The existence of Gradara has always been linked to the stronghold that stands on the hill 142 m above sea level. The border between Marche and Emilia-Romagna is strictly a part of the Marche region, part of the historical region that stretches between Marche, Emilia-Romagna, the Republic of San Marino and Tuscany, which is called Montefeltro.
Located in a strategic position with a breathtaking view during the Middle Ages, the fortress was one of the main theaters of the clashes between the Papacy and the Houses of Marche and Romagna.
A bit of history
It is a place rich in memories. You can experience unique and unrepeatable emotions during each visit: you can walk inside the castle and on the crenelated walls and the drawbridge and in the elegant courtyard. The inner rooms recall the splendor of the powerful families that ruled here: Malatesta, Sforza, and Della Rovere.
The small town of Gradara is gathered between the first and second walls. After the power of the Malatesta family and the tragedy of Paolo and Francesca that took place here, the Sforza family arrived. In 1494, just fourteen years old, Lucrezia Borgia was under the influence of her father, the terrible Alessandro VI di Borgia, who forced her to leave her previous husband to marry new ones, according to his shady intrigues.
Those who did not want to divorce, as history tells us, ended up being poisoned. Then came the Rovere family and a succession of other owners until 1920, when it was bought by Umberto Zanvettori of Belluno, who, thanks to world-famous architects, began a long restoration process.
Paolo and Francesca: an unfortunate love
If we talk about Gradara, we cannot avoid dwelling on one of the most famous love stories in literature: Paolo and Francesca are two real-life characters and not romantic figures like Romeo and Juliet born from Shakespeare’s brilliant imagination. Francesca da Polenta was the daughter of Guido Minore, Lord of Ravenna and Cervia, and there she lived her childhood quietly and serenely, hoping that her father would find her a nice and kind husband.
In 1275, Guido decided to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to Giovanni Malatesta, who had helped him chase away the Traversari, his enemies. To avoid the possible refusal on the part of the young Francesca, the powerful lords of Rimini and Ravenna plotted the deception, making her believe in becoming the wife of her brother, Paolo il Bello. But discovered the scam, soon resigned, had a daughter who called Concordia, as the mother-in-law. But her days were often cheered by the arrival of that certain Paolo, with whom an intense love affair was born. But in September 1289, someone warned Giangiotto of their tryst.
Returning from one of his trips, he opened the door and surprised them. Blinded by jealousy, he drew his sword; Paolo tried to save himself by going through the trapdoor that was near the door but, it is said, that his dress got caught in a nail, he had to go back and, while his brother was about to pass him by with his sword, Francesca stood in front of him to save him, dying both under the blade.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante has placed the unfortunate lovers in hell because they were stained with grave sin, but he left them together, making them wander still in love as they were then.
The Castle of Gradara
The Castle and its fortified village represent one of the best-preserved medieval structures in Italy: the two walls that protect the fortress, the outermost of which extends for almost 800 meters, make it one of the most imposing of the peninsula. The main tower rises for 30 meters, dominating the entire valley (the hours to visit it are: Monday from 8.30 to 13.00, from Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30 to 18.30, closed on December 25 and January 1).
A small curiosity: dogs are welcome in Gradara. They can circulate in the village, in the Historical Museum, and on the Camminamenti di Ronda with a leash and/or muzzle, unless there are special events. At the same time, in the Rocca, they can enter only in a pet carrier.
To visit it and discover the secrets and mysteries surrounding the two lovers of Dante’s memory, it is also possible to book a guided tour.
There are many restaurants and refreshment points inside the village, where you can taste typical local products.