Castel Belfort, between history and legend

Castel Belfort, between history and legend
Monday 25 January 2021

A tower from the 1300s stands like a sentinel among the ruins of the 1700s walls, destroyed in a mysterious fire: Castel Belfort of Spormaggiore never fails to stimulate the imagination, partly due to the strange mysteries and legends that surround it.

The history of Castel Belfort begins on 22 May 1311, when Enrico, Count of Tyrol, granted permission to the powerful Tissoni family of Spormaggiore to construct, “on the  hillock […] in the territory of Spormaggiore below the new road, a tower as well as associated habitation with walls and buildings”.

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The castle was intended to control the traffic along the new road connecting Fai della Paganella, and consequently the floor of the Adige Valley, with Val di Non, passing through Spormaggiore. During its history the castle has been owned by 11 different families. Among these it was certainly the Reifer family that left the strongest mark on its history, especially in local folklore.

The legend of the Ghost of the Jealous Lord of the Castle

On 1 May 1460 Cristoforo Reifer, Prince of Belfort, married the nineteen-year-old Orsola Künigl of Ehrenburg. Cristoforo, already twice widowed, was over fifty and had previously showed signs of mental instability. This again emerged a few months after their marriage and was so serious that poor Orsola, abused and almost strangled by her husband during a fit of madness, called on her family to help liberate her and, after the normal legal procedures, to free her of the bonds of matrimony. Cristoforo was obsessed with the suspicion that his wife was unfaithful to him, and also that everyone, wife and servants in conspiracy, was trying to poison him.

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Even today they say that the old Lord of the Castle still wanders restlessly among the ruins of the castle, dressed entirely in black and armed with a glinting sword. Local people believe that Cristoforo's soul remained trapped among the castle ruins and, like in Dante's inferno, as a fitting punishment for his sin he is destined to search in vain for proof of the infidelity of his wife Orsola, for eternity.

A legend recounts how one evening a traveller was caught in a storm as he was passing by and he entered the castle to seek shelter. Inside he was met by the ghost of the ferocious knight who chased him, entreating him for proof of his wife's infidelity.

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Useful information for visitors

  • The castle can be accessed free of charge every day year round.
  • A short walk along a gravel track (also suitable for pushchairs) leads to the Spormaggiore Wildlife Park, open from April to November and offering a unique opportunity to admire the most famous animals of the Alps, starting from bears and wolves.
  • Take home an interesting local souvenir by visiting the Castel Belfort Beekeeping centre: they have been producing honey below the castle for more than forty years.

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(Extract from an article by Sandro Osti in the Paganella Dolomiti Magazine 9/2018)

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