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The Fortress of Bard

The Fortress of Bard rises on the western side of the rock, strategic defence for the valley. The fort was built between 1830 and 1838 on the ruins of the previous fortification, razed to the ground by Napoleon Bonaparte. The present fortress is the last one of a long series. If pre-roman and roman defence settlements are just supposed, the clausurae augustanae were certainly located in Bard: dated back to Teodorico's reign, they were mentioned by Cassiodoro in the VI century.
The Annales Fuldenses contain the first mention of a fortification in Bard. Describing Arnolfo di Carizia passage, they testify the presence of a lapideo castello, next to firmissimas clausas, thus strengthening the hypothesis of the fortification's ancient origin. Another document written in 1034 mentions the existence of an inexpugnabile oppidum, traditionally attributed to the dynasty of Bard's family. In 1242 the control of this strategic area, including the castle of Bard, passed under the Savoy's domination.
The historical iconography - rather recent because the most ancient fonts are from the XVI-XVII centuries - shows a group of buildings dominated by a quadrangular tower and surrounded by a double wall with guard towers. A system of bastions went down to defend the village, as reported by a map of Theatrum Sabaudiae dating 1682. Written documents offer a richer information than the iconographic fonts: architectural works' accounts, recently re-built by Joseph-Gabriel Rivolin, confirm that the main medieval structures have persisted in time.
After the attack by Carlo V and his troupes in 1538, from 1661 Bard became the main preside of the duke's army in Valle d'Aosta, when Carlo Emanuele II, who had dismantled Verrès and Montjovet fortresses, decided to move there his artilleries. The rock, constantly renovating, resisted to the French advance in 1704, during the succession war in Spain, and finally gave in after a nine days resistance. With the Utrecht treaty in 1713 the Fortress came back to Savoy possession.
The best-known event in which the Fortress was involved was the siege in May 1800, when Napoleon Bonaparte, after crossing the Grand St Bernard with an army of 32.000 men, in order to catch the Austro-Piedmontese forces, was blocked in his way by the Fortress of Bard. Indeed, the Fortress was able to resist to the strongest attacks and gave in only after a long siege, when finally the Napoleonic troop arrived to Ivrea. Anyway the artilleries did not manage to pass. Few weeks later Napoleon ordered the vilain chateau to be razed to the ground, together with all the main Savoy's fortifications.
Duke Carlo Felice commissioned the rebuilding of the fortress in 1827, appointing Francesco Antonio Olivero, the military engineer of the Real Army who had already worked at the Exilles fort in Valle di Susa and at Esseillon in Modane. Olivero completed the works in 1830, after only eight years and the new fortress was consigned to king Carlo Alberto on 30 July 1838.
Since then the fortress has remained almost untouched, because it has no longer got involved in war events. It was just slightly modified and enlarged from 1878 to 1880 to incorporate modern rifled breech-loading cannons. Its structure reminds of those in Exilles, Fenestrelle, Vinadio in Esseillon and can be considered one of the best examples of Fortress in the first XIX century.
In the following years the Fortress became centre of a bigger fortified blockade which included a "Cutting" to the national road and supporting batteries on the close hills of Machaby, Col di Cou, Col Courtil.
Afterwards the Fortress lived a period of decline and was used as a munitions depot and military prison. In 1915 the disarming was decided. The final demission from the Italian military property occurred in 1975.

The structure
The square is formed by three main blocks of buildings, set on different levels, between 400 and 467 metres: Opera Ferdinando, the lowest one, Opera Vittorio, half way up, Opera Carlo Alberto, the highest one. They include 283 rooms able to host a garrison of 416 men (and the double in cantonment), to serve 50 different calibre guns.
The first building - Opera Ferdinando - has the shape of pincers oriented towards the high side of the valley and it is formed by two blocks of two edifices, Opera Ferdinando Superiore and Opera Ferdinando Inferiore. Both the buildings are located on two floors and divided by a ditch. Twelve gunners, positioned on two orders of guns controlling the valley and the close rises, were modified in 1878 to take in the modern rifled breech-loading cannons.
From the northern part of Opera Ferdinando, a boundary wall - Opera Avanzata - protects the access to the Fortress, whose artilleries could serve as barricade to the main street of Bard.
Opera Mortai, behind Opera Ferdinando, has got a rectangular plant, with gunports reduced by the insertion of bricks in 1880. Behind it there is the Polveriera, the ancient powder magazine, built at the beginning of the XX century, covered by embankment.

In the middle of the rock Opera Vittorio, characterized by a ramparted casemate facade, defends the entrances to Opera inferiore and to the first part of the covered pathway.
At the top of the rock, the most imposing building is composed by a wall where all the edifices lean. This wall surrounds Opera di Gola and its pertinent courtyard, that protects the Donnas side, and Opera Carlo Alberto with the big quadrangular square - Piazza d'Armi. Enclosed in a covered colonnade, it represents the main access to St. Maurice chapel (transformed in munitions depot at the end of the XIX century) and to the lodgings, the warehouses, the kitchens and the Fortress' provisions storehouse.
The underground conserves other spaces for services and the prisons, 43 narrow isolation cells still well preserved. At the same level, on the village side, Opera Supplementare controls the region towards Donnas out of the jurisdiction of Opera superiore. The northern covers of the buildings surrounding the place - made by lose - could be replaced by gunports directed to Albard hill and Verrès. The main Opera Carlo Alberto battery, in the shape of pincer, had ten cannonries on two overlapping orders of guns.

