The largest of the three castles that make up the Fortress of Bellinzona, along with the bulwark and town walls, it stands on a hill that has been inhabited for over 6000 years.
During its thousands of years of history, the hill on which Castel Grande stands has seen numerous phases of settlement, construction, and control, as evidenced by the Neolithic settlements from the sixth millennium B.C.E., the Roman garrisons, the first fortifications from the fourth century C.E., the presence of the Lombards and the Franks between the sixth and eighth centuries, and the residence of the bishop of Como in the mid centuries of the Middle Ages.
However, the fortified complex we can currently see must be traced back to the late medieval period, that is, between the thirteenth and the end of the fifteenth century; a second “Milanese” period (1473-1486) at the end of the fifteenth century overlapped with the initial building phase in the thirteenth century. As a consequence of the Confederate sovereignty over the Bellinzona district (1500), Castel Grande later took on the name of Uri Castle in 1506 and – after the independence of the Canton of Ticino (1803) – of San Michele Castle in 1818.
The southern buildings of the castle, now home to the archaeological historical museum, constituted an area of primary importance as the site of the military garrison. In peacetime, the castle’s castellan was stationed there, accompanied by at least twenty infantrymen in charge of guarding the castle. Often a staging place for garrisons sent to Bellinzona in time of war, Castel Grande was required to be an impassable space: only those who presented a document with a ducal seal were granted access inside the perimeter of the fortified complex.