Sites & cities that bear the name of Castelseprio


Today in : Italy
First trace of activity : ca. 4th century C.E
Last trace of activity : ca. 13th century C.E
Recorded names : Segobrigum, Se(g)ebrium, Castrum Seprium, Seuria, Seurio, Sìbrion, Sibrium, Sibrie, Sebrio, Vico Seprio, Castel Sevar, Castel Sever, Visevar

Description : Castelseprio was the site of a Roman fort in antiquity, and a significant Lombard town in the early Middle Ages, before being destroyed and abandoned in 1287. It is today preserved as an archaeological park in the modern comune of Castelseprio, near the modern village of the same name. It is in the north of Italy, in the Province of Varese, about 50 km northwest of Milan. The fame of Castelseprio lies in the Early Medieval frescoes contained in the apse of the small Church of Santa Maria foris portas, which were only rediscovered in 1944. These frescoes are of exceptional rarity and artistic significance, and show strong Byzantine influence. The dating of the frescoes and the origin of their painter or painters remain controversial, although the first half of the 9th century seems to be emerging as the most likely date. Castelseprio originated as a Roman fort that commanded an important crossroad. During the early Middle Ages, the Lombards occupied the Roman fort, turning it into a fortified citadel or small town. At one point coins were minted there - a sign of its importance. The Church of Santa Maria foris portas ("foris portas" meaning "outside the gates" in Latin) which contains the famous frescoes, lay just outside the walls of the citadel. The early dedication of the church to Mary is an assumption; the first documented mention of a church dedicated to Mary in Castelseprio (which is assumed to be this one) comes from the 13th century. The whole citadel was completely destroyed by Ottone Visconti, Archbishop of Milan, after he captured it in 1287, to prevent it being used again by his rivals. Investigations into the church, which began in 1934, finally uncovered the famous Byzantinesque frescoes below later plaster in 1944. The whole area is now an archaeological zone containing the remains of the walls and of the much larger three-aisled 5th-century Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista. There is also a baptistry of the 5th to 7th centuries dedicated to St. John the Baptist. This has two fonts, perhaps for the use of different Rites, and is octagonal with a small apse to the east. A third Church of San Paolo has a central hexagonal plan and was built between the 6th and 12th centuries. There are some ruins left from the castle. Nearby is a large tower, once used as a convent.

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