The Ferrara "Estense" Castle is one of the most important monuments in Europe (and Unesco property) and its history reflects in this way the history of Ferrara itself (and, in part of Europe), from the early Middle Ages when it functioned as the city's main defensive structure, until the times when Ferrara, under Ercole I, reach its most splendid period as one of the greatest cultural centres of Italy and Europe, with the castle still as its central nucleus.
The building of the castle: a few historical notes
"Marquis Nicolò Zoppo, Lord of Ferrara, had the building of San Michele Castle commence near to Porta dei Leoni. Alberto, who was appointed marquis by Nicolò, laid the first of the building's foundational stones and laid a golden ducat under it; he gave another ducat to the bricklayer. The castle was built because of what happened to Tomaso da Tortona in 1385 as described above." (Equicola d'Alveto, "Annali di Ferrara")
The architect Bartolino da Novara's idea was to add three new towers to the already existing fortress Rocca dei Leoni, in order to form a square structure which would be closed all around with walls somewhat lower in height than the towers themselves. He put up defensive decorations consisting of "beccatelli" (arched ridge supporting an overhanging structure), great battlements and a sloping tile roof, described as followed by Jacopo da Marano: "1387. How the building of the castle was finished at the Porta dei Leoni after 16 months and 8 days.
Four magnificent towers with barbicans; its drawbridge and its fortifications, near to the Porta dei Leoni; they made up a wonderful courtyard: infinite number of rooms and halls.." (Jacopo da Marano)
According to the chroniclers the building was completed after sixteen months. The castle was accessible through five different entrances that gave direct access to the courtyard. All entrances were let in the stretches of wall in between the towers and could be reached passing the barbicans and draw-bridge towers..
When the building of the castle had arrived at the first foundational ring, the Este had their artillery positioned on top of it, pointed towards the city. "Having finished the construction of the first foundational ring, the marquis at night had some of the artillery, which he had already acquired some years before, positioned on top of it. Now finally he put it in use, which, the next morning when it was noticed, frightened the people."
The first foundational ring of the castle stretched from the fundaments to the ground-floor. An ornamental border all around indicated the line where the foundational ring and the tops structure met. Together with the bas-reliefs on the towers, this was probably the only decorative element of the castle.
The Este princes had a special bridge-connection made to get from their residential palazzo on the piazza to the castle - for security reasons. Although the fortress was equipped with more than sufficient weaponry to go to war, the building has never functioned to confront enemies from outside the city. For about seventy years the fortress remained unchanged in its outspoken and strictly military appearance, housing the Este troops and humid and gloomy prisons.
All in all, the presence of this very military and intimidating new castle did not exactly enrich the city with a sense of peacefulness and harmony. There was a deliberate reason for this, of course: to scare off the citizens, to let them know that at any time they could be taken under fire. This confirms again that the power of the Este was not so much based on consensus as it was on oppression.