Soave and Its Castle
The delightful medieval town of Soave rises at the foot of the Lessinia Mountains. We know the area was initially settled by the Romans, as an important pagus existed along the Via Postumia. According to reliable sources, the town itself was founded during the Longobard period, by a Germanic, Swabian tribe. Hence the name Suaves was already being used in 568, which later turned into Suevi, then Soavi, and finally Soave.
The town has many medieval characteristics, from the castle to the several palazzos built during that period. The castle dominates the whole territory, and the walls completely enclose the old town. These walls, built by the Della Scalas, are punctuated by 24 imposing towers, with Ghibelline crenellations (notice their swallow tail, rather than rectangular tops as cities with Guelph allegiances used instead).
Soave’s castle is a typical medieval military construction: it sits on Mount Tenda and dominates the vast plain below. It is formed by a tall, central tower, around which the castle walls rotate, enclosing three courtyards. Walls then descend from the castle to encircle the town. All these fortifications originated in the Early Middle Ages, though the castle is built on the ruins of a Roman fort. From 10th century documents and a Frederick Barbarossa diploma, we know that it belonged to the San Bonifacio counts of Verona. Up until 1232, it was in possession of the illustrious Greppi feudal family, who fled to Lombardy when Ezzelino III da Romano conquered the castle. When Ezzelino died in 1259, the City of Verona acquired the castle on the initiative of Mastino I della Scala. The city established a captain there, starting in 1270. Under the Della Scalas, the castle grew in importance, and they renovated and developed it along the defensive lines it has today.
Over time, various bitter battles for possession of the castle took place. In 1338, Rolando de’ Rossi da Parma, a Venetian general, took over the castle after having wreaked havoc in the Soave countryside. After a short but hard fight that claimed the lives of 400 Della Scala soldiers, Mastino II retook it. Cansignorio restored the castle in 1369 and added the walls around the town. Once the glorious Della Scala dynasty ended October 18th, 1387, Soave was conquered by the Visconti of Milano, then given to the Carraras, the ruling family of Padua, in 1404. The Carraras lost it in 1405, through the actions of Galeazzo Gonzaga, who, with the inhabitants’ help, placed it under the dominion of Venice, which declared “Rocha Suapis utilissima nostro dominio” (The castle of Soave is very useful for our domain).
In 1439, Soave was again assaulted and conquered by the Visconti. In 1509 the troops of Maximilian I, allied with the Cambrai League against the Venetians, imposed the rule of the Hapsburg empire. During this period, Soave saw many bitter and bloody struggles and flights. The castle and the town were set on fire and 366 Soavans were killed. The heroism of the town’s captain Rangone and of the towns’ inhabitants freed the castle from Venice’s enemies in 1511. In 1517, the town was symbolically given to the representative of Venice Andrea Gritti, who would later be elected Doge. The Venetian Republic, in commemoration of the heroic deeds of the town’s population, gave Soave an Antenna and a Standard of Saint Mark, which is raised during civil holidays in front of the Palazzo di Giustizia. From this moment began a long period of peace, which lasted nearly three centuries, until the arrival of Napoleon in 1796.
In 1556, the Gritti family became owners of the castle which later waned in importance and was eventually transformed into a farm. From a state of abandon, it was restored to its “pristine forms” between 1889 and 1897 by its new owner, Giulio Camuzzoni, senator of the Kingdom of Italy. Inspired by a specific archeological objective, he restored or rebuilt the parts about whose original form there were no doubts.