The Castles of Duino Aurisina in Northern Italy

Hi there,

Today I will tell you about the history and legends of the old and the new castle of Duino Aurisina in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Northeast Italy

The Old Castle,

View of the old Castle in Duino Aurisina, Italy
View of the old Castle in Duino Aurisina, Italy

The first mention of this castle was in the writings of Pliny the Elder, who referred to the original building as Castelum Pucinum, erected on the rocky promontory between Monfalcone and Trieste, on the site of a temple of Druid worship dedicated to the Sun God. Then they found more evidence of the castle’s existence dating back to 1139, mentioned in documents from the reign of Tybein di Duino (or Tybeiner), vassals of the patriarchs of Aquileia. So this temple of the Sun god and, subsequently, the old castle set the beginning of life in the village of Duino.

The Old castle in Duino, Italy
The Old Castle in Duino, Italy

The ruins of the fortress show that the building had a rectangular shape surrounded by jagged towers supported by arches lying on the stones of the rock on which the construction was lying. There was a chapel in the lower part of the central Tower, composed of several floors, and served as a residence and later as a prison. Evidence of this is the traces of frescoes on the walls and the vaulted ceiling. Furthermore, the access to the upper floor was via external wooden stairs. The reason is that the Tower’s walls show square recesses that are supposed to have housed the supports of the staircase, which are probably movable. Thus, these movable staircases would have guaranteed perfect protection for the Tower’s occupants in the event of an attack.

The Old castle in Duino, Italy
The Old Castle in Duino, Italy

A very narrow strip of land connected the castle to the mainland, dug into a narrow passage along the boundary wall to restrict selection and facilitate defense against the enemy.

There used to be a drawbridge where the entrance to the fortress is today.

In the 15th century, the ancient castle of Duino was abandoned and, after the Turkish attack in 1476, destroyed. Thus on this inaccessible rock, battered by the winds, some walls have survived the centuries with all their legends.

The White Lady rock
The White Lady rock

The legend concerns the sizeable white stone visible under the walls, which looks like a female figure wrapped in a cloak, so-called the White Lady, and it says that many years ago, the castle of Duino used to be inhabited by an evil knight and his bride – a woman with a pure heart and noble feelings. One day, being blind with rage, the knight threw her from the rock, and the unhappy lady, falling, uttered such a cry of anguish that the heavens, having mercy on her, turned her into a stone. Each night since, around midnight, the unfortunate woman peels herself off the cliff and wanders the ruins of the old castle in search of the room with her baby’s cradle. Finally, at dawn, she walks away and, disappointed, turns to stone again.

As I have already told you above, after the Peace of Timavo in 1112, the territory’s borders were defined between the Marquises of Istria and the County of Gorizia, feudal lords of the Patriarchs of Aquileia. In the 12th and 13th centuries, these karst territories were entrusted to the lords of Duino or the so-called Duinati.

The New Castle,

View of the New Castle from the ruins of the Old ones in Duino, Italy
View of the New Castle from the ruins of the Old ones in Duino, Italy,

built on the ruins of the Roman tower that stood on the promontory near the old castle. Its history began in 1389; its construction was commissioned by Ugone di Duino, captain of Trieste, to replace the old castle. Initially used briefly as a prison, it quickly became a home.

I will try to trace who the new castle has belonged to over the centuries and its inhabitants till today. The story of Duino’s new castle will take us on a long journey through the history of nobility in Italy, the wars, and the present day. After Ugone’s death, Roberto di Valsee inherited the castle, was his first wife’s brother, and oversaw the court’s construction until its completion in the 15th century.

In 1472, dominion over Duino and its castle passed from the Valsee family into the possession of Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg, who settled there as captain and administrator of Duino and Carso—joined by several other captains, Neklas Lüger, Jürgen von Elach, and Caspar Rauber. They were all significant heroes in the resistance of Trieste against the Venetian siege in 1463. So these imperial captains expanded the castle’s fortifications and made it more resistant to possible blockades.

In 1522, possession of Duino passed to the Duchy of Carniola. When the family of Hofer von Hohenfels disappeared in 1581 with the death of the last descendant Matthäse, the castle, in turn, remained in the inheritance of his only two daughters, Ludovika and Marie-Clara Orsa. Both were married (of course, one after the death of the other) to Count Raimondo della Torre di Valsassina, who took the surname Hofer. Thus, for the next 250 years, the castle remained in the possession of Von Thurn – Hofer Valsassina.

In 1849, Countess Therese von Thurn-Hafer Valsassina, who was also the last direct descendant of Dela Torre Valsassina and heiress to the castle at Duino, married Prince Egon zu Hoenlohe-Waldenburg-Schiligfrost, by whom she had six children. So, in 1875, her fourth daughter married in Venice Prince Alessandro di Turin e Taxo, great-grandson of della Torres and son of Hugo Massimiliano of the Bohemian branch, who brought the property as a dowry. In 1881, Alessandro was born to the couple, who eventually became the estate owner. He was later proclaimed the first Duke of the Castle of Duino by the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III of Savoy. He received Italian naturalization in 1923, taking the surname della Torre e Tasso.

The Piano where Frank Liszt was playing during his visits
The Piano where Frank Liszt was playing during his visits

In the 18th century, the castle was an important cultural center. Many famous historical figures were guests of the manor, such as Empress Sisi and her husband, Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Johann Strauss, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Franz Liszt, Rainer Maria Rilke, and many others. During one of his visits to the castle, Rilke wrote the “Duino Elegies” and thus gave the Duino area its popularity. The rocky shore in the castle’s extension was also a favorite place for the poet to stroll; from there, he drew inspiration for his works. Today, this trail bears Rilke’s name and is famous for trekking among the many tourists who visit the area.

The castle in Duino today:

The stairs
The stairs
The view of the stairs form above and down
The view of the stairs from above and down

To this day, the castle is the property of the descendants of the Torre and Tasso families. The estate management is in the hands of the family’s great-grandson, Prince Dimitri della Torre and Tasso, born in 1977. To help maintain the castle, Prince Dimitri turned it into a museum, keeping the first two floors, the garden, and the bunker, open to the public, while the third floor is where the Prince’s residence is and where he still lives.

The Bunker:

It was built in 1943 for the German Kriegsmarine, with an area of 400 sqm at a depth of 18m. During the war, the bunker was an anti-aircraft shelter and a fortification of the so-called “Bertha Line,” a defensive line invented by the Nazis that covered the entire upper Adriatic at potential landing points for the Allied army. The Gulf of Sistiana was one of the points of most significant danger to the Nazis, which prompted the Nazis to carve out the bunker. At that time, the German troops occupied the princely residence and then the Anglo-American occupation. Today, the central part of the bunker displays World War II artifacts, panels with a map of the bunker, and a series of news articles from the time.

The Garden of the Castle:

Each year, the château garden is filled with various flowers, creating spectacular displays in combination with classic Mediterranean plants.

Today the mansion is maintained thanks to proceeds from visits to the museum and bunker. The estate is a popular venue for gala dinners, weddings, christenings, conferences, and exhibitions, and also hosts concerts, theater performances, and cultural events.

The view from the Tower
The view from the Tower
The view from the Tower over Duino
The view from the Tower over Duino

I hope you find this interesting, and thanks for visiting my blog,




Svetlana Hristova

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