Castiglione del Lago is the main town in the Lake Trasimeno area. It is situated on a limestone rock that was once the lake’s fourth island until the water withdrew and it assumed its current geographic shape.
The town has always been contested for its strategic position close to major routes. In ancient times it was fought over by the Etruscans and Romans; the battle for ownership continued in the Middle Ages between the Lombard Tuscan cities and Byzantine Perugia. For this reason, the town’s fortifications, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, have undergone many changes over the centuries.
In 1550, Pope Julius III gave the town to his sister, Giacoma, and his nephews Ascanio and Fulvio della Corgna, who ruled it until 1647 as the Dukes of Castiglione del Lago. When Fulvio Alessandro II died without heirs, the duchy was reabsorbed into the Papal States. The town is considered one of the most charming in Italy for its history, culture, the natural beauty of the area and the variety and quality of its food and wine.
While visiting the town, well worth a stop is Palazzo della Corgna. Designed by Galeazzo Alessi, a well-known architect from Perugia, it was the main residence of the della Corgna family who ruled from 1563 to 1647. Conceived as a small ‘palace’, it was set apart from the town and surrounded by a flourishing garden. The building, ordered by Ascanio della Corgna, is constructed from limestone and brick and has richly decorated interiors. The frescoes in the main hall that celebrate the exploits of Ascanio’s life are the work of the mannerist painter Niccolò Circignani, aka ‘Il Pomarancio’. Today, only twenty-four chairs remain of the original Della Corgna furniture.
The Rocca del Leone [The Fortress of the Lion], built in1247, is connected to the Ducal Palace by a covered walkway. Constructed when the town was conquered by Frederick II of Swabia, it represents one of the most important examples of Umbrian military architecture. A pentagon in form with four corner towers, the fortress is located on a limestone outcrop from which it dominates all the Trasimeno lands. Inside there is a small amphitheatre where public performances take place throughout the summer.
The Church of Santa Maria Maddalena is a neoclassical building built between 1836 and 1860. It contains an altarpiece of the Madonna Enthroned from 1500, a work attributed to Eusebio da San Giorgio (a pupil of Perugino), plasterwork by Piervittori, and a Madonna del Latte from the 1300s by the Sienese school.
The Church of San Domenico di Guzman was built in 1636 by Fulvio Alessandro II, the last Duke della Corgna. Following his wife’s recovery from an illness, the duke promised before the image of St. Dominic to build a church in his honour. The Baroque style church consists of two parts: one reserved for religious celebrations and the other (the sacristy) used for meetings of the brotherhood of San Domenico. It is also the repository off the church’s relics, among them the bust of Santa Barbara.
The Della Corgna Family
The Della Corgna were an important family who ruled the Duchy of Castiglione del Lago from 1563-1647.
Originally from Perugia, they played an important socio-economic role in the town on a par with the Ansidei and Crispolti families, but their prestige greatly increased with the marriage between Francesco (Francia) della Corgna and Giacoma Ciocchi del Monte, the younger sister of the future Pope Julius III.
The children from this marriage were Ascanio, Fulvio and Laura.
The pope gave his sister the territories of Castiglione del Lago and Chiugi, for centuries known as ‘Chiugi Perugino’.
Ascanio I was the most famous of the Della Corgna family. An expert swordsman and brave military man, he was also an architect, receiving from the pope the title of Marquis of Castiglione del Lago and Chiugi. He was sent on many assignments as a papal envoy, and is remembered for his many exploits as an army general. On his return from the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, he was seized with a high fever and died in Rome at the home of his brother Fulvio, who had meanwhile become a cardinal.
His exploits are remembered in the form of a rich fresco cycle executed by the painter Pomarancio in Palazzo Della Corgna, the house Ascanio ordered to be constructed next to the fortress in Castiglione del Lago.
The four generations of the Della Corgna family followed one another in less than a hundred years. The dynasty ended with Fulvio Alessandro II, who died without male heirs. He was awarded the title of duke, the first and the last of Corgna to bear it.
Among the most illustrious members of the family was Diomede della Penna, the son of Laura, who inherited the title of marquis from his uncle, Ascanio I. He was a lover of the arts and it was he who commissioned Pomarancio to decorate the Castiglione palace.
Ascanio II was successful in military enterprises in the service of Pope Clement VIII. In addition to being skilled leader and moderator (he managed to avoid hostilities with the Grand Duchy of Tuscany), he was a highly educated man – a philosophy scholar and a poet. He invited many writers, artists and noblemen to the Castiglione palace.
On the death of the last of the Della Corgna family, the duchy was absorbed by the Papal State.