Castelvecchio (old castle) was formerly known as the Castle of San Martino and was built for internal and external defensive purposes by Cangrande II della Scala (aka Scaligeri).
Cangrande is actually a contraction of Cane Grande, “the big dog”, so you can see how far back the notion of the alpha dog/big dog was applied to a person of power! His nickname around the area was Can Rabbioso (Raging Dog) as he ruled Verona with an iron fist amassing riches which he bestowed on his illegitimate sons, thus impoverishing the city.
He knew he had much to fear from the people of Verona, so the castle was used as a place to keep him safe from revolt! He was eventually assassinated by his brother, Cansignorio, who went on to beautify Verona with palaces and provided the city with aqueducts and bridges, and founded the state treasury.
As background, the della Scala (Scaglieri) family came into power in Verona in 1226. Prior to the della Scala’s, Verona was a commune that fell into the two rival factions of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. It is between these two factions that the families of the “Capulets” versus the “Montagues” existed.
In 1226, the first della Scala was elected to preside over the city and he converted the rule of the city into a lordship/family inheritance.
There are numerous monuments around Verona depicting Cangrande I, II, and Cansignorio. The first Cangrande (Cangrande I) was a patron of Dante and Petrarch and Dante actually stayed with him several times here in Verona. So, the way the “Cans” went was Cangrande I, his nephew Mestino II, then the bad Cangrande II, followed by Cansignorio.
The statues always depict the “Cans” with a dog on their helmet and a dog on the head of their horse. There is a photo of one of these statues in the attached slideshow, of Cangrande I. His is depicted resting so his helmet is down his back a bit. He has the funniest little smile on his face!
The castle is positioned along the banks of the River Adige and has a moat and a drawbridge (two of my favorite castle things!) and the walls are magnificent!
Today, the castle is a museum. They converted it very nicely and it has many frescoes and statues and a few paintings by the likes of Rubens. You can also walk some of the wall around the castle which I enjoyed.