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Semione – Serravalle Castle

The history of Blenio Valley in one castle

Svizzera, Cantone Ticino, SERRAVALLE


(CH 1903) E   717930 N   141300 H   403.0
(WGS 84) Long.   8.973 Lat.   46.413
INTERESSE CONTESTUALE Archaeological, Historical, Architectural
ARCHAEOSITE   fortification structure


Situated on a rocky outcrop, the castle commands a view of the Biasca-Lucomagno Pass. Enclosed by a wall and protected by a circular tower and a ravelin (a triangular fortification), it consists of a residential complex in the north with kitchens, a water tower, inner and outer courtyards to the south, and the Church of Santa Maria al Castello. The Serravalle Project, funded by the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research and conducted by the Academy of Architecture (Mendrisio), the Historisches Seminar (University of Basel) and the UBC, has led to an increase in our knowledge of this historical castle. In fact, research has shown the remains of the first castle from the ninth century and the traces of its destruction in about 1180. The present castle, built by the Orelli in the thirteenth century and enlarged by the Visconti and the Pepoli, has provided many findings which have been useful for the understanding of everyday life, construction techniques, military practices and cultural relations of its inhabitants.


A first castle is archaeologically confirmed as having stood in the ninth century, and was mentioned in 948 in a document written by Bishop Attone of Vercelli. It was conquered after four days of siege by Frederick Barbarossa in 1176, but was destroyed by the Milanese, as stated by a source from 1224, in the years following the Battle of Legnano in 1176. In fact, archaeological excavations have found traces of fire, large quantities of arrowheads and four trebuchets, a huge and innovative siege machine, of different sizes. When Blenio fell under the control of the Orelli in the thirteenth century, a second, larger castle was built on the ruins of the first during the years from 1230 to 1240. The transfer of ownership to the Visconti of Oleggio after 1340 and to the Pepoli of Bologna in 1380 mark two further stages of development and beautification of the castle. Due to the period of instability following the death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1402, the castle was attacked, looted, burned and systematically razed to the ground in1404.


The place name “Serravalle” is often associated with the military idea of a strategic point located in a place where the valley narrows, allowing effective control of transit routes. This does not seem to be the case, however, with the Castle of Serravalle: indeed, the name derives from the Lombard root “sara” or “sala”, which is defined as a “legal-administrative centre”. This interpretation is supported by the structure of the walls and by archaeological finds testifying that most of the rooms of the castle were richly frescoed, suggesting that Serravalle was not a military fortress.
scala temporale periodi geologici


By bus: from the Biasca station, take the bus towards Biasca Olivone, getting off at the Malvaglia-Rongie stop. Continue in the direction of Semione for about three minutes. By car: From Biasca take the road for Olivone. When you have arrived in Semione, go through the village to the castle. Parking facilities are nearby.



BEZZOLA S., MEYER W., Castello di Serravalle: rapporto preliminare delle ricerche 2002-2004, in Bollettino storico della Svizzera Italiana, 2006, pp. 28-66;
BEZZOLA S., Castello di Serravalle. Campagna di scavo 2005, in Bollettino storico della Svizzera italiana, 2006, pp. 147-155.
BEZZOLA S., Castello di Serravalle - Indagine archeologica nel Ticino medievale, in Archeologia Svizzera, 32, 3, 2009.


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Programma di cooperazione transfrontaliera Italia - Svizzera 2007 - 2013 Progetto cofinanziato dal Fondo Europeo Sviluppo Regionale (FESR)
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