How to get to the Fortress
The Fortress is served by an external and recent road, on Donnas side, that from the centre arrives at Opera di Gola, and by an internal road, in the past used to transport artilleries, rising up to the opposite slope and reaching Opera Carlo Alberto through narrow bends held by large walls.
The communication among the different buildings is also assured by a covered pathway, that goes over the slope through a stairway system.

Bard is a small town in Valle d'Aosta, a 3 kmq area with 160 inhabitants. It is located in the southern part of the valley, 400 m on the sea level, few km far from the border to Piemonte, 47 km far from Aosta, 22 km from Ivrea, 65 km from Turin and about 140 km both from Milan and Geneva.
The territory is on the left side of Dora Baltea river, that here, with a U profile typical of the glacial age, makes a wide meander to reach the rock, 100 metres high and moulded by the glacier erosive action. The combination of these natural elements makes the site really interesting from geographical and geological point of view, contributing to strengthen Bard's strategic role of "lock" and "gate" for Valle d'Aosta. It has also been a fundamental linguistic, ecclesiastic and political border for the region.

Located in a transit area, the territory of Bard has been populated since the last Bronze-Iron Age: the numerous crucibles and carved stones on granite rocks, smoothed down by the glaciers action date to the II millennium b.C. Bard also preserves some signs of the consular Gallic Way, realized during the Roman Age: the most impressive track is a monumental bridge-viaduct, visible through a round arch in big stone blocks, roughly squared and now incorporated in a building in the northern part of the village.

The centre, which develops in the narrow space between the rock and the Truc Chaveran rocky slopes, presents the typical asset of a medieval transition village. It is characterized by fine houses dating XV-XVI centuries, leaning on the main road which follows the ancient Roman road.
The road surrounding the base of the rock dates just 1857, and permits to avoid the build-up area, while the railway - partially renewed in 2003 after being interrupted by a flood in 2000 - crosses the rock thanks to a 683 metres tunnel. Also A5 Valle d'Aosta motorway runs in a gallery on the opposite side of river Dora.

To get to Bard
By car - you can get to the Fortress of Bard via Valle d'Aosta SS 26 or via motorway A5, exits Pont-Saint-Martin South or Verrès North, respectively 5 and 9 km far-away from the fortress. The motorway gathers the international traffic, both directing and coming from France and Switzerland, through out the Mont Blanc tunnel, Grand St Bernard tunnel and pass and Petit St Bernard hill - the last two closed in winter.
One paved road assures direct access to the village of Bard. This road, located next to Donnas, takes to the ancient pathway of the national road and Roman way, going across the village on the narrow axis, before connecting to SS 26.
By train - you can get to Bard via Turin-Prè-Saint-Didier line. The nearest railway station is in Hône, on the orographic right of the valley, far-away 500 m from Bard. You can get to this station through the ancient bridge joining Bard and Hône.
By airplane - the nearest airports are international airport «Sandro Pertini» - Turin Caselle, and the touristy airport «Corrado Gex» - Aosta. Respectively they are 60 and 45 km distant from Bard.

The village of Bard has preserved its ancient feature and its fascination in modern times also thanks to its partial isolation in the last 150 years due to the building of a new road, which did not pass through the town centre.
Along the ancient path of Gallie - where some parts, like stone walls and cuts in the rock are still visible- the landscape is marked by terrace - vineyards and cliffs now become climbing slabs.
The rocks below the fortress show evident traces of the glacial Age: the so called giants' stock pots or olle dei Sarrazins, carved stones, crucibles with snake shape and the mysterious "women' slide".
The pathway along the main road - where the ancient channel Furiana runs - offers different interesting elements, grown up by recent and running restore actions, from public and private initiative, in the contest of the guide lines and prescriptions focused on thanks to the restoration plan.

The most suggestive buildings
Many buildings date back to the XIII-XVI century: some are joined by round-headed arches, whose facades show remarkable architectural and historical elements. Worthy of mention are:
Casa Challant, with architectural and decorative details similar to the Castle in Isogne, located in a small square in the middle of the village, where it also possible to find a XVI century stone font;
a house traditionally named Casa del Vescovo;
Casa Valperga, with an elegant double lancet window,
Casa Urbano, with an ancient mill inside, then converted in house and shop;
Casa Ciuca, showing a daring winding staircase made in stones, called viret, converted in guest house and wine bar;
the Quartiere, probably residence of the military preside;
Palazzo Nicole, elegant palace owned by the last dukes of Bard, dating XVIII century, with holes on the facade caused by bullets shot during the siege in the XVIII century.
In the higher part of the village, the square in front of the Municipality and the Church was renovated through the installation of a restaurant-hotel in the ex-hospice De Jordanis and the location of the municipal offices in the ex-stores of the Genius.
The central part of the village, between two ancient gates, is the most fascinating: the structure of the buildings, with rooms located on the ground floor and windows overlooking the road, the internal courtyards and the gardens, would be perfect shops and spaces apt to commercial activities.
The lower part of the village, close to Palazzo Nicole, is the area where visitors coming from the parking and direct to the lifts' access of the Fortress, pass through. In this space there will be shops and handmade laboratories.
Along the state-way, corresponding to Dora river, the paths to Albard and Issert start. Few metres distant there is a military structure called Tagliata, built at the end of the XIX century to complete the blockade to the valley. This building is not far from Cappella del Lieron, a chapel covered by a big fall in 1913. This fall also destroyed a part of the vineyards where Vino dei Rocchi di Bard is produced, whose organoleptic virtues are confirmed by modern wine specialists.

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