The Valer Castle is situated in the Non Valley (Val di Non) in the province Trent (Trento) in the Welsch Tyrol (Italy) at the foothills of the Dolomite Alps. The building consists of 2 connected castles and was built on the foundations of a Roman castle – as was discovered thanks to various finds – between the 12th and 17th century.
The historic Roman road (from Rome to Gaul) passed the castle, which served as a place of surveillance along the Roman road as well as a base to pass on light signals.
The present octagonal tower (unique in the old area) was erected in the 12th century. It is 40 meters high and consists mainly of granite. In the lower part, the walls are approximately 3 meters thick. The only access to the tower is an old wooden bridge, which the inhabitants – after having withdrawn into the tower – could destroy in case of occupation. According to legend, an underground corridor led to the nearest castle. In the course of centuries, extensive buildings were built around the tower. A stone bridge, formerly a drawbridge, and a large gate give access into the inner castle grounds.
During the World War, the tower was used as a base by both the German and the Italian military, and an antiaircraft defense base was installed in the tower. Some of the older inhabitants of a nearby village still remember how, as children, they saw an airplane being hit from the tower of Valer and then crashing into the nearby mountain Peller. During the military occupation, Valer was used as an Officer Command Center for the Non Valley area and was thus hardly damaged during the war.
Two drawing wells, which can still be used today, provided water supply. There are two chapels in Valer. The smaller one, dedicated to Saint Sebastian, is located within the building and the larger one from the Late Gothic Age is located within the outer castle walls. It is dedicated to Saint Valerio and features valuable and well-preserved frescoes by famous painters from the area around Bergamo. In 1996, the chapel of Saint Valerio was restored. In the same year, the Europa Nostra (umbrella organization of the individual European Castle Institutes), in cooperation with
Christies, announced an award for the best restored private chapel in the whole of Europe. 400 participants took part in the competition. First, Saint Valerio was among the 20 highest ranking chapels and was finally given the award for best renovated chapel.
Within the castle grounds, there are two castle yards which are connected with a small lane. One of them features an interesting Romanesque pillar, an expansive arch and two triforia, and an armorial hall above with an impressive cloister of pillars, which was created in the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The other yard features extensive vaults and includes the judge’s seat, which was the center of jurisdiction on the right side of the Non Valley. Several staircases lead to the living quarters on top of the vaults, which include two large halls (one Great Hall).
All in all, the castle has more than 80 rooms of various sizes, some of them woodpanelled (16th century). There is also a large, spacious loggia with pillars and round arches and a smaller loggia with an unobstructed view over the whole of the wide valley and the Dolomite Alps.
The Great Hall of approx. 120m2 features important pillared windows and a magnificent wooden ceiling. Adjacent to the Great Hall are the Madrutz rooms, named after Cardinal Madrutz, who played a major role during the Council of Trent and used to live in these rooms. The rooms feature outstanding frescoes from the 16th century, created by the famous painter Marcello Fogolini from Vicenza, who had to flee his home town because he had murdered his barber. As the jurisdiction in Valer allowed sanctuary for murderers, he was employed to paint the famous Angel Frieze.
16 old and very interesting tiled stoves (16th – 18th century) and three fireplaces can be found in the various rooms of the castle. They have all been restored and are fully functional. On the south side of the castle, there are the newly established garden grounds, spreading over several terraces with unique and beautiful views over the southern Non Valley and the Brenta Group (foothills of the Dolomite Alps). On the east side, there is the castle garden used for growing vegetables and cut flowers. Over the last 20 years, the entire castle complex has been restored. Most ceiling constructions have been renovated, whereby the old and intact wooden constructions could be reinstalled. If necessary, the roof tiles have been replaced by handmade, antique crown tiles. The castle is now equipped with two new heating systems (woodchips or pellets and oil) which can change automatically.
The electronic units are completely new and an emergency generator of 25 kW is switched on automatically in case of a power breakdown. A water pipeline and sewage system have been newly constructed and connected to the system of the village, which is just 600m away. A perimeter system and an alarm system, divided into several sections, have been newly integrated.
Valer has a janitor and gardener flat, 5 kitchens (including an old, open smoke kitchen), 14 bathrooms, 15 bedrooms at the moment, two halls and a great number of parlors and living rooms, a library, an archive and several basement rooms.
