Castle Runkenstein

For those with an interest in medieval life this castle is an absolute treasure. There is not much for kids here, Anika enjoyed running along the ramparts until we were ready to move on. The castle is located just outside Bolzano going north on via San Antonio, along the Talvera river and opposite via Sarentina. Entrance is e8.00 for an adult and kids are free.

This castle is special because its owners in the 1300’s covered it inside and out with murals depicting secular life. It is the largest collection of secular medieval art in the world and its value is priceless.

There is a quiet beauty to the murals, many of which are very well preserved. One room is called the green room and is painted in many shades of green with motifs. Another room, the bathroom, is a beautiful ochre with wood plank floor and ceiling. The ceiling is painted dark blue with golden stars. The most amazing room depicted a joust, banquet, hunt and dance of maidens and nobles accompanied by minstrels. The clothes, large chests, trim waists, pointy shoes, funny hats, men in tights, are all that one imagines life to have been like. The enormous hunting dogs, bears, boar and stags, the knights jousting, feasts of food on banquet tables, its all brought to life with vivid colour and one of the first known uses of individualized facial expressions.

There are also depictions of heroes of the time, King Arthur, Godfrey of Jerusalem, Charlemagne, as well as biblical characters and knights of King Arthur. There is a mural of his round table too. One room is dedicated to the tale of Tristran and Isold retold in the manner of the Bayeux Tapestry in one long narrative frame.

The castle was once a fortress but later converted into a home. Its owners, wealthy merchant brothers the Vinters, who bought the castle in 1385 commissioned the works. It was painfully restored over the last ten years. I was particularly impressed with the wood work, beautiful doors, iron handles and latch locks, ornate carvings, enormous stone fireplaces and those classically medieval windows with little round glass panels in a lead frame. Beautiful!


The Oetzi exhibition is well worth a visit. Infact, if you are in Bolzano you ‘have’ to visit! It is housed in the SudTirol Museum of Archaeology on Museum Strasse, close to the river.

It is planned for the whole family. Every second room has a kids activity, painting, making rope, test tube experiments on fruit (DNA). Anika’s favourite was a nitro-freezing demonstration during which ice-cream was made and every kid got a little tub of it. Anika told me that the ice cream was good and ‘did not cost anything’!? Actually, the exhibition was free too for families – on Saturdays. Otherwise it is e8.00 for an adult and kids under 6 are free.

All Oetzi’s belongings were exhibited in tanks filled with nitogen gas to prevent microbial decay. Oetzi himself was in a special cell that maintains the same conditions as he was found in. There was further exhibits on the Bronze age and on Oetzi within popular culture (there is a conspiracy that Oetzi is a hoax, there is an Oetzi gummy bear – amongst other Oetzi foods, people who believe they are in contact with him and one American who believes he is the direct descendant of Oetzi).

I came away feeling I knew Oetzi. I was struck by how sensible, how practical he was.
So who was he?
He lived over 5000 years ago. He was discovered in an upper valley, 3200m high on a mountain pass (Tisenjoch mountain pass) that has been walked by humans for thousands of years. He died at the start of an ice age which, together with the dry air, preserved him (even his eyelashes) and his clothes perfectly as a ‘wet mummy’. His body was found in a gully. This protected him from glaciers that would have torn him to pieces as they swallowed the pass.

Oetzi was a regular guy, 5.6m tall, brown eyes, brown long hair and beard, blood group O positive. His clothes were very practical but still had a style. His cap was bearskin with a leather chin strap. For protection from the rain he wore a grass overcoat tightly woven. His undercoat was goat skin with precise neat stitch work, alternating colours of leather. He had goat skin leggings with cords to attach them to his belt. He also wore gaiters made of Deer skin. His shoes were bear skin with the fur turned inwards. Most extraordinary was that these shoes were wrapped in straw which was held in place by netting for insulation.

He had tatoos on his spine, knees, ankles and one calf. The theory is that these were some sort of acupressure treatment.

Oetzi carried a long bow 1.825 meters tall, made of yew like the long bows of Henry V, 4,000 years later. His quiver had 14 arrows with fletching, a spare bow string, spare bone and antler. He had a belt pouch with fire starting kit (mushroom and flint), flint and wood sharpeners, drill, bone awl, dry sloe berries for energy and some wheat seeds. His axe, made with a yew handle had a beautiful copper head (pure copper). He also carried a small knife that was popular at that time. It was a flint blade set in ash wood with a string round the handle so as not to lose it. It came with a smart string scabbard too! He also had a string of Birch polyphore fungus used as an antiseptic. His ruck-sak had a hazel frame and larch boards supporting a bear skin sack. In all he was equipped using the same logic as any mountaineer of the twenty-first century.

Forensic examinations have uncovered that he was murdered. An arrow head was found in his back. He suffered a deep gash to his hand 24 hours before his death. One hour before death he had a meal, Ibex meat, bread and some fatty substance as yet unidentified. Shortly after he received several knocks to his body and head. Then an arrow pierced him from some distance and he died.

Oetzi has captured the imagination of people. Partly this is due to him being so ordinary, so like us. Also because he is the earliest European that we have such a complete picture of. His discovery proved that the Bronze age started at least 1000 years earlier than previously thought. But who was he, why was he killed, did he have a family? I left the museum with alot of questions.


So we are in Bolzano. It is beautiful. Weather is mild, though this morning its been raining. Low clouds are drifting between the mountains on either side of the city. I am having a quick coffee at the cafe and doing some updates. The girls are just waking up back at the tuck.

We have been here for four days now (arriving Wednesday). I could stay longer but we must be off tomorrow. Next stop is Lake Garda enroute south to the border with France.
I am going to get a full report on the city done in due time.