The earliest evidence of the castle of Valvasone dates back to 1206, when it was home to a family related to the Sbroiavacca’s that managed quite a large territory along the two banks of the river Tagliamento on behalf of the Patriarch of Aquileia. Thus Valvasone was a so-called “feudo d’abitanza” i.e. a residence and a fortification located in a particularly strategic place from the political and military point of view, close to an important crossing of the main Friulian river and, judging from the German toponym Volveson, likely to have been originally entrusted with a family from the Northern territories.
Following the wars waged in Friuli to gain local power in the second half of the 13th century, in 1268 these early lords of the area were replaced by Walterpertoldo di Spilimbergo who, by the will of the patriarch Raimondo Della Torre, was subsequently taken over by Simone di Cuccagna in 1292 thus forming the Valvasone-Cuccagna lineage that has held it until recent times. Among the war events involving the castle worthy of notice is the defence by Adalpretto di Cuccagna in 1305 against conquering attempt by the patriarch Ottobono de Robari; whilst in 1420 the feud was occupied by the Venetian army without any particular resistance. When, in October 1499 Friuli was invaded by the Turks, the fort of Valvasone bravely fought back the siege.
Conversely, on 11 february 1611, during the famous popular revolts of the so-called Crudel Zobia Grassa, the manor was severely plundered and its lords had to abandon it to save themselves.
The famous battle known as “the battle of Tagliamento” was fought right in Valvasone on 16 march 1797; the Austrian troops lost against the French army and, according to tradition, in those days Napoleon Bonaparte was given hospitality in the Castle.
Badly damaged by the 1976 earthquake, the castle has been restored and requalified over the years bringing it back to its old splendour, unveiling most of the riches hidden by the passing of time.
The present look of the castle, a ring-shaped series of buildings connected to each other yet independent from one other, with a small internal courtyard housing a well that has adorned piazza Castello (in place of the present one that was previously located in piazza Mercato) since the start of the 20th century, in mainly due to restoration works carried out in the Renaissance period (16th century) and subsequent periods, which have slowly incorporated the most ancient architectonic evidence like the 15th century keep – only part of the original one due to a late 19th century demolition – and some rooms of the west ancient wing (facing north).
The particular part of the manor keeps some important artistic treasures: especially a hall with 14th century frescoes – probably dating to the second half of the century – inspired by light cavalrymen motifs, quite an unusual theme in the Friulian territory, considered to be of outstanding craftsmanship and rich in extremely interesting figurative details.
Moreover, the small area on the ground floor was once used as a “small theatre” and has been recently used for the same purpose; its entrance hall – embellished by a very fine 16th century stone portal – looks directly on the courtyard of the castle. However, despite the room has been used for centuries to stage musical and theatrical shows and that is why it has on open gallery and a stage, originally it was probably used for the entertaining guests, especially important ones, therefore the changes made over the years must have been remarkable in terms of both the architectonical structure and the decorating parts, amazing evidence of which are the scenes of the frieze the runs along the entire perimeter.
This series of frescoes, likely dating back to end of the 16th century and probably ascribable to some member of the entourage of Pomponio Amalteo (some scenes, perhaps too damaged by the time, were heavily altered at the end of the 18th century by an uncertain hand), show freshness of execution and a remarkable figurative culture, illustrating subjects that are not always easy to identify, probably taken from the works of the most famous of the lords of the castle: Erasmo di Valvasone (Valvasone, 1523 – Mantua or Valvasone, 1593).
The noble poet from Valvasone left an important mark in the literature of the Renaissance period – and not just locally – being constantly in touch with the greatest scholars of his times, including the eminent poet Torquato Tasso. His most famous works, La Caccia, published in Venice in 1591, contains, inter alia, some very famous verses, which are probably the most beautiful and intense literary dedicated to the Friulian lands:
“Siede la patria mia tra il monte, e ‘l mare./ Quasi theatro, c’habbia fatto l’arte,/ non la natura, a ‘risguardanti appare. / E ‘l Tagliamento l’interseca, et parte:/ S’apre un bel piano, ove si possa entrare,/ tral ‘l merigge, et l’occaso, e in questa parte/ Quanto aperto ne lassa in mar, e ‘l monte/ Chiude Liquenza con perpetuo fonte”
The pages of that work of art, rich in learned and sometimes obscure references to history and ancient mythology as well as medieval chivalrous epic, probably conceal the iconographic matrices of the scenes frescoed on the frieze running along the walls of the “little theatre”, to illustrate an intellectual environment which, far from being provincial and “rural”, is quite reach and refined and, at times, it seems to brim over with humanistic culture.
As far as taste in concerned, also the architecture of the castle con be traced back to the same trend, dating back to the period of Erasmo who transformed the medieval manor – mostly built for defence purposes – into a castle the shapese of which no longer want to communicate just the authority of its lords but also their prestige, which derives from the elegance of the traditions and beauty of everything surrounding them.
The artistic embellishments continued into the following centuries and, among these, worthy of notice is a late 17th century small chapel which housed a delicate altar – piece surrounded by an exuberant stucco frame. Furthermore, on the upper floor there are large frescoes dating back to the early 19th century, probably ascribable to Domenico Paghini, a painter from Udine, who depicted the landscapes, rich in exotic references, and scenes of army camps, perhaps allusive to the war events that affected the town of Valvasone – the distant Turkish siege and the more recent Napoleon passage – conveyed with a neoclassic lightness, enriching the space with elegant decorative solutions that remind of a refined vintage repertoire that was fashionable at the times.
The first inhabited village was established near the castle around the end of the 13th century and a circle of curtain walls (called “cortina”) was erected around it for protection, thus giving rise to a primitive elementary urban organization, that revolved around a large area located opposite the fortified building.