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The Intriguing History of Castello Estense - Al Fresco Holidays

Every good castle can tell a tale or two; but few can compare with the intriguing (not to mention occasionally grisly) stories that lie in the extensive history of Ferrera’s Castello Estense.

Even the brutal, looming exterior of the castle gives some impression of the nature of the building, with its forbidding towers and defensive moat and drawbridge. Although the house served for centuries as the home of the Estensi family, it was also designed to protect and preserve those living within the battlements.

If you’re staying close to Ferrera, perhaps on holiday in the Venetian Riviera, then make sure to visit this impressive castle. Children and adults alike will be captivated by the rich, occasionally horrific, history, and few can fail to be awed by the spectacular rooms and the atmospheric, somewhat eerie dungeons!

The Castello Estense: a Brief History

Castello Estense

Source: Flickr

In the 14th century, the people of Ferrera were in a desperate state, enduring poverty and starvation thanks to repeated flooding and the high taxes imposed upon them. The Marquis Niccolo II d’Este (of the Estensi family), sensed a revolt was about to take place. After seeing the High Official, Tommaso da Tortona, quite literally torn apart by the angry mob, his suspicions were confirmed.

He immediately ordered the construction of the Castello Estense, an impregnable castle that would keep him and his family safe from harm. The building was actually constructed around an existing tower, but the main focus of the design was on protection and defence against attack.

Fortunately, the political situation calmed in Ferrera, and the Estensi family remained in the Castello Estense, establishing it as their family home. In the 16th century, a fire broke out in the building, which meant that the exterior had to be extensively rebuilt. It’s this exterior that can be seen today.

Castello Estense’s Grisly Past

Castello Estense has an undoubtedly bloodthirsty and macabre past. One of the castle’s most unpleasant tales is that of Niccolo III d’Este, who took charge of the region at just ten years of age. He managed to control the region sufficiently well, but was perhaps less effective at controlling his own temper. He famously had his second wife Parisina and one of his illegitimate sons, Ugo, beheaded in the castle, as he suspected that they were having an affair. Parisina was 20, Ugo only 19; Niccolo III d’Este, at this point, considerably older.

An area with a considerably dark ambiance in the castle is, of course the dungeons. Not only were Parisina and Ugo locked up within the dark, dank cells (which can still be visited), but various other unfortunates were also imprisoned there. The marks of the captives can still be seen on the walls, and it is thought that one of the rooms was used as a torture chamber.

Exploring the Castle

In addition to the dungeons, it’s possible to see quite a few of the Estensi family’s rooms in the castle itself. The Gothic rooms, with their striking cross-vaulted ceilings, are particularly beautiful, with one featuring a portrait of Niccolo II d’Este, the first inhabitant of the building.

The kitchens provide valuable insight into the lives of the servants throughout the ages, and the Lion’s Tower, which is the original tower upon which the castle was added, is also open to the public. When in the Lion’s Tower, look out for the Chamber of Dawn, which has an unusual, strikingly artistic ceiling. The richly painted surface depicts the four sections of the day – Dawn, Day, Dusk and Night – in symbolic terms.

There are a number of other rooms open for exploration within the castle, and outside, visitors can spend some time inhaling the wonderful scent of the oranges in the gardens.

Getting to the Castello Estense

Castello Estense, located in Ferrera, is easily accessible by public transport, particularly if you’re staying in the Venetian Riviera. There are regular trains from Venice to Ferrera, taking between one and one and a half hours, or alternatively, it takes approximately 2 hours to drive.

Where to Stay to Visit the Castello Estense

There are many accommodation choices in the area, but if you’re looking for a location that allows you to easily visit Venice in addition to Ferrera, then an excellent destination is the Venetian Riviera.

The Riviera is also perfect for families, as it has a wealth of beaches for young kids to enjoy, always a good idea after a long day exploring castles! If you’re looking for a suitable holiday park to stay in, then a great option is the Vigna Sul Mar Holiday Park. It is well located on the Lido di Pomposa, and also has its own swimming pool.

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