Alpine sentinel stands tall again

A long-abandoned 11th century fort in the Aosta Valley has been restored to its former glory and become a major tourist attraction and cultural centre. The historic site now offers three museums and a five-star hotel – a welcome boost for a mountainous region deeply affected by a declining industrial sector.

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Spectacular setting including the restored Bard Castle Spectacular setting including the restored Bard Castle

“We have created many jobs in the fort and in the valley’s villages, thanks to the project’s overall appeal for tourists.”
Silvia Colliard

Under the regeneration of the Bard castle project, the site benefited from some €11 million in EU funding from 1996 to 2006. The goal was to restore a ruined fort to resemble the military building that had withstood an attack by the French army in 1800. Just an empty shell in the mid-1990s, the newly restored site drew some 80 000 visitors in 2008.

Full restoration

The imposing Bard fort dominates the narrow gorge forming the Eastern approach to the main valley floor of the Aosta Valley, at Pont Saint Martin. A castle since the 11th century, Bard was later turned into a military fort. In 1800, an enraged Napoleon ordered the fortifications be razed to the ground, after they had held up his army for two weeks. Bard was rebuilt as a military fort, but fell into disrepair in the 20th century.

Bard appears somewhat isolated today. Yet a quick glance at a 19th century map of the area shows that it was once part of a network of forts lining the former Savoy region’s borders with other countries.

Since taking over the fort in 1990, Italy’s Aosta Valley region has been engaged in the immense task of restoring its walls, roofs, rooms and even the road leading up to the building. It was reopened to the public in January 2006, after 13 years of work funded by the EU, the Italian State and the region.

Tourism and culture centre

Covering some 14 000 square metres, the site features three museums. The first to open was the state-of-the-art Museum of the Alps, which aims to stimulate visitors’ appreciation and understanding of Europe’s highest mountains and local nature. This was followed by the Fort Museum and the Frontier Museum. It also has 3 600 square metres of exhibition space aimed especially at children, and over 280 rooms.

Further attractions include a small luxury hotel, a restaurant and souvenir boutique. Access to the fort is via modern glass lifts and by road.

The fort is making a name for itself as a cultural venue. It has organised several temporary exhibitions, starting with ‘The Alpine Dream’ that was included in the cultural events for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. The site also regularly hosts large events that range from concerts to theatre performances. The project receives further EU funding from 2007 to 2013.

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