Exploring Trentino-Alto Adige

4-5 November 2023

Castle fortress Beseno

Travel in Italy is very different, but so much easier, than my first visit in 1972. Today, I purchase my rail ticket online where I also do self-check-in, I walk the short distance to the train station, and follow English directions to the platform. The train is on time and comfortable. I speed off to my next destination – Trento.

Trento is in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige in northern Italy. No direct train – all stop in Verona. Then the regional train turns north into the Alps. It is a route of dramatic waterfalls, large castles, a mountaintop fortress at Beseno, and green vineyards. A blanket of snow covers the craggy peaks.

My hotel has provided me with a free guest pass. I don’t completely understand why, but it is welcome. The pass allows free entry into all my planned sites in Trento.

Imposing Castle

Eager to explore, I walk to the Buonconsiglio Castle Museum. Trentinos say it is the most important castle of the region. That is a big brag! Scattered under the spectacular scenery of the Italian Alps is a network of over 300 castles! However, approaching its fortress walls and entering its portico, I agree – Buonconsiglio is impressive.

The castle complex takes a better part of my morning. It is an amazing complex of passages, towers, frescoed halls, and pleasant gardens. First construction began in the 12th century. Nuremberg painter Albrecht Dürer did a watercolor of the castle as early as 1494. Until 1803, it served as the residence of Trento’s prince-bishops.

The castle expanded through the centuries to include a Renaissance-styled Palazzo, the Baroque-styled round tower room of the Giunta Albertiana, a Venetian Gothic Loggia, and additional towers. Thus, the castle is a series of buildings of different creative eras, enclosed by thick walls and guarded by imposing cylindrical towers. All with magnificent views over the city and the Trentino region.

Within castle rooms are numerous art and archaeology collections first assembled in the mid-19th century, including objects dating from prehistory. Collections document historical and artistic events of Trento and its surrounding territory up to Roman times and the early Middle Ages. The oldest artifacts date from the time of nomadic hunters around 11,000 B.C. Also, a wonderful collection of porcelain stoves are on display.

As I roam through its many halls, each room seems to outdo the last. The ceilings are masterpieces. The frescoed loggia of the Cortile dei Leoni Palazzo Magno is stunning. Frescoes cover walls and ceilings throughout. The prince-bishops lived well!

Eagle and Hawk’s Towers

Two towers are of particular importance. The Torre Aquila, or Eagle Tower, houses the fresco Cycle of the Months dating from the late Middle Ages. (March is missing.) These beautiful panels illustrate the continuity of the months and the flow of time through the seasons. Panels depict the rich foliage of spring, the agricultural activity of summer, the trees of November surrounded by fallen leaves, while a bare landscape is covered in snow winter. November, even in 2023, has not changed much.

Months of November and December

The Torre del Falco, Hawk’s Tower, was probably built around 1390 by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein at the same time as his reconstruction of the Torre Aquila. Frescoes dating back to the 1530s cover the walls. These are valuable depictions of the economic and social life between the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th century. Scenes of hunting, landscapes, fishermen, and agriculture illustrate the everyday life of both the nobility and the peasantry.

Hawk’s Tower frescoes

Together, the tower frescoes are remarkable. They were likely painted at the end of the 14th century, as the Prince-Bishop was imprisoned and removed from Trento by 1407.

The garden, even in November, is quite pleasant. Tragically, it wasn’t always so. During WW One, the Italian patriot and politician Cesare Battisti was executed in its courtyard for his opposition to Austrian domination in Trentino. Being a follower of the Italian unification movement, he was shot for treason. Battisti’s bust also adorns the Victory Monument in Bolzano.

Monumental Cemetery

Trento Monumental Cemetery is where most of the important people of Trento have gone to rest since 1826. As with monumental cemeteries, the monuments of the wealthy try to outdo the monuments of the less-wealthy. Statues, loggias, and mausoleums/chapels adorn the site.

Trento Monumental Cemetery is where most of the important people of Trento have gone to rest since 1826. As with monumental cemeteries, the monuments of the wealthy try to outdo the monuments of the less-wealthy. Statues, loggias, and mausoleums/chapels adorn the site.

