If you came to this page directly, you might wish to read a page with an introduction to this section and a map of Val di Chiana first.
A range of very low hills separates Val di Chiana from Lake Trasimeno and in the past it marked the border between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal State. In antiquity Lake Trasimeno covered a larger surface and the peninsula where today Castiglione stands was a small island which eventually was linked to the shore by a dam built by the Romans. Lake Trasimeno has shallow waters, it does not receive any major streams and it does not have an outlet; its level depends on rainfalls and on careful environmental protection.
Castiglione owes its name to a small castle built by Emperor Frederick II in the XIIIth century. Although the heraldic symbol of that emperor was an eagle, in Italy the lion was associated with the Empire and it is possible that a relief or a statue of a lion led to calling Castel-Leone the castle, hence Castiglione. Because several towns in Italy have this name it is officially called Castiglione del Lago, in particular to distinguish it from Castiglion Fiorentino in the Tuscan part of Val di Chiana. The castle was strengthened in the early XVIth century and it retains a coat of arms of Pope Julius II which you can see in a page covering several papal fortresses.
(left) Western walls of the town; (right) southern gate
Many ancient maps of central Italy named Lake Trasimeno as Lake of Perugia, because this town controlled the territory surrounding the lake, including Castiglione. The control of the castle, which is located on the western shore of the lake, meant for Perugia control over the whole lake, which was very rich in fish.
(left) Coat of arms of Perugia on a tower of the walls; (right) coat of arms of Ascanio della Corgna in Palazzo della Corgna
The link between Castiglione and Perugia was severed in 1550 by Pope Julius III. He was born at Monte San Savino, a small town in the Tuscan section of Val di Chiana and for a time he lived at Montepulciano, a larger town still in Tuscan Val di Chiana where Antonio da Sangallo the Elder built a fine palace for his family. Pope Julius III, following the steps of his predecessor Pope Paul III who managed to provide his relatives with many possessions, obtained the fiefdom of Monte San Savino for his brother Baldovino from Cosimo I, Duke of Florence and he assigned Castiglione and its territory to his sister Jacopa and her son Ascanio della Corgna.
At Castiglione del Lago is a remarkable fortified palace standing on a promontory in the lake; it belonged originally to the Dukes della Cornia whose deeds are represented in fresco paintings on the walls of the halls; from them it passed to the Baglioni family and is now the property of the Papal Government.
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in central Italy - 1853
Ascanio della Corgna and his brother Cardinal Fulvio turned Castiglione into a small Renaissance town. The old medieval buildings were wiped out to make room for a neatly designed town structured along a main street linking the main (western) gate to a large central square. Here a palace was built by Galeazzo Alessi, an architect who had built at Orvieto the palace of Cardinal Tiberio Crispo following an initial project by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.
Frescoes in Palazzo della Corgna by il Pomarancio (Nicolò Circignani), a painter best known for
his frescoes depicting martyrdoms: (left) The Judgement of Paris (a detail of this fresco can be seen in the image used as background for this page); (right) The Fall of Phaeton
The fortunes of the della Corgna declined when their uncle died. In 1556 Pope Paul IV imprisoned Cardinal Fulvio and Ascanio fled to Naples. He was a valiant man of arms and he helped Don Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Spanish Viceroy of Naples in a war against the Pope. In the following years he held several military positions for King Philip II of Spain and eventually in 1559, soon after the death of Pope Paul IV, he returned to Castiglione. In 1563 he was appointed Marquis of Castiglione and nearby Città della Pieve.
Frescoes in the main hall of Palazzo della Corgna showing episodes of the life of Ascanio della Corgna: (left) Appointment as Duke of Castiglione by Pope Julius III; (right) a military campaign and a diplomatic mission at the court of King Francis I of France
Most of the rooms of the palace were decorated with frescoes depicting mythological and historical personages and events, e.g. the Battle between Hannibal and the Romans which took place near the lake, but in some rooms subjects were related to Ascanio della Corgna. Because of his name a room was decorated with episodes from the lives of Aeneas and his son Ascanius and another room was dedicated to Julius Caesar whom Ascanio admired as a great commander. The decoration of the main hall was commissioned by Diomede Della Penna, nephew of Ascanio, who wanted to celebrate the life of his uncle. This is similar to what Cardinal Alessandro Farnese did at his palace at Caprarola. The frescoes however do not show Ascanio in the prison of Castel Sant'Angelo in 1565 when he was charged with multiple rape, murder, embezzlement, fraud and extortion.
Eventually Ascanio was freed because the King of Spain wanted him to help Jean de Valette, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta who was besieged by an Ottoman army at Borgo.
After the Ottomans were repelled Ascanio was asked for advice on the fortifications of Valletta.
The last episode depicted in the hall is the Battle of Lepanto (October 1571); because of his experience Ascanio was one of the main advisers to Don Juan of Spain, the commander of the Christian fleet. After his return to Italy he fell sick and he died in Rome in December.
The "Passetto" of Castiglione and the site of the gardens of Palazzo della Corgna
The successors to Ascanio della Corgna built a covered passage which linked their palace to the castle, similar to that which links the Vatican to Castel Sant'Angelo. In 1643 Castiglione returned under direct papal authority and became part of the province of Perugia.
Palazzo della Corgna has been acquired by the Municipality of Castiglione and it is open to the public together with the fortress.
Orvieto - Medieval Monuments
Orvieto - Cathedral and Papal Palaces
Orvieto - Renaissance Monuments
Orvieto - Museums
Città della Pieve
An Excursion to Chiusi
An Excursion to Cortona
An Excursion to Montepulciano
An Excursion to Castiglion Fiorentino