Rocca Maggiore, A Medieval Fortress Towering over Assisi, Offers Magnificent Views:
Towering over the town of Assisi is the mighty castle of Rocca Maggiore, a medieval fortress that was built almost a thousand years ago for defensive purposes. To get to the fortress from Assisi town square requires an uphill hike of about 20 minutes and then there are steps to climb up the fortress tower, but once you get up there, the 360° panoramic views of Assisi and the surrounding landscapes make it worthwhile.
About Rocca Maggiore
Rocca Maggiore was built around 1174 when Archbishop Cristiano di Magonza took over Assisi on behalf of Frederick I Barbarossa, then Holy Roman Emperor. Built on the summit of a hill, this well preserved fortress was a strategic defensive point and its massive size was intended to intimidate the people of Assisi. As a powerful military stronghold Rocca Maggiore witnessed bloody encounters, long sieges and also suffered destruction.
If legends are to be believed, it seems that Rocca Maggiore once accommodated a Roman emperor. According to legends, it is said that Frederick II stayed at the fortress under the care of Corrado di Uslingen. However, when Corrado was away that year, the people of Assisi besieged La Rocca and tore down what they saw as a symbol of despotic dominance. The people were promised by Philip II in 1205 that no other fortresses would ever be erected in place of Rocca Maggiore, but by 1367 Cardinal Egidio Alvarez de Albornoz had ordered the reconstruction of the fortress. As a trusted advisor of Pope Innocent IV, the Cardinal was charged with the re-establishment of papal power in central Italy. Subsequent popes expanded on Rocca Maggiore and Jacopo Piccinino, a Perugian warlord who gained control of Assisi in 1458, commissioned the polygonal tower and the long wall connecting the castle to the tower.
The fate of Rocca Maggiore changed with the shifting of powers over the city of Assisi and in 1600 it was abandoned and looted. The people of Assisi bought the castle back from the government in 1882 and began a program of restoration works. Each year the Festival Calendimaggio, held from May 1–5 , re-enacts medieval and Renaissance life.
Magnificent Panoramic Views
For those interested in medieval battles, the castle has an exhibit of the weapons and armoury that were used. The main tower also has a small exhibition showing images of the residents of the fortress and celebrations and medieval festivities.
The most enjoyable part of the visit was climbing up the tower which is reached through a very long tunnel within the long wall linking the castle with the tower. To get to the top of the tower requires climbing up a very narrow spiral staircase which even some young visitors found to be a panting and puffing exercise – if you suffer from claustrophobia and vertigo, this is not for you. Once you’re at the top of the tower the views of Assisi and the surrounding landscapes of the Umbrian Valley is rewarding.
A visit to Rocca Maggiore is definitely worth doing when visiting Assisi. It is not only for the fighting fit as on the way down we did see a number of locals, walking stick in hand, ambling their way down.