Day trip destination
Castelfeder: a Greek island in South Tyrol
It's not just the landscape that is reminiscent of Greece at Castelfeder biotope in the South Tyrol Unterland district. The Greeks once held sway here, too.
When Greek painters travelled northwards through Italy during the Romantic period, they also came through South Tyrol. When they saw Castelfeder hilltop situated between Neumarkt, Auer and Montan, it reminded them so much of their homeland that they called it the 'Arcadia of Tyrol'. In fact, the porphyry knolls smoothed by glaciers and steppe-like plant life of the biotope with their arid shrubs and bushes are like the landscape of Greece. The ruins set at the highest point of Castelfeder, which can look back on a long history, add to this impression.
A rock weathering the storm of history
The first traces of settlement at Castelfeder date back to the second century BC. Urn graves with burial gifts from this time point to an early settlement. Around 2,500 years later, after the downfall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, this area was part of the Byzantine Empire, which was influenced by the Greeks. In order to stop the advance of Germanic tribes, the Byzantines built a fortress on Castelfeder, but abandoned it in the 7th century after two fires. It wasn't until the Early Middle Ages that the fortress was renewed and extended and the hilltop used as a defence facility again. A variety of ruins bear witness to the eventful history of Castelfeder.
A day amidst the rubble
Two stony constructions at the top of the hill catch the eye. On the eastern side stand the remains of St. Barbara's Chapel, which was probably built in the 6th century and fell into disuse after 1750 and was left to decay.
On the other hand, the western side is adorned with so-called 'Kuchelen', or rounded arches that were left over from the 500-metre-long Byzantine curtain wall. Slightly further down the hill, there are more sections of the curtain wall, which are reminiscent of the fortress walls of Constantinople - a clear sign that the Greeks were at work here. Later construction activity, on the other hand, is indicated by the ruins of the so-called Lombard Tower, whose foundation walls still create a well-fortified impression today.
The 'Fertility Slide' near the 'Kuchelen' was created more by the power of the glaciers than by human hand. It is said that this smooth stone ramp has a 'fecund' effect. So, if you are not thinking of having children, then you should resist the temptation to go down the slide.
Yet, going up to Castelfeder hilltop is not just a worthwhile trip for history buffs. The Byzantines knew only too well why they had a fortress built here. From the highest point of Castelfeder there are unencumbered views of the whole of the south of South Tyrol and you have the impression of being the guardian of Etschtal river valley. Near the path up to the hilltop, other paths criss-cross Castelfeder. For example, Castelfeder 'Naturerlebnisweg', or biotope nature trail, begins on the road between Auer and Montan, which explains the flora and fauna of the biotope on information boards along the way. Those who have not learned to read yet will also appreciate it here. The fields of Castelfeder make the ideal playground for children. In addition, people are not the only inhabitants of the hilltop. There are goats and donkeys roaming over Castelfeder, which make for a bit of variety. Last but not least, the hilltop makes the ideal spot for a picnic in the shade of the old trees.