How a Walk in the Woods Can Turn into a Journey through Medieval Mysteries

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In occasion of the halloween festivities, join us at the discovery of local medieval legends. If you like the Middle Ages, ghosts, and mysteries, then you’ve come to the right place!

In the Romagna area, October is a month best known for the castagnata (chestnut harvest): a typical Sunday drive ends up in a chestnut feast, a just reward for the effort devoted to the task.

Chestnut harvest
Chestnut harvest

Entering the woods of Mount Faggeto accompanied by the warm midday sun would not have you think of old smugglers’ errant spirits inhabiting the area, at least, this is what a local old man told us.

The chestnuts galore and the children’s yelling act as the backdrop of the “who collects more chestnut without getting repeatedly stung wins” competition. Some of us have already their minds set on the succulent meals we will be preparing with the booty, others, instead, have decided to plunder their booty which will not get to see the kitchen burners.

View of Montefiore fortress

Suddenly a small clearing appears and, amongst the midst, the majestic Montefiore castle materializes, both romantic and sinister, towering upon its sturdy and impenetrable walls.

Developed in several stages, it was commissioned by the Malatesta family in the 13th century in order to dominate the surrounding territory and to protect themselves against the enemies. In this respect the historian Vitali stated:

the Malatesta family, besieged, had to rush to hide their valuables in some of the walls.

Considering, on one hand, the family’s ties with the most renowned artists of the time and, on the other, the family’s war spoils, the question of where this treasure might have been hidden has remained unanswered for a long time.
Certainly, one cannot but notice that one of the towers is known as the Treasure Tower, could it be a lead? Strange events recorded around the 50’s have raised further suspicions as to the what the castle might still be hiding. The tower of the castle, albeit provided with a lightning rod, was hit by lightning during a violent storm. Could the lightning have been attracted by metallic material hidden in the walls? No-one has attempted to give an answer yet, maybe discouraged by the tower’s other name Devil Tower.

 

Today, the fortress and its setting are the only surviving witnesses of a time when kings and emperors ruled across the Romagna area, fighting battles and, at the same time, fostering the arts. Indeed, in the throne room we find trace of Jacopo degli Avanzi’s frescos and our minds can’t help thinking of the manuscripts (professional deformation) commissioned by this family.

Coincidentally the lines of the Dante Gradenighiano, featuring illustrations only in the Inferno, recall sinister and damned presences.

Spectometric tests of the castle walls seem to confirm the existence of dames and knights’ ghosts, among whom stand out Costanza Malatesta Ungaro and her lover Ormanno, caught red-handed and killed here on October 15th, in 1378 by a hired assassin. Too bad that the figure of Costanza appears 6 years later in a notary deed! This inconsistency has lead to the spreading of the legends that see her still wandering in the fortress.

Spectometric tests

The latest sightings are quite recent, for, just last year, photographs were taken of a caped imploring figure, emerging from the wall of the throne room, and a knight in armor with a severed hand going up the stairs of the fortress.

Paolo e Francesca in the Offiziolo Alfonsino
Paolo e Francesca in the Offiziolo Alfonsino

As we return to Santarcangelo, we start looking for the reassuring profile of the Campanone and the fortress clearly standing out in the horizon. Oh, did you know that up there, in the moonless nights, the ghost of a young bride walks relentlessly? The figure is believed to be Francesca da Polenta, who is attested to have stayed in the castle at some point. The famous protagonist of Dante’s Inferno was slaughtered with her beloved Paolo in a location that remains still unknown..

Detail of Paolo e Francesca miniature in the Offiziolo Alfonsino
Detail of Paolo e Francesca miniature in the Offiziolo Alfonsino
Happy Halloween Everyone!