If you plan to spend a few days in Aosta Valley, you should definitely visit some of its famous castles. The ruins of Châtel-Argent, a Medieval castle, will undoubtedly appeal to everyone as it is beautifully set on a rocky spur, with 360-degree views over the Aosta Valley.
Châtel-Argent is located on a rocky hill right above of Villeneuve, a village set along the Dora Baltea river (or Doire Baltée). Approximately 10 kilometers away from the Roman city of Aosta, Villeneuve played an important role during the 13th century. It used to be the chief town of the bailiwick, a Medieval territorial entity.
The ruins of the castle can be accessed by a narrow paved road just outside of Villeneuve. “La Rampa” (a steep ramp) is carved into the rocks and dates probably back to the 19th century. The sharp hike up to the castle only takes 15 minutes; during the walk, you will enjoy dramatic views of the valley and the surrounding Alps.
The name Châtel-Argent (argent means 'money' in French) comes from the right granted to the castle to mint coins. The oldest reported evidence of the castle and the mint activity with the Latin word Castrum Argenteum dates back to 1175.
Châtel-Argent also occupied an important military function. The castle provides an excellent overview from high above the road that crosses the main valley. This monitoring was valuable to prevent the locals and the surrounding villages against invaders. Châtel-Argent was not permanently inhabited but only used in times of war. Because of its strategic position, the castle has always been under the jurisdiction of the House of Savoy, who owned Aosta Valley for several centuries before converting into the Kings of entire Italy.
Roman fortifications preexisted in the current location of the castle. However, the ruins date back to the 13th century. The exact dates of the building period are not known; however, it is supposed to have been rebuilt between 1274-1275 by Maître Jacques de Saint-Georges, the architect of Peter II Count of Savoy. Today, the only remains still standing are the 16 meters tall crenelated tower, the ancient chapel at its feet, and a few other half-fallen walls. Archaeological excavations revealed that it used to be much larger than that, extending on 6300 square meters and capable of hosting up to 700 men in the castle.
The watchtower was built as an effective fortification. The 8 meters above the ground entrance door was designed to delay the invasion by taking off the scale to access the tower. The only source of light inside comes from arrowslits in the wall, making the tower a difficult place to besiege.
On the eastern side of the castle, a well-preserved Roman-style chapel dates back to 1050-1070. It is dedicated to Saint Columba of Sens, a virgin martyr.
On your way to the castle via “la rampa”, the church of Saint Mary of the Assumption is definitely worth a halt. This Roman church was built on an early-Christian site; it was an active parish church until the 18th century. Remains of the early-Christian monument, including the baptismal font, have been discovered during archaeological excavations. Inside the church, wonderful ancient frescoes are still visible. An interactive video giving in-depth view of its history is on display.
The castle of Châtel-Argent definitely deserves a visit, not only for its rich history but also for the breathtaking views it offers on the Aosta Valley and towering mountains around. From the castle, you can walk downhill by taking the stairs that lead back to the picturesque village of Villeneuve. With its roofs made of “lauze” (flagstone roof) and narrow lanes, it is a charming example of the well-preserved traditional village of the western Alps. Close to Villeneuve, you can find the road to Valsavarenche and Rhêmes valleys. Both valleys are part of the Gran Paradiso National Park, the oldest Italian national park.
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