the walls of the presbitery, four great paintings by Ricchino (1566) about the life of Moses. To the left there is a small nave with a transenna and little arches; to the west there is an altar with a statue of S. Pietro. Finally, in the third altar on the left, we point out “Jesus Falling under the Cross”, by Foppa (1420-92). Outside the church there is the protiro, with remarkable bas-reliefs in the small portal, leading to the Renaissance cloisters of the same age as the monastery.
The Chiostro Minore (1540), square and of refined Renaissance style, has six Ionic columns at each side, with arcades doubling in the upper gallery, giving a harmonious elegance to the whole by a light-and-shade effect, stressed by the large string-course and by the projecting eaves ( Access to the cloister through the main door on the left of the protiro; through the porch on the left, we enter the cloister).
At the entrance, on the right, below the image of the Holy Family, there is an ancient board with the prayers of the friars giving thanks for their coming back home and the supplications of the ones leaving the monastery. The Chiostro Maggiore (1510), with a rectangular plan, only one Tuscan order and ribbled ceiling, has a beautiful well-curb in the middle ( Access to the sacristy and smaller sacristy trough the door on the south side of the cloister with a threshold of 10cm; to the left there is the entrance with a step of 20cm); it is octagonal with fluted architraved columns; on the tympanum there is a frieze with dolphins and two medallions with the image of SS. Pietro e Paolo. Along the left porch there are: a bas-relief by Prata, a nice lithic aedicule (1599) and the tomb of Ludovico Luzzago. At the end of the porch there is the entrance to the chapel of S. Barnaba (or S. Anatolone), with square plan, small crossvault and altar made of polychrome marbles with Madonna of the XVIIIth cent., frescoed in 1520 by Paolo da Caylina il Giovane with an iconic cycle of great interest: S. Barnaba Administers the Sacraments (left) and Preaches to the Crowd (right). On the webs of the vault the four Evangelists and their symbols are frescoed; under the arch the busts of the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church; on the outside wall ‘Moses receives the Law from God (left) and Pietro receives the Keys from Christ (right)’. In the vestibule, vaulted as well, monochrome frescos of the middle XVIIIth cent. by Mingozzi, pupil of Tiepolo, on the walls the images of the theological virtues, Faith and Hope.
The present sacristy, quadrangular with cross-vault, of the XVth cent., keeps a fresco of the late ‘400, ‘Jesus Crucified’. The smaller sacristy houses a cycle of frescos attributed to Paolo da Caylina il Giovane (about 1550) with episodes of the life of S. Pietro. Outside, past the cloisters, there is the access to Belvedere, from which you can enjoy a wonderful view of the town.