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1450 - 1861

Renaissance modifications


>>  The firts renaissance modifications

>>  From military fortress to ducal residence
>> From papal government to the unification of Italy



In the second half of the 1400s, the chronicler Equicola wrote: "Work was started on Castelvecchio in order to bring it to completion".
Work that would update the fortress to the new needs of the age began.
The Castello di San Michele still maintained its purely military role, but from 1450, under Marquis Borso d'Este, some rooms began to be used as living quarters and offices.
In fact, by that time a wooden bridge had been built joining the first floor of the palace to the castle courtyard, opening up a new route to the south-east tower and, in the event of danger, a quick, handy escape route to a safe place.
Under Duke Ercole I, from 1479 onwards, the duchess Eleonora of Aragon transferred her court to the castle.
The bridge that joined the old Estense residence to the fortress was built in brick, raised and closed off and, as the name (Via Coperta) suggests, was in fact, a covered passageway.
Changing some parts of the first floor of the castle into living quarters meant further modernisation to the monument, which gradually took on the form of a court palace.
Significant changes were also made to the internal courtyard. The portico was built and above it a large hall of honour and a long balcony on the outside to the west leading to a small hanging garden, between the tower known as the Marchesana Tower and the Lions' Tower.
With these changes the castle began to be 'clothed' with the new Renaissance features of a princely residence, also because as from 1492 with the realisation of the Addizione Erculea it was now right at the centre of the city and in terms of its position and style was the perfect meeting point between the medieval quarters and Renaissance ones.
It was in this period, in light of Ferrara's new urban development, that the famous Porta dei Leoni (Lions' Gateway) and the adjoining walls were demolished.

From military fortress to ducal residence
During the early 1500s, under Duke Alfonso I, the work of converting the Castello di San Michele continued. It now steadily took on the appearance of a noblemen's residence used for court life. It should be noted however, that the duke's conversion work was only done on the first floor, while the lower floors of the palace still had a strictly defensive role.
Duke Alfonso I's name is tied to the realisation of the apartments of the covered passageway, the Via Coperta.
From 1505, Ercole I's bridge between Palazzo Ducale and the castle became a wing of the palace in its own right and with its palaces and courtyards the Estense quarter was now joined into a single building complex.
It was in that wing that Alfonso realised the Camerini Dorati, the 'Alabaster Study', which housed his rich art collection, prestigious and famous throughout Europe. Significant modifications were also made to the area around the East Gatehouse, where the Lions' Gateway had been demolished, the large Ducal Kitchens were opened on the ground floor and on the first floor the hanging garden was enlarged.
From 1554, due to a raging fire that started around Santa Caterina Tower (St. Catherine's Tower), and which damaged the entire western wing of the castle, a new cycle of conversion work, which involved the outside architecture as well as the interior decor started on the old castle, Castelvecchio.
Ercole II had previously realised his ducal apartments in the old court palace in a wing that separated the Giardino delle Duchesse (The Duchesses' Garden) from the outside courtyard of the Castello, but, perhaps exactly because of the repair work being done to the castle, he now decided to build himself a new apartment around Santa Caterina Tower: the Appartamento della Pazienza (Patience Apartment).
From that moment on Girolamo da Carpi was commissioned, firstly by Ercole II and later by Alfonso II, to bring about the grand and final transformation of the Castello into a castle of Renaissance architectural form, a form that was totally changed also due to another disaster, the earthquake of 1570.
A terrible event, with a succession of shocks that lasted almost a year damaging the structure of the castle as well as many palaces and houses in the city.
The architect's idea for the project was typically mannerist: he raised both the towers and the castle walls by one storey, got rid of the crenellations and used the corbels as simple supports for holding up the Istria stone balustrades. One of the real innovations was the use of roof-terraces.
At the top of the towers, they gave courtiers a beautiful view of the city and the surrounding territory, by this time dotted with parks, gardens and Delizie.
Girolamo's renovation plan also included a series of roof galleries on the first floor around the Torre dei Leoni (Lions' Tower). A stroll through the court delizia starting from the Loggia dei Veleni (Poisons Room Gallery), would cross the balcony on the Torre dei Leoni, carry on to the Loggia dell'Aurora (Dawn Room Gallery) and finish up at the elegant Loggia degli Aranci (Loggia and Orange Garden) with its adjoining garden where, from behind a delightful little wall originally in multi-coloured marble, they could admire the new structures of the castle and the city.
Upon Girolamo da Carpi's death, the works were completed by Alberto Schiatti with the construction of the niches on the roof-terraces of the towers. As court architect, also under Alfonso II, it was he who repaired the damage caused by the earthquake of 1570.
From 1565, the frescoes for the apartments that Alfonso II was preparing for himself, between the Torre dei Leoni and Santa Caterina towers, were commissioned to the Filippi family. Camillo Filippi and his sons Cesare and Sebastiano, known as Bastianino, together with other artists, executed the new decorations in the Camera dell'Aurora (Dawn Room), della Saletta dei Giochi (Small Games Room) and in the Salone dei Giochi (Large Games Room).
Still near the Torre dei Leoni, a private chapel made completely out of marble was realised.
In 1577, the walls of the internal courtyard were decorated with a mythological eulogistic cycle of more than 200 pictures of the Estense princes in chiaroscuro against a yellowish background.
From papal government to the unification of Italy
In 1598, the Este family had to abandon Ferrara because they had no legitimate heir recognised by the Church who could take over government. So the city was devolved to the Papal States and the Cardinal Legates came and occupied the castle until 1859.
At the architectural level, the building did not undergo great transformations.
The only improvement was made to the area around Santa Caterina Tower, above all in the North Gatehouse where during the 18th century the cardinals' apartment was renovated.
Two iron gates with marble stairways were built into the moat wall to make it easier for goods to enter the city.
In 1770, Cardinal Scipione Borghese had the Estense Padiglione Garden ripped up so that the castle's northern entrance now went straight out onto Via degli Angeli. From the wooden balcony above the gatehouse he could keep an eye on three gateways to the city.
Between 1862 and 1865 the old Panfilio Canal was finally covered over and was linked underground to the moat to feed it with water.
In 1858, monsignor Pietro Gramiccia began to decorate several of the rooms in the castle. The Sala degli Stemmi (Coats of Arms Room) was repainted and the new decorations covered much of the pre-existent 17th-century decorations.
In 1874, the Provincial Administration purchased the castle at an auction for 70,000 lire and is still the owner today.
Since the 1980s, a policy has been enacted to repair and make the most of the monument, which has led to the restoration of a large part of the castle. All the most artistically and historically interesting parts are now open to the public, with the sole exception of the second floor, where the Provincial Administration still has its offices.




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