Remembering Francesca in Gradara 🕍

Gradara is one of the “Most beautiful villages of Italy.” 🕍

Located in the Marche Region, it is really a lovely place to visit. The battlements of the castle can be seen from afar; the Gradara Castle is announced to the visitor with its grandeur.

Gradara Castle is the protagonist of the landscape but as we approach it we begin to see also the battlements that defend the fortified village. About 800 meters long, they resist from the Middle Ages and can be covered for about 400 meters with a splendid view of the village and the surrounding area. But these walls are not the only ones: having entered the village, there is another inner wall that has been passed and the climb towards the Rocca di Gradara begins. The tour around the village is extremely pleasant: almost no cars, shops, artisans, well-kept houses with flowered balconies. The inhabitants love this village very much and can be seen in the love with which they preserve it. It is really the ideal destination for a romantic weekend. ❤

Gradara and Francesca

It was first Dante Alighieri that made Gradara famous. In his Divina Commedia Dante encountered Paolo (Malatesta) and Francesca (da Rimini) and told us their unfortunate story, in the Inferno – Canto V – vv.73-142, one of the most beautiful “Canti” of the Divina Commedia.

Dante sees them from afar and asks to talk with that couple that walked together, but Dante surely knew them both and knew their story as it was one that was talked about a lot even back then.

With three short paragraphs—all three starting with the word LOVE—Francesca told him their moving and sad story.

The town where I was born lies by the shore

Where the Po descends into its ocean rest

With its attendant streams in one long murmur.

Love, which in gentlest hearts will soonest bloom

Seized my lover with passion for that sweet body

From which I was torn unshriven to my doom.

Love, which permits no loved one not to love,

Took me so strongly with delight in him

That we are one in Hell, as we were above.

Love led us to one death. In the depths of Hell

Caïna waits for him who took our lives.”

Who was Francesca

Francesca da Polenta, known as Francesca da Rimini, was born in the city of Ravenna in 1260: her father was the nobleman Guido da Polenta, who decided to give his daughter in marriage, at the age of fifteen, to Giovanni (Gianciotto) Malatesta, an older man of several years, and crippled. Gianciotto was a nickname that meant “crippled!”

Boccaccio wrote that given Gianciotto’s scarce physical attractiveness with respect to his brother Paolo, the marriage would be celebrated by proxy in the person of Paolo, hence deceiving Francesca about the true identity of her husband. Quite a possibility back then.

To make matters more difficult for Francesca, Paolo was closer in age to her and much better looking. It appears that both Francesca and Paolo loved to read and comment together on the political events that occurred at the time. And Gianciotto was never home, but always busy in battles far away.

Dante again doesn’t give many details about the duration of their relation. Francesca says:

On a day for dalliance we read the rhyme

Of Lancelot, how love had mastered him.

We were alone with innocence and dim time.

🔸🔸🔸

Breathed on my lips the tremor of his kiss.

That book, and he who wrote it, was a pander.

That day we read no further.”

However that may lead to think that they read no further because they died, in reality, Francesca was about 25 years old when she succumbed. She also had a daughter from Gianciotto (we presume).

Probably this terrible crime took place between 1283 and 1285. It was very likely that Gianciotto killed them, wounding them to death with his sword. However it is not sure the way in which he learned of the betrayal: apparently, it was the brother Malatestino who informed Gianciotto of the love story between his wife and Paolo with whom Gianciotto had established a relationship of trust.

Gianciotto married again the same year with Zambrasina di Tebaldello Zambrasi (a very brave woman!), however, his death would have taken place in 1304, in the Castello di Scorticata (today’s Torriana) at the hands of his nephews, sons of his brother Paolo.

Paolo and Francesca were laid to rest at the Church of Sant’Agostino in Rimini.

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