Castle of Dolceacqua
Comune di Dolceacqua: via Roma, 50 - Dolceacqua (IM)
Telefono: 0184 20 66 66 - 0184 22 95 07
Fax: 0184 22 95 07
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"In a territory where human settlements were present from the Iron Age, Dolceacqua arose in Roman times, living its life as a fortified castrum during the Middle Ages and reaching its peak in the Modern Age thanks to the Doria lineage, which turned its castle into an extremely refined home. As soon as you reach it you will not be surprised to know that it is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. Listen to the Liguria heritage audio-guides to live this journey through history at its best!"

The origins of the village

Travelling along the Nervia Valley is already a wonderful experience. The valley is full of nature, the all-present olive trees remind us again that the Mediterranean is always present, ready to amaze us with its colours and, as we approach Dolceacqua, the feeling is that of moving from a natural landscape to one filled with history.

The town is divided into two parts by the river Nervia which traditionally have two different names: the left side, known as “land”, clings to the Rebauffo hill, on which the imposing mass of Doria Castle and the inhabited section that developed around it dominate.
The mainly commercial right side, simply called “village”, arose later on and grew around the famous garden of the Marquis.

It is a good idea to introduce the origins of the village. Very often during the Roman era places, roads and cities took their names from the person who established them, or who was considered important. This is the case of Dolceacqua, originating from a “villa dulciaca”, a piece of land for rural use from the Roman era. The land was probably the dominion of a person called “Dulcius”, a name that later on could have been contorted by dialect until it became Dulcis-acquae, the name that appears in documents from the 12th century onwards.

"Even though the town named Dulzana, as it was called at the time, appears for the very first time in a document from 1151, its origins go back to the Roman era. Listen to the Dolceacqua audioguide 1 to discover the story of this extraordinary town that was part of Imperia".

The castle

In each document, leaflet or postcard that speaks of or shows Dolceacqua, its castle is always called “Doria castle” as a reminder of the last and most famous lineage that owned it. It is doubtless that the castle, as we can admire it now in its impressiveness, is the result of the expansion and improvements carried out by the Dorias, but its structure was certainly not always that of an elegant and refined dwelling with plastered and finely decorated towers.

The castrum, built in the 12th century, was constructed by the Counts of Ventimiglia, a lineage between the 10th and 11th centuries which, to create its fief, took advantage of a piece of land on the western edge of Liguria that had been freed from piracy.
The castle had two purposes: on the one hand it was a defence fortification in the case of possible attacks and on the other its strategic position made it possible to monitor the movements in the surrounding valleys.

As was normal, the Counts demanded taxes in the territory of Dolceacqua, administered judgement and above all could find refuge there when the continuous fighting with Ventimiglia made it necessary. This is witnessed by a document dating back to 1186, which tells the story of an attack on the village of Dussana by the people from Ventimiglia to the damage of Oberto, count of Ventimiglia.

This fortified structure, made simply of a circular tower and a smaller building in which the guard officer stayed, retained its original outline until the 15th century. This means that even though purchased by Oberto Doria in 1270, the family did not feel it opportune to immediately modify the original structure.

As already mentioned, not even a century after these events the head of the Doria family bought the Dolceacqua fief, but the strangeness of this purchase lies in the fact that it did not come directly from the Ventimiglia Counts. A document dated 07th September 1259 informs of the inability of Dolceacqua to pledge fidelity to Genoa without the authorisation of Lanfranco Balborino and Zaccaria del Castro, the new lords of the village.
These gentlemen probably did not buy the whole castle but only a part, as is witnessed by the subsequent documents, from which we discovered that in 1261 the Count of Ventimiglia still obtained taxes from Dolceacqua and the following year they still confirmed a pact and specific agreements made earlier with the count. We can therefore confirm that the passage to being Doria property was gradual, caused by the resizing of the countship of Ventimiglia from a political and territorial viewpoint.

Listen to the Dolceacqua audioguide 2 and you will discover that the circular tower and walls annexed to the castle are proof of an even older period in its life, when its main function was to survey entry to the surrounding valleys for the Counts of Ventimiglia who had decided on its construction.

