International Exhibition of Industry and Labour - Turin 1911

Industry and Labor

April 29, 1911 - November 19, 1911


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Medieval castle

manque image

He is the lord of the place, as the Valentin castle was of the first part of the park; we owe him a visit, too, before leaving the pavilions of the Exhibition centre.

After admiring the small town square, with its crenellated curtain wall, we climb the ramp that leads to the entrance of the castle. Visitors to the Aosta Valley will immediately recognise its appearance, which recalls the castles of Ivrea and Montalto at the entrance to the valley, the castle of Verrès, which proudly watches over the valley of the Challant, and the castle of Fénis, which, on the other hand, spreads out cheerfully on a charming plateau along the flowery banks of the Dora.

Under the portico, on the right, halfway up the hill, sleep, inactive for the moment, during the great labour festival which has doused all the anger and enmity of the lords, the old weapons of the time from the great catapult, intended for throwing stones, to the pile of crossbows and bows for shooting arrows.

The portcullis is raised, the drawbridge lowered and the massive iron gate, reinforced by the heads of huge nails, surmounted by the Red Count's coat of arms, leaves the passage free. One enters a large corridor, guarded by the long, thin muzzles of the couleuvrines, ready to be handled by the men-at-arms of the neighbouring guardhouse.

But today is a time of peace and the old manor house courteously welcomes visitors; they can walk freely to observe its inner structure and hidden mysteries. The soldiers' corridor leads to the castle courtyard, a marvellously accurate reproduction of that jewel of naive and pious art that is the courtyard of the castle of Fenis. St. George, slaying the dragon from his white horse, inspires confidence to climb the two arms of the staircase that lead to the upper galleries under his protection. The wooden galleries go around the courtyard and tell the story of the Middle Ages with their saints, mottos and coats of arms, fresh, lively and speaking as if they were from yesterday. The hooded falcons wait impatiently from the balustrade of the highest gallery for the moment when they will be put on their fist for the hunt.

The soldiers' room, a reproduction of the one in Verres, with the planks for beds, with the rack filled with defensive and offensive weapons, pointed, sharp or blunt, communicates with the kitchen, inspired by the one in Issogne castle. The kitchen, with its picturesque intersecting vaults, is divided into two parts; one for the servants, the other for the lord. Nothing is missing; this kitchen, which we had imagined to be crude and primitive, like the life of the Middle Ages in general, is on the contrary provided with all the comforts necessary to prepare a good meal. Everything is there: the hatch, the well, the oven where they used to bake that tasty and tender family bread that we no longer know today. There is even an artistic taste, a search for beauty, from the armchairs to the beautifully decorated washbasin in the shape of a castle with towers, which we would look for in vain in our bourgeois kitchens.

Let us pass from the kitchen to the seigneurial dining room, well sheltered by the wooden partitions, with the ceiling, the chimney, the ornamented walls, the carved wooden credenzas intended to support the weight of the amphorae and the boars, with the tribune of the musicians who enliven the banquet with tunes and songs.

The dreadful darkness of the prisons in the castle's underground passages, where the captive was first lowered by a rope and where, day by day, ounce by ounce, a miserly measured loaf of bread was lowered upon him, does not detain us long. Let us go up to the upper floors, where everything tells us of the wealth and good taste of the lord.

The antechamber, with its gilded coffered ceiling, its polychrome paving, its richly carved walnut backs, prepares us for the pomp of the great hall that follows. On the walls are painted the heroes of the Round Table, evoked by the good Marquis of Saluces Thomas III in his novel in Provençal verse: the Knight Wanderer. The heroes are mingled, in the gaiety of a pagan fantasy, with the scene of the Fountain of Youth which a few people have been able to see at the castle of La Manta, near Saluces, and which all can admire here at their ease. Your furniture and the incredibly rich brocades match the purpose of the room: it was here that the lord received the homage and the oath of fidelity from his vassals, that he gave investitures, that he armed the knights, that he received the ambassadors; this room gave a high idea of the power and the wealth of the lord.

The intimate, private flats are also open to the public: the bedroom copied from the bedroom of the King of France in Issogne Castle, the green oratory and the chapel with its ogival windows from which a poetic and mysterious light filters, caressing the precious triptych of the altar and the semicircular painting representing the episode of the Cyrenaican. We have not forgotten the servants' quarters, from the squires to the page, from the maids of honour to the secretary, in charge of the accounts and correspondence.
Our brief visit to the Castle is over. But as we reluctantly leave the old manor house, which sums up in so little space the life of Piedmont over several centuries, we turn our thoughts to those men of value who knew how to give us this artistic jewel envied by so many other cities.

Alas, most of them are dead. Frédéric Pastoris, Albert Maso Gilli, Joseph Giacosa, Victor Avondo are sleeping their last sleep and can no longer raise their heads to see and admire their work once more.

But their thoughts live on: noble thoughts that gave life to the Castle and that, by reminding us of the study of Piedmontese life and art in the Middle Ages, gave rise throughout the region to a salutary movement towards art, a holy respect for the heritage left to us by our forefathers, and saved the castles of Verrès, Issogne and Pénis from certain ruin, proclaimed national monuments.

©Guide Officiel de l'Exposition Internationale de Turin 1911