The name of the village is GRADARA.

by sabine | aprile 4th, 2010

Well, it’s about time I tell you about the place where my family and I live.

After all, this village has a long history and deserves some more attention.

It is located in the Italian region of The Marches, on the Adriatic – East coast, very close to the bigger town of Rimini. Say about 3 hrs drive south of Venice, along the same coast.

It’s situated on a gentle hill, not even 2 miles away from the sea, say 5 minutes with my “motorino” ( one of these terrible mosquitoes we call scooters !! ).

It’s name already witnesses an ancient Roman origin : GRATA AURA = GRADARA. Probably the actual name comes from the fact that back in 3rd century b.c. the Romans had a military base on top of this hill, and along with the usual barracks they had also temples. In one of them, the most important, they worshipped services on its main altar: Grata Aura ( main altar).

The reason why Romans chose this hill for the military base was definitely due to strategic reasons : the control of the most important road (basically the only one until 2 centuries ago) they built on this side of the Italian peninsula : the FLAMINIA. We must say, no much is left of the Roman time in Gradara, apart from some material re-used to built the old section of the middle age castle.

The identity of Gradara is definitely medieval.It was at the end of 1100 that a watch tower was built to show the supremacy of a local family, the De Griffo.

Soon, the potential of this tower was noticed by the nearby stronger family of MALATESTA from Verucchio – Rimini, who offered the De Griffo a proposal they could not refuse (“ …size this bunch of money and go, otherwise we simply kill you !!! … “). Actually, it was in the mid 1200 that the family chief  MASTINVECCHIO = the OLD MASTIFF just to “photograph “ the type, took over.  He was over 100 years old when he died, could you believe it?  In those days, it was probably like living 150 years today !!!

The actual castle started to be built by his son Pandolfo Malatesta at the beginning of 1300 using the existing Mastio (Watch Tower) as a strong corner.

It was during the first period of their rule that the famous true love story of Paolo and Francesca took place. We talk about them in our web-site http://www.travelingfriends.it/Guide/en/gradara.html – they deserve some room on their own.

As you may recall, all over in Europe in those years, families fought hard against each others for the possession of land. Here it was not different. For several tens of years the Malatesta defended fiercely their properties from the attacks of the SFORZA family. Eventually, after another long siege, the Malatesta lost the battle and in 1463 Gradara became Sforza possession, as well as other castles in a ray of 20 miles.

The Sforza’s rule ( about 3 generations ) has been important for the Fortress of Gradara, because it was one them, JOHANNES  SFORZA who decided massive works in it towards the end of 1400 : he basically transformed the castle that was a military construction with its typical severe style (small rooms, very basic services) into a sumptuous residence, typical of the period: Renaissance. He had rooms enlarged connecting some of them, he built a nice covered passage in the inner courtyard, but especially  decorated the interiors with beautiful frescoes done by some local artists, some of them still existing today.

He did it for a particular reason : he wanted to offer his second wife (the first died during delivery, unfortunately very common in those days  the best reception. This young girl, aged only 13, was destined to become famous : her name was LUCRETIA BORGIA. Do you remember the “hot blooded “ Pope Alexander the VIth,  Rodrigo Borgia ? Well, she was his daughter!!! But Lucretia remained in GRADARA castle very, very short. She disliked the castle and spent her time whereever more partylife was. Mind you, with the wife 200 miles away, it’s a bit hard to get descendants !!!! Anyhow, the poor Johannes got stuck. He reclined on another wedding with a Tiepolo girl, who gave him – finally !!! – a son: Costanzo. Unfortunately, the young kid died at the early age of 2; don’t forget in those days the infant mortality was extremely high. Costanzo dead , an already aged Johannes could not extend the family any longer: with his death, this Sforza family branch died out.

At that time, another Pope followed Alexander VIth : JULIUS IInd (by the way, you must remember him : he was the pope-general, the one who spent more time in the battle fields guiding his troops rather than in churches saying mass; he was the one quarrelling with Michelangelo during the Sistine Chapel’s works). Julius IInd belonged to the DELLA ROVERE family, and guess what? As soon as the lordship of Gradara and surroundings became vacant, he gave it to its family members, just to play in the safe side.

So the DELLA ROVERE took possession of this area, but they didn’t particularly love Gradara, they preferred to live in the nearby Pesaro and Urbino cities, bigger and more important. Let’s say, with Della Rovere, a slow decline for Gradara and its castle began.

Several other local families occupied it during the last centuries, none of them worth mention, as they did nothing for it, actually they left it eventually at the end of 1800 in a very poor state.

We all must thank a generous man from Belluno (Dolomites area), a rich engineer who fell in love for the fortress and bought it in 1923. His large financial possibilities plus an extremely convenient friendship with the political Italian chief of the time (DUCE ! , DUCE !) enabled Umberto ZANVETTORI to proceed with heavy restoration in the castle.

At his death, he left in the will that he wished to leave the whole property to Riccardo PANAREO, but this will was contested by the Italian State. Wishing to spare the Italian State a long, exhausting and eventually losing battle, Riccardo decided to leave it, at the sole condition of turning the fortress into a museum : to share its beauty with the rest of humanity.

And so it is. Today the Malatesta Fortress is a State Museum with a nice collection of furniture, paintings and frescoes, although the real masterpiece is the castle itself.

If you pass by, give us a call: sabine@travelingfriends.it or ric@travelingfriends.it

After a nice glass of Sangiovese wine, I’ll take you there : you’ll love it. The castle, let the wine alone !!!!

2 Responses to “The name of the village is GRADARA.”

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