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The Messner Mountain Museum at Firmian

Along with Castelvecchio, my other favorite castle/museum in Italy is the Messner Mountain Museum at Firmian near Bolzano. I was restrained about taking photos at most of the castles and museums I visited, but I indulged myself at this one. Everything about it — the site, the historic stone architecture, the modern intervention, and the art collection within it — is top class.

The castle sits on a wonderful hill with formations of columnar porphyritic rock; it commands a great view over the countryside and would be a ‘power spot’ in most cultures. The castle itself dates back to 945 AD, with a rich history thru the intervening years. The restoration and adaptation is wonderfully done, most of the additions created with beautiful reddish steel; a tunnel was cut through the rock in one place and an amphitheater carved into the hillside in another. And Messner’s collection of art, statuary, and alpine memorabilia is interesting, varied but linked by the themes of mountains and mountain mythology.

The whole ensemble is a pastiche — Tibetan prayer flags on an Italian castle, Indian deities on midieval defensive walls, Buddha’s disciples in a defensive tower — but a fascinating pastiche, and one that Messner earned the right to create it as arguably the greatest mountaineer in history, a Tyrolean who climbed in Nepal. It’s not for purists, and I’m not going to argue with anyone who calls it a rich guy’s vanity project, but I loved it. Beautiful hill, beautiful castle, beautiful restoration, beautiful collection. An excess of photos are below.

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