It has been many years since we travelled this Region located 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 languages 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 to be in the tunnel, a Montblanc pen boutique?)
It is a small region, and I still remember the gray rock and an austere appearance of many of the towns.
Aosta, the capital of the Region, is located not far from the Italian entrance to the Mont Blanc Tunnel. The city has a long history, being 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 people travelled through the Colle del Gran St. Berenard which leads 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 stone. Along the walls are about six towers, that remain from the original 20. The to the right is of the Porta Praetoria, a double gate with three arches and two towers. This dates from 1 AD. It stands today basically as it was originally built, with only the marble stripped away.
There are other Roman structures in the town. It was a large Roman colony with more than 3,000. The town has a classic Roman structure. There are 64 blocks and the main road divides the the town into two halfs.
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 stained glass windows and a mosaic floor. The Church of St. Orso is also from the 11th Century and it is decorated with frescoes.
About 13 km from Aosta is Fénis. It has one of the largest of the feudal castels in the area. Dating from the 12th C it was 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. This is one of the most popular tourist sights in the region and worth the drive to see.