Ticino Park and the land of the Visconti and Sforza families
The Certosa di Pavia is an unusual example of elaborate Gothic architecture far removed from the Lombardy style. Connected to the Castle by a park, it was commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti as a family chapel and mausoleum. Construction started in 1396 and employed over 250 master painters, stonecutters, engravers and artists. After the death of Gian Galeazzo, work slowly continued under the direction of Francesco Sforza and architect Solari who completed it in 1462. The façade, designed by Solari in late Gothic style, was decorated by some of the greatest sculptors of those times. The inside of the church was inspired by the Milan Cathedral and the three naves are spanned by cross vaults richly decorated with star-studded skies and figures of saints and carthusians. The chapels contain remarkable works such as the frontal in hard stone by the Sacchi brothers of Pavia, the lavabo by Mantegazza, the Eternal Father by Perugino, the altarpiece by Procaccini, The Virgin by Bergognone, and the funeral monument of Ludovico and Beatrice d’Este by Solari. Visitors can also admire a small cloister with 50 brickwork arches designed by Solari in 1462 to connect the various communal areas of monastery life and the large cloister, completed in 1472, with 123 brickwork arches supported by marble columns which joined the 23 cells completed during the first half of the 15th century as living quarters for the monks.
TheCastello Visconteo di Pavia, commissioned by Galeazzo II between 1360-1365, became, after 1535, the seat of the Spanish troops, an event that marked the beginning of its decline. In 1921 restoration work began. The castle has the usual square structure with four corner towers, two still standing today and two that were destroyed during the siege of Lautrec in 1527. The building is protected by a deep moat, ravelins and drawbridges. The external façade in brickwork is adorned by two rows of mullioned windows surmounted by Ghibelline battlements, now covered by roofing. Today it houses the Musei Civici (Civic Museums).
Nearby you can visit the mediaeval Castello di Belgioioso, once the family home of Galeazzo Visconti. In the 18th century the castle was amplified and parts were rebuilt. During the same period the gardens were restored and Antonio Barbiano, first Prince of Belgioioso, constructed the magnificent park gates. The building was constructed in different chronological and stylist sectors. The oldest part has three entrances, two with drawbridges, facing the north, east and south with each leading into separate courtyards with private homes. The castle is rendered particularly impressive thanks to the use of tiling and to the massive Ghibelline battlements surmounting the castle walls. The façade, in neo-classical style, is dominated by a wide balcony and the upper part of the façade bears the heraldic coat-of-arms of the Belgioioso family. Today the building, owned by Count Barbiano of Belgioioso and by Duke Melzi d’Eril, is used for exhibitions and meetings: inside you can see sculptures from the 14th and 15th century Lombard school, 18th century tapestries, precious furnishings in Louis XV style, crystal chandeliers from Bohemia and noble coats-of-arms in marble and plaster.
The Parco del Ticino, that encompasses 46 municipalities bordering on the river in the provinces of Milan, Pavia and Varese, is the largest fluvial park in Europe. There are 25 tourist itineraries with 450 kilometres of roads closed to motorised vehicles. The park is set in a densely wooded valley with interesting agricultural areas criss-crossed with irrigation canals and characteristic low marshy areas. Moving along the little roads and paths that flank the river, either by bicycle or on horseback, the visitor is welcomed into an uncontaminated landscape that shelters 48 species of mammals, 107 species of nest-building birds, 200 species of migratory birds and 45 species of fish. Remaining from an ancient fluvial forest we can still see chestnut trees, wild pines, maple trees, ash trees, common oak, black and white poplar, alder, willow, hornbeam and elm.
The Oasi of di sant’Alessio (St.Alessio Oasis), an area of about ten hectares surrounding the medieval castle dating from the 10th – 15th centuries, is a nature park where visitors can observe many species of wild animals. It is particularly realistic because the natural environment of the Po Valley has been recreated and the animals act as they would in their own environment. The park has received world-wide recognition for the amazing results achieved in breeding and repopulating wild animals in danger of extinction and it also boasts an interactive museum where visitors can “explore” the biology and geology of the area.