We are in Italy, on the border between Marche and Romagna regions. Here a medieval fortress towers over Gradara: it is a castle where love and death entangled for centuries.
Built around 1150 on a hill 142 meters above sea level, with the Republic of San Marino, Rimini and Carpegna in the background, the Castle and village of Gradara, enclosed by two rows of city walls, are one of the best-preserved examples of Medieval architecture in Italy and represents an extraordinary urban and architectural combination. The atmosphere of its superb past also remains intact, allowing us today to sense the essence of a tumultuous past in which the only real power was raw passion.
The castle’s 30-meter-tall keep and crenellated walls were the scene of much intrigue, in addition to some fatal romances, mentioned by Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio and D’Annunzio, as well as political events: it is where the most prominent aristocratic families of the region decided to fight the Papacy during the Middle Ages.
According to the legend, this was also the scene of the popular and tragic love story of Paolo and Francesca.
“Love, that allows no loved one to be excused from loving...” whispers Francesca seduced by the beautiful aspect of Paolo and abandoning herself to the love passion that will lead her to a tragic end. Around the end of 1200 the Old Mastin, lord of Romagna reinforced his political alliance with Guido Minore da Polenta, lord of Ravenna with the marriage of their respective children, Francesca da Polenta and Giovanni Malatesta, said “The Lame”. Giovanni was then lord of Pesaro, and so Gradara was the closest and most secure place to host the young bride. Francesca often alone in her castle must have with no doubt enjoyed the visits of the handsome Paolo, whom she falls hopelessly in love with. “But one day we read, to our delight, of Lancelot and how love constrained him… That book was a Galeotto, a pandar and he who wrote it, that day we read no more“. A story that Dante told first and which has also inspired various poets and artists of all times. Paolo and Francesca, caught in each other’s arms and killed by Gianciotto, Francesca’s jealous husband. A story portrayed in one of the most famous episodes of Dante’s Inferno, in the fifth canto.
“Love brought us to death”, she tells Dante in the Divine Comedy.
Love and death once again visited the castle with Lucrezia Borgia, the woman who bent to the wishes of her scheming father, Pope Alexander VI, and powerful brother, Cesare, only to see her unhappy marriages end in poisonous combinations of fear.
In 1494, just fourteen years old, she arrives as second wife of Giovanni Sforza. The young girl, who is always described as perverse and corrupt, was actually a pretty girl with golden hair and blue eyes who was influenced by her father: the terrible Pope, Alexander VI Borgia. The Pope forced the young daughter to leave her previous husband and marry new ones for her shady intrigues. Spouses who did not want to leave Lucrezia ended up to be poisoned. In fact, in 1497, at the behest of the Pope, the marriage with Giovanni Sforza was dissolved and the latter saved his life because he accepted to sign a document in which he admitted (falsely) that he was impotent.