Dolceacqua and the Doria family

The extreme west of Liguria is the area from which the Doria lineage begins its advance to power. In addition to Dolceacqua, Oberto had also acquired Loano and San Remo and had increased his property in the Nervia Valley to include Apricale, Perinaldo and Isolabona, becoming one of the main lords of the area.
When Oberto died in 1300, his property was divided between his four sons, with Dolceacqua going to Andriolo, the descendants of whom maintained dominion up to the 17th century.

From the start of the 14th century, the events of the village were outclassed by those of the Doria family who were Ghibellines, and so involved in the bitter fight against the opposing Guelphs. As a result, the castle of Dolceacqua became the target of two attacks ordered by the King of Naples, Roberto d’Angiò, who bent the Dorias to his desire and made them Genoese vassals.

The castle was very probably damaged after these sieges, considering that it had not been improved from when it was built. We have to wait for the 16th century to see a Medieval castrum be transformed into a prestigious mansion, or maybe we have to wait for the castle to come under the dominion of Stefano Doria.

After a childhood marked by failures and the killing of his father in the attempt to take possession of Monaco, he had found his own road thanks to the protection of Andrea Doria, who sent the Grimaldis away from Dolceacqua and returned that village and other castles to various representatives of his own family. Under the command of Captain Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, Stefano became a valorous soldier and had a long and thriving political and military career, which culminated with his nomination as Supreme Commander of the Genoa army. When his career ended in 1558, he transferred to Dolceacqua castle, where he governed moderately. He created his own court and also improved the castle by adding a rampart with buttress to the east and the two towers at the face.

The castle was also equipped with a moat and drawbridge, porters’ lodges, prisons, and a richly decorated hall of justice. Stefano Doria was also the probable commissioner of the so-called “verziere” of Dolceacqua, a space decorated with citrus fruits, prestigious essences and finely sculpted statues, a symbol of the taste developed by years of frequenting various European courts and also of the taste that was prevailing in all the refined residences of Liguria, and of which Andrea Doria was an excellent representative.

In 1526 Bartolomeo Doria transferred his feudal rights on Dolceacqua to Duke Charles III of the House of Savoy, becoming vassal of the Savoy duke and obtaining in exchange protection for the castle. During the war of succession in 1744, the castle was again the stage of battles because of its strategic position, held as being an obstacle by the French and Spanish troops.
After violent fighting, the two allied armies managed to conquer the fortress on 27th July 1745.

The name Doria has always been present in the history of Genoa and Liguria in general. The family did a great many things, but it was Oberto who bought the fief of Dolceacqua. It was another Doria, this time Stefano, who donated the rampart and the refined aspect that will be narrated to you if you listed to the Dolceacqua audioguide 3 .

The intervention

Doria castle in Dolceacqua is, without a doubt, the most important architectural feature of the entire Nervia valley. As far as architecture and landscape aspects are concerned, it is a unique monument, when taken together with the town that radiates out from it in rings, around its walls.
Abandoned for two centuries (from approximately the mid-eighteenth century on), it was in a total state of neglect. It has been subject to various phases of restoration work in the past few years, phases that have converted its use and have significantly improved both its state of conservation and the access to many parts of it.

The conservation work planned as part of the Development of the natural and cultural resources of Liguria project (Level 4 of Por Fesr 2007-2013) aims to complete the building’s restoration in order to ensure that the entire building can be utilised and to work on areas, such as the Savoy bastion, that have never been either restored or studied.

Restoration work will particularly involve the replacement of the existing pitched roof on the north tower and its modification to match the features of the south tower, re-plastering and restoring its stonework.
Along the stretch of wall known as the ‘North sail’, located along the exterior of the castle’s perimeter on the north side (which has never been subject to any restoration work due to the difficulty in reaching it), climbing weeds will be removed, the stone walls will be restored and the summit protected.
In the most recently constructed part of the castle (mid-seventeenth century), the Savoy bastion, the aim is to salvage the existing large space as well as the parts of the building under it as a terrace.

There are also plans to create a historical tourist itinerary that will visit all parts of the castle, thanks to the installation of walkways and stairs on various levels and the restoration of connecting paths between the north and south towers (the old battlements) via a walkway offering an impressive view of the old town of Dolceacqua.

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