VAL D'AOSTA

Val d'AostaIt has been many years since we travelled this Region which is at the top north-western part of Italy.

The region is bounded by the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region of France to the west, Switzerland to the north, the Italian region of Piedmont to the south. Because of its location, Italian and French are the two offical langues of the Region. There is a distinct dialect in the Region so at that time, my limited French and Italian were not much use!

At one time we would pick up our car in Paris and then drive to Italy. This is the Region of Italy as you leave the Mont Blanc Tunnel. (As a pen guy, I just had to drive the Montblanc Tunnel. Not sure what I was expecting in it, a Montblanc pen boutique?)

It is a small region, and I still remember the gray rock and an austere appearance of many of some of the towns. The towns were what I was expecting... the ski chalet villages but rather historic centres.

We drove from France through the Monte Blanc tunnel and then drove though Courmayeur and Oasta, Fenis, Issogne and some of the other towns where castles or fortifications still stand.

Aosta

Porta Praetoria - The ancient town walls of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum stand today and exist almost to the same extent they did when built. They are massive 6.4 metres high and were built with concrete and faced with blocks of stone. Built to last, the walls are 2.75 metres thick at the bottom.

 

Aosta is the capital of the Region and located not far from the Italian entracne to the famous Mont Blanc Tunnel. The city has a long history. It was established in 25 BC by Ceasar who wanted to establish a military post at this key location. In those days of course there was no tunnel, and the main through was the Colle del Gran St. Berenard which takes the traveller right to Aosta.

What struck me as unexpected were the massive stone walls around the city, they were 9 feet thick at the bottom and solid. Along there walls there are about six towers, or the original 20, that still remain. The photograph above is of the Porta Praetoria, a double gate with three arches and two towers. This dates from 1 AD. It is basically as it was built, only the marble had been stripped away.

You can walk through the gate the Romans built and there are remains of other strucftures. It was a sizeable Roman colony with more than 3,000. The town has a classic Roman structure. There are 64 blocks and the main road divides the twon into two.

Elsewhere the southern structure of the Roman theatre remains.

Outside the walls of the city is the Arch of Augustus. This triumphal arch is impressive in its solid appearance. It was built in 35 BC.

The cathedral dates from the 11th Century with stain glass windows and a mosaic floor. The Church of St. Orso is also from the 11th Century and it is decorated with frescoes.

Fénis

Fenis Castle

About 13 km from Aosta is Fénis. Here is one of the largest of the feudal castels in the area. It dates from the 12th Century being built for the Viscounts of Aosta, the Challant Family. Between 1200 and 1420 the castle was expanded with new walls and the towers.

It is amazing to think how the towers and walls still stand today. Yes there was a rebuilt in the 14th and 15th Century, but still, this is in very good shape. This castle sits on a "little hill" not a high rocky cliff as typical of other structures that remain. That is because it this castle was not built as a military defense strucure, but as a residence for the Challant Family.

Inside there are frescoes in the chapel and the inner courtyard.

In 1895 the castle was sold to an architect, d'Andrade, who we can thank for the work to repair damage that had taken place over the many years. In 1935 restoration brough the castle up the standards that we see today. The castle is about 13 lm fro the city of Aosta. This is one of the most popular tourist sights in the region, and worth the drive to see.