Perched and scratched by the scars of its unlucky course, the ruins of Castel Pietra have been inspiring suggestions for both locals and travelers over the centuries, including the first British pioneers who explored the Dolomites of Pale di San Martino. Due to the variety of themes it can have, ranging from history to water exploitation and consumption, this hike is strongly recommended to everyone. The route aims to connect some of the most characteristic places related to the castle and its history, in a loop that starts and ends in Tonadico, the most ancient village of the Valley of Primiero, sitting downstream of the castle.
The route starts from the car park located south of the village, on the left bank of the Canali torrent. The route begins along Via Zocchét, heading north-east along the bank of the river, on a road that turns from a paved into a stony one and leads, after crossing a stream on a wooden bridge, to the main road accessing Passo Cereda (SS 347). Once on the main road, the route proceeds downhill for about 200 meters, crossing the river, and then taking – on the right, towards north east – a small road towards Madonna della Luce / Villa Welsperg. The climb, though still easily walkable, begins to become more demanding. In about ten minutes, the track reaches the shrine of the Madonna della Luce, located at the beginning of the slope leading to the castle.
From the shrine, at 850 m asl, the track continues steeply in the forest, along the old access road to the castle. During this stretch of climb, it is possible to get to the castle by following different variants; for historical reasons and to better enjoy the arrival at the ruins, we recommend to entirely follow the old road. Castel Pietra is not visible, if not in its proximity, throughout the ascent.
Once reached the pitch at the base of the natural wall, above which the ruins stand (1,039 m asl), the trail continues along the base of the wall towards what little is left of the northern gate of the castle.
At the bottom of the wall, from which the access staircase starts, the route takes a path that leads to a location called Le Cesurette: a beautiful meadow with a stream located at the entrance of the Valley of Canali, at 978 m above sea level. From Cesurette, the route continues towards Villa Welsperg, always climbing in the forest towards the lake named Laghetto Welsperg. Just before arriving at the basin, instead of turning to the right, you keep in the forest, on the west side, along a path that allows you to continue the journey immersed in the silence and charm offered by the numerous isolated boulders present in the area. After about half a kilometer, the track enters the main road that leads to Villa Welsperg. By the villa, the itinerary proceeds by crossing the Canali torrent once again, on the bridge over the artificial basin of “Cacciatore”, starting the way back south.
From the hotel “Al Cacciatore”, the track continues on an old path that returns to Tonadico. The path follows a constant and undemanding stretch which runs downhill along the western side of the valley, offering some interesting views of Castel Pietra, the mountain range of Pale Alte del Palughét and the Cimonega mountain group, with the peak of Piz di Sagrón (2,479 m asl) on the background.
As you approach the village of Tonadico, as the network of paths becomes thicken, it is useful to keep in mind to keep yourself on the contour line. A few hundred meters after passing the farms of Novaia, the asphalt road of Coladína is reached, which leads directly to the village, passing through the ancient church of San Vittore. Before returning to the starting point, it is interesting to conclude the route with a historical background by passing through the buildings of Palazzo Scopoli, built in the year 1000, and Lisièra.
- From the village of Tonadico, walk the street of Via Zocchét along the Canali torrent, until reaching the main road of Passo Cereda, SS 347,
- From the bridge on the SS 347, take the path towards Madonna della Luce / Villa Welsperg until reaching the shrine of Madonna della Luce,
- From the shrine (850 m asl), keep following the path towards Villa Welsperg, heading to the castle (i.e. Castel Pietra),
- From the castle (1,039 m asl), continue towards Villa Welsperg, passing through the location called Cesurette (978 m asl),
- From Villa Welsperg (1,030 m asl), cross the Canali torrent and take the path towards Tonadico. ✓
CASTEL PIETRA: THE ORIGINS
- The origins of Castrum Petrae (tr. castle of the rock), also known as Castel Pietra, are not entirely clear. The castle was presumably built by the bishops of Feltre as the residence of the episcopal representative – with the title of captain – in charge of the administration of justice. The first document mentioning Castel Pietra dates back to 1064. It was mentioned again in 1097, during the first crusade, with Corrado from Primiero (Corrado from the castle) joining the cause, blessed by the Bishop of Feltre. After this date, no mention is found in written sources until the second half of the XIII century.
- The castle stands above the village of Tonadico, erected on the top of a huge erratic boulder (from which its name originates) on the Canali torrent. Its position, from which the castle could control the road connecting Primiero with Agordo, was extremely strategic. There are several representations of the castle, many of them misleading. Certainly, it can be stated that the building was made up of two distinct blocks, connected together. The most reliable representations from the XVI century allow a reconstruction of the building with a quadrangular plan, developed on two floors, with a paved roof, to which smaller volumes were attached. It is also said that the access road was an “impervious staircase carved into the rock”. A feudal investiture dating back to 1519 attests that the castle was composed of 46 distinct rooms.