Cemetery and monumental waterfall

Additionally, on site is the Sacrario Militare di Trento. The shrine is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of WW One. It houses the remains of 3202 Italian soldiers, of which 1580 are unknown. On the opposite side of the cemetery is the Austro-Hungarian ossuary. It contains the remains of 8.076 Austro-Hungarian soldiers and officers who fell in WW One. Once far grander, it fell into neglect until its restoration in 2010.

Historic Town Square

One thing I love about Italy, there are always historic town squares. These prized public places will have a main cathedral, maybe a museum, oftentimes a tower with clock, fountain, and wonderful cafes and coffee houses. Piazza del Duomo di Trento is just such a spot:

The church is

Trento’s San Vigilio Cathedral which took centuries to complete. It is named for the third Bishop and Patron Saint of Trento, Saint Vigilius, who is buried in the church. Like most of Italy’s churches, the cathedral was built over a previous church. It can be entered via the crypt. Then, a second church version came and went.

Piazza Duomo and San Vigilio Cathedral

In 1212, the Prince-Bishop authorized the building of the current cathedral in the Romanesque-Lombard style. Men continued building, adding, and decorating the building into the 18th century. Although the site was consecrated in 1145 and groundbreaking occurred 1212, and Emperor Maximilian was crowned here in 1508, the cathedral was not completed until 1743.

In 1682, the baroque Chapel of the Crucifix was built around a wood crucifix that had been used during the Council of Trent which was held here between 1545 and 1563. This important Council, in reaction to the Protestant Reformation, issued key statements and clarifications of the Church’s doctrine and teachings, and defined Protestant heresies.

In 1739 a baroque altar and ceremonial baldachin (canopy) was created, based upon the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini is best known for the Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In 1913, Pope Pius X elevated the cathedral to the rank of minor basilica.

The museum is 

the Tridentine Diocesan Museum. Many of the artworks previously housed in the cathedral are now in the Tridentine, a museum housed in the Bishop’s Palace next to the cathedral. The historic palace is beautiful in itself. The paintings, sculptures, tapestries and illuminated manuscripts tell the story of a wealthy region and diocese.

The towers include

the bell tower of the cathedral which contains eight bells. Six of the bells were completed in 1920 while the final two were added in 1955. The bells are known for their ability to play the entire diatonic tones of the natural scales. Unfortunately, I did not hear them ring.

However, in the bell tower of St. Romedius, adjacent to the cathedral, there is a bell dating back to 1862. That does ring out the hour.

A third tower is the Civic Clock Tower. The 150’ square tower was built in the 11th century. It is the historic center of Trento and has a dominating view of the piazza and surrounding mountains. While the tower cannot be visited, the clock is accurate.

The fountain is 

a typical Fountain of Neptune. One finds them all over Europe. Neptune with his trident stands above as water flows from the mouths of dolphins and sea creatures. But, far more interesting and unique are the houses behind the fountain.

Casa Cazuffi and Rella are covered in colorful frescoes. These two beautifully painted medieval houses are supported by the arched pillars of a portico. All was painted during the 16thcentury. The paintings depict scenes of classical mythology. The left side shows allegories of Fortune and Opportunity. The right side illustrates Virtue, Time and Love.

My café of choice for dinner my afternoon Prosecco is

Caffé Portici overlooking these frescos. The Caffé is the perfect spot for watching all activities of the piazza. A bell chimes the hours and the ubiquitous pidgins beg for morsels. A second dinner, I choose its neighbor, Bar in Centro where once again I enjoy the food, a fine Rulendis white wine, and the superb views of piazza activities under a cloudless, brilliant blue sky. Life is truly good.

My route north

I depart for the train station from Trento’s incongruously named Hotel America. I have my electronic ticket to Bolzano. Self-check-in is complete.

On my path is Piazza Dante Park with its monument to Dante. Italians love Dante. In fact, Pope Francis is only slightly more restrained in praise of the Divine Comedy as “one of the highest expressions of human genius.” I’ve read Dante and pay homage to his statue. As Dante tried to teach – pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony and lust has never served Man well.

It seems all a matter of moderation.


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


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