The former stables (vaults) have been transformed into conference rooms and banquet rooms. They are partly equipped with underfloor heating.
Overall, Valer has approx. 3,300m2 of living space (inside dimensions). The castle is fully equipped with antique furniture, pictures, chandeliers, carpets and Venetian mirrors and is thus entirely and immediately habitable.
The property consists of approx. 55,000m2 of woods, approx. 40,000m2 of apple orchards as well as extensive gardens and terraces and two interior gardens. The total area of the gardens amounts to approx. 12,000m2.
Three private access roads lead to the castle complex, whereby the main access road leads to the nearest village, which is about 600 meters away.
The orchards with their excellent hillside location are privately maintained and have for a large part been newly replanted over the last 5 years (kinds of apples: Golden Delicious, Stark Delicious, Royal Gala, Fudji, Canadian Russets). The outbuildings as well as the garages are located at the northwestern side of the complex.
Today, Valer is easily accessible via the Brenner motorway. From the south (Trent) it takes approx. 30 minutes, and approx. 40 minutes from the north (Bolzano). The next airport is Bolzano, the closest larger airport is in Verona (approx. an hour). This airport has many international connections. The Non Valley can be reached by train with a new narrow-gauge railway which leads from Trent over Tassullo (1km from Valer) over Cles (main town of the Non Valley with approx. 6,000 inhabitants) into the Sole Valley (Val di Sole), via a bridge which is today called Mostizolo (“you have to pay”). The Spaur family had the right to charge tolls for the use of the bridge. Also, the Spaur family had the right to charge for the ferry service over the river Adige at the exit of the Non Valley, as there were no bridges over the Adige at the time. This proved a considerable source of income.
The Spaur Family
The Earls of Spaur’s lineage (Tyrolean ancient nobility) can be traced back to the 12th century (In 1146, Anton Spaur took part in the Zurich Knight Games). From the very start, they resided in the Non Valley (Non mountain), until the family was enfeoffed with Valer Castle by the Earl of Tyrol (Habsburg) in 1346. The fiefdom was transformed into udal in the 18th century.
The Spaur family received the hereditary property rights of cupbearers. Thus, the family’s coat of arms displays a lion on its hind legs, which holds a cup in its front paws. This includes the right to pour the emperor wine (after having tasted it and tested whether it was poisoned). In 1664, the family received its Earldom. In the course of the century, the Spaurs played important roles in the administration and defense of the Welsch Tyrol and produced 7 archbishops in Vienna, Salzburg, Bressanone and Trent (the first bishop of Vienna in the second half of the 15th century was Leo Spaur, followed by 5 further archbishops in Salzburg and Bressanone, and one in Trent).
The family was loyal to the Habsburgs. From time to time, however, they were also loyal to the bishops of Trent. In return for sponsorship by a Spaur Bishop of Salzburg, and later Bressanone, Mozart composed the Spaur Mass (KV257). In 1848, Karl Spaur (Bavarian envoy to the Holy See in Rome) saved Pius IX from the occupied city of Rome in his specifically designed carriage from Vienna. They lfed to Gaeta and, later, to the Kingdom of Naples. At the same time, Johann Baptist Spaur was governor of Lombardy and Venice and rightly recommended Radetzki to leave Milan in time.
Additionally, the family produced high-ranking military officials, vicars, stewards in Innsbruck and the Tyrol, canonesses and abbesses of Hall in Tyrol, Essen and Buchau (Baden Württemberg).
The Non Valley
The valley is called Non Mountain by historians, as the actual valley is a narrow gorge, while the rest of the valley is widely extensive, forming a kind of high valley. The Non Valley was used by the Romans as the connection between Rome and Gaul (Germany), and the towers built within sight enabled the fastest possible communication by means of fire signals. Romedeo, the famous place of pilgrimage with its 7 chapels, built one on top of the other on the beak of a rock (as of the 12th century), is well worth visiting.
Embedded in the valley, you will find a 10 km long reservoir – with inlets like a natural lake. Numerous side valleys lead to picturesque mountain villages with particularly interesting churches and old farmsteads.
The Non Valley provides numerous sports facilities, such as a nicely laid out 18-hole golf course (an extension to 27 holes is in planning), skiing slopes, equestrian facilities etc. The famous skiing area of Madonna di Campiglio is in the immediate vicinity.