Gradara Castle: history’s twists and turns
Even those who are not history scholars have heard of certain famous lineages, the Malatestas, the Sforzas, the Della Roveres, the Medicis, and the Borgias. These powerful families waged wars over centuries, passing their conflicts down from generation to generation, committing crimes and eliciting passions, mixing it all together with intrigues and subterfuge. But there is one element they have in common, Gradara Castle, one of the most beautiful in Italy, located on the border between the Marches and Romagna, atop a hill that looks out over the valley, with a view that stretches as far as the Adriatic Sea.
Close your eyes and imagine a Medieval castle that started out as a military fort, which then transformed over time into an graceful residence. Gradara is one of the best-preserved castles and its careful refurbishment has made it a textbook example of a fort from the Middle Ages.
The fort can be seen from quite a distance, encircled by a series of walls and towers that give the observer the impression of having come right out of a fairy tale or a film set.
The fort is surrounded by a double wall in perforated brick with walkways for patrols, intermittent square-shaped towers, battlements and crenels. The view from the tops of the towers will make you appreciate what it must have been like to prepare for a siege against it, the fear that it must have engendered, as the fort is imposing even at a distance.
One of the many who tried in vain to take the castle was Federico da Montefeltro. Inside its mighty walls, across the drawbridge, there is the courtyard, dominated by the citadel. It was first built at the base of an older structure that belonged to lords who lived in Pesaro, but in the 12th century, the Malatesta, the family who controlled Romagna for centuries, expanded it, making it a grand stronghold.
In the keep, or the main tower, you will find the Torture Chamber, and above there are rooms, each named after an important person in the castle’s history. For example, there is the Sigismondo and Isotta sitting room, the Lucrezia Borgia dressing room and Francesca’s bedroom, as well as other parlors, the chapel and the guards’ room. The rooms included in the visit are all completely furnished and decorated, with canopied beds and period furniture. The walls have frescoes depicting famous mythological and classical characters.
The Historical Museum is located in the courtyard and contains examples of sundials, torture devices, weapons and farm machinery, all original and well preserved with great historical significance. Passing through the museum you can enter one of the most mysterious places in the castle, the “Grottos”, a series of tunnels for which historians have never been able to determine the use or reason for construction.
The Gradara Castle has a long history of famous and curious events. For example, it is, along with the Santarcangelo Castle in Romagna, the setting of the story of Paolo and Francesca, the star-crossed lovers whose story is told in Canto V of Dante’s Inferno. Another tragic story is that of Malatesta Antico, known as “Guastafamiglia” or literally “Family breaker”, who imprisoned his cousins in the castle and then killed them.
You can lose yourself amidst the various rooms of the castle, imagining ladies with their rich, embroidered gowns and knights gripping their swords. You can almost hear the voices of its former inhabitants, mixed with a light melody playing on a harpsichord, and for a couple of hours, you can feel like you have gone back in time to the Middle Ages.
Castle visiting hours
Daily from 8:30am to 6:30pm
Monday from 8:30am to 1:00pm
Closed: 25 December and 1 January
Full price: € 4.00
For those between 25 and 65 years of age
Reduced price: € 2.00
For EU citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 (also non-EU citizens if reciprocity conditions apply) as well as full-time instructors in state schools.