CASTEL PIETRA: THE HISTORY
- The investiture controversy between Guelphs and Ghibellines had repercussions on the whole territory around the city of Feltre, forcing the bishop of Feltre, pressed by the major Venetian lords, to transfer part of its possessions to the da Camino family, in exchange of protection. In 1235, the da Camino family handed the castle to Ezzelino III da Romano, as requested by the bishop Matteo da Tomo.
- In 1260, the “potestaria et districtus Primei” was handed back to Adalgerio di Villalta, bishop of Feltre, who nominated a governor, Andrea de Curte, with the title of captain. In March 1273, the bishop validated the first statutes of Primiero, which indicated the annual obligations of the inhabitants towards the castle “domus castri Petre”, including the payment of 200 Venetian lire, the delivery of a hundred wagons of wood and the duties for supporting the renovation of the access to the castle “when necessary”.
- During the 14th century Primiero was involved in the clashes between the Della Scala (Scaliger) from Verona, the Venetians, the lords of Carrara and German families who fought for the control of the city of Feltre. It can be read from its memory that, in 1337, Charles of Luxembourg arrived in Primiero from the Rolle Pass on his way to conquer Feltre and Belluno, both threatened by Venetian expansionism. Charles conquered Castel Pietra. On 7th October 1349, Charles of Luxembourg was crowned King of Tyrol (Charles IV); with the ceremony, Primiero was unbounded for the first time from Feltre, becoming a direct shire of Tyrol.
- In 1404 Castel Pietra was handed over to the Welsperg family from the Puster Valley, who maintained its control over the building until the XIX century. As captain Cristoph Ellinger testifies, the Welsperg family expanded the building with rooms for gentlemen and ladies, providing it with fortifications and agricultural outbuildings at the base of the boulder, including the chapel, dedicated to San Leonardo, the smithy, the barn, the sawmill and the mill.
- As the village of Fiera grew, becoming the actual decision-making center for the entire community of Primiero, in 1500, the construction of the Welsperg family palace in Fiera marked the beginning of a progressive decline of the castle, together with the loss of its strategic importance.
- After the ruins caused by partial floods and fires, Castel Pietra was rebuilt in 1565.
- In 1608 the fortress was enlarged again, imposing “hateful taxes” on the merchants, with the consent of Giovanni Althamer, a customs officer in Primiero. For this usurpation, Francesco Caldogno, as “administrator at the borders of Vicenza“, led a group of armed men from the Seven Municipalities to attack the castle.
- Following a fire in 1611, the Welsperg tried to recover their rights to the annual tax called “piòveghi”, who had been dismissed since 1440. They tried to make themselves recognize the tax right as an extraordinary right for the reconstruction of the castle. However, the community of Primiero opposed it by all means. It was probably the captain of the castle, lord Römer, who prevented the Welsperg from proceeding with their requests with the following declaration: “if not for the men of Tonadig – tr. Tonadico -, the castle would have been burnt to the roots”.
- The castle was rebuilt in 1612, sadly reduced from its original structure and losing much of its ancient dignity. The residence now counted only two rooms and it could be used by just one family. The captain of the castle was already settled in Fiera, with all his offices, also to be better able to monitor the most active center of the valley and follow its problems to be solved, including the sad page of the trials against the witches.
- The procedural documents give us a vague idea of the role of the captain in the trials against Barbara Luciana, known as Lorenzona, accused of having disappeared in front of her son “up the chimney”, tortured, and then released. Another trial was conducted against Appolonia, widow of Pietro Bernardin, accused of “nocturnal conferences with the devil”, who under torture confessed and was hanged and burned in Molarén, on December 7, 1647.
- On the 26th of December 1675, while the whole Welsperg family was at the solemn mass at Pieve’s archpriest church, the castle caught fire. The flames destroyed it entirely, reducing it to a pile of ruins.
- Attempts at a partial reconstruction were made decades later, but they faced a final block in 1720 when, due to a tornado, the roof of the structure was completely uncovered. This last event marked the definitive abandonment of Castel Pietra. Furthermore, in 1885 the entire north wing of the castle collapsed and, with it, the only remaining entrance to the building.
CASTEL PIETRA: TODAY
- In the beginning of the 1980s, cleaning and restoration work was carried out on the ruins, allowing the recovery of the wall remains. Further restoration work has been completed over the years. Castel Pietra, still owned by the Thun-Hohenstein-Welsperg family, is today in a ruderal state.
- The ruin cannot be officially visited, given the danger of the suspended metal staircase and the climbing over the wall that visitors must deal with for visiting the building. Inside, the ruins, the visitors can see some remarkable windows and the walls of the rooms.
- In recent decades, the boulder on which the castle stands has been the destination of numerous bouldering enthusiasts, probably also attracted by the singularity of the surrounding environment.
Possenti, E., Gentilini, G., Landi, W. (2013). Castra, castelli e domus murate. Corpus dei siti fortificati trentini tra tardoantico e basso medioevo. Apsat 4, 5, 6. Mantova.
Zieger, A. (1975). Primiero e la sua storia. Accademia del Buonconsiglio, TEMI. Trento.