The Fortress of the Verrucole

The Fortress of the Verrucole

The Fortezza seen from the air (Photo: Daniele Saisi)

Studentessa Matta explore the Medieval world at the Fortezza delle Verrucole.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of lords and ladies and knights in shining armour. There is something magical about the notion of living in a castle that is guarded by a chivalric prince. How lovely to dress in brocade and silks and wander about pastorial fields collecting wild flowers, communicating with woodland creatures and fairies, while waiting for prince charming to return home from slaying a dragon! As an adult, I now know quite well that these romanticized imaginings are far from the harsh realities of actual medieval life. These fanciful dreamings were infact fueled and propagated by the likes of such artists and writers as Sir Walter Scott, Goethe and William Blake, in the 18th century in what we call Romantic movement.

Verrucole Castle, a Medieval fortress located in Tuscany

In the 20th century these fantasies about medieval life were further advanced through the art and magic of Disney movies and musical plays about Camelot. But despite modern day romanticized version of the middle ages, medieval life not as glamourous and instead, was full of hardship and the lives of all the classes rich and poor, were dominated by a rigid social cast system known as Feudalism. In the Feudal System, all rights and privileges were granted to the Upper Classes. The high ranking nobles held lands in exchange for military service. Vassals, were tenants of the nobles and lived in the castle to serve under their lords in military battle. Peasants were obliged to live on their lord’s land and were required to pay him homage as well as work the land and share with him the fruits of their labor, notionally in exchange for military protection from marauding invaders.

In reality medieval life was difficult and there wasn’t a lot of independence. Furthermore venturing beyond the castle walls could prove quite dangerous. Beyond that, living conditions were not idyllic; castles were cold, disease was rampant, women died early of childbirth, chain metal and armor was extremely heavy, work was hard and often boring, there were no antibiotics, water was unclean and there was no need for closets because people owned only one outfit. Food was limited and tasteless, at least for the lower classes who weren’t allowed spices like pepper, cloves, cumin or cinnamon. Only bread and pottages and food items that came from the ground were only considered fit for the poor, while the upper classes might enjoy deer, boar and rabbit.

How do I know this? Well, recently I had a guided tour of a medieval castle and personally got the straight scoop on what it was really like to live in a medieval castle. During my last visit to Lucca I had the opportunity to explore with my group of language learners and the teachers of Lucca Italian School, the medieval castle in Verrucole which is situated the center of the high Garfagnana Valley in the comune of San Romano.

This territory at one time was divided and contested between two feudal lordships; the counts of Bacciano, whose castle does not exist any more and the most powerful Gherardinghi, that had their center of power in the castle of the Verrucole until the year 1285. With the decline of feudal power and the expansion of the nearby city of Lucca, who rose to control the passes and roads that connected it to the north in the Serchio valley, the Fortress fell into submission and gradual decline.

The fortress was abandoned for years and reduced to ruins and was overgrown with vegetation. But recently the castle of Verrucole has been put back in order and after six years of restoration is now a reflection of it ancient beautiful self that is accurate in every detail according to historical documentation and meticulous research.

Not only is the castle being returned to it former glory but it is also now an Archeopark that acts as a living museum. Dressed in period costumes docents lead guided tours through the castle. Entering the castle is like stepping back in time. Guides describe for you what life in the XIII century was really like, explaining medieval customs, demonstrating the use of artifacts, as well as regaling visitors about curious historical facts and stories associated with the castle.

Visiting the Fortezza di Verrucole was a wonderful experience. We arrived late morning and after parking our car in the village below we began the steep ascent to the castle that is perched at the top of the hill overlooking the surrounding valley. As we climbed we enjoyed breathtaking views of the surrounding area, the Apuane Alps, the Apennines and the Garfagnana. At the castle gates we were greeted by a woman in medieval costume who invited us to climb the stairs into the castle. There we were warmly welcomed by Giuglia Paltrinieri FortezzaVerrucole_StudentessaMatta11who guided us through the castle starting with the taverna or the medieval kitchen and then leading us in to the lord’s main room the featured a raised table in the center, stained glass window and tapestry on the wall. In the corner was a recreation of chain mail suit of armour, each piece fashioned by hand, as it would have been made in the medieval age.

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