08. Day eight. Marostica – Bassano del Grappa – Asolo
M a rost I ka, with an accent on the “I,” is a small town in the northwest of Veneto, in the foothills of the Dolomite Alps. The history of Marostica is not marked by any important historical events and there are no sights – two castles, one of which (the lower castle) houses the town hall and the other (the upper castle) houses a hotel and a restaurant.) And an ornithological museum.
And yet, there is something in Marostica that once every two years attracts crowds of tourists to Marostica. Namely live chess. Every two years, on the second weekend in September, an unusual chess game is played on the huge chessboard that is the town square in front of the municipality. The pieces are alive because they are represented by real people made of meat and bone and real horses with manes, tails, saddles and harness. The only inanimate pieces are rooks, using human-sized towers that move from cell to cell with the help of special assistants-“servants” who are, again, human.
Living Chess Marostica – Legend
The history of this pictorial action goes back to the 15th century. Legend has it that it all began in 1454 when Rinaldo d’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, young warriors from noble families, fell in love with the same girl, the beautiful Lionora, daughter of Taddeo Parisio, owner of the castle of Marostica and generally the head of this city. Who gets the girl, at first, as was the custom in those not very humane times, it was decided to determine by a duel. However, the father of beauty did not approve of the idea of a banal fight or battle: he did not like the idea of losing one of the best warriors, or the prospect of becoming the sworn enemy of the loser, if he survived the fight. So the cunning Thaddeo found an original and ingenious solution: Lionora was to become the wife of the one who won the game of chess. And the loser would also not be offended: he was to get Orlanda – Leonora’s sister.
There was nothing left before the invention of television screens – only five hundred years, but people wanted spectacle and did not want to wait so long. That’s why the new-found Karpov and Kasparov, together with their future father-in-law, ordered the main city square to be turned into a giant chessboard in front of the Castle of Basso (aka Castello Inferiore) and sat down in comfortable chairs to tell the citizens, temporarily disguised as queens, officers, pawns and other pieces, where to go and who to “eat” from them. Who got the beautiful Lionora, secretly in love with one of the rivals, history is silent. All that is known is that celebrations were announced in the city and the match was played out in the presence of the father of the two brides, accompanied by his retinue, the families of the two rivals, the town’s nobility and the common people. And of course, to the delight of the onlookers, the game was accompanied by a parade, music, dancing and fireworks.
Live Chess Marostica – Our Time
It’s about the same these days. The cells of the giant chessboard are lined with red and white marble. The chessmen walk around it, armed and dressed in the typical clothes worn in those parts in the fifteenth century. The game begins with a rider on a raven horse galloping across the square and stopping in front of the castle, where he throws down his gauntlet to challenge his opponent to a duel. The gates of the castle open and “Thaddeo” and his “daughter Lionora” emerge. They are accompanied by a throng of courtiers, representatives of the authorities of the neighbouring towns and the ambassadors of the Serene Republic of Venice. Joining this large group are the two rivals, each also accompanied by an entourage.
From that moment the party is considered started: a herald in the local dialect calls out moves in a loud voice, which both contenders decide to make in turn, the pieces on the “board” move according to the declared moves and all this lasts, as it should be, until one of the parties announces check and checkmate. The end of the game is accompanied by the sound of trumpets and drums, then “Lionora” comes to the winner and they, holding hands, make a circle around the square, accompanied by all the participants involved in the festival.
Every year one of the famous chess games played at different times by great grandmasters of different countries and world champions is played this way. For example, in 2010 the legendary “Immortal Game” of Anderssen-Kizeritsky, played in 1851 in London, was reproduced.
The game, which lasts about two hours, involves a little more than half a thousand characters. The game requires careful organization and preparations, so it is held every other year, on even-numbered years. Tickets for this action cost from twenty to eighty euros, depending on the day and the seats in the spectator stands. In 2016, a huge number of chess lovers and those who simply want to admire the costumed action, as spectacular as the Venetian carnival and the Siena palio, will again come to Marostica to enjoy a spectacular spectacle and immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the fifteenth century.
Marostica: fortress walls, “live” chess and cherry juice
Is it worth going to a town of only about 36 kilometers square instead of devoting your days in Italy to a detailed visit to nearby Verona, Padua and Venice? Definitely yes, and in this article we’ll tell you why.
Marostica is a small “jewel” of the province of Vicenza, located at the foot of the Asiago plateau.
It takes only a few hours to see Marostica: the city center is small and you can go up to the upper castle to admire the beautiful view of the plain.
A symbol of the city is the game of “live” chess, which takes place in even-numbered years: according to legend the ugra is a replay of the unusual duel for the hand and heart of the beautiful Lionora, daughter of the Venetian Podesta (town mayor), which took place here back in 1454.
History of the city of Marostica
Located at the foot of the Asiago plateau in the province of Vicenza, the city of Marostica was built during Roman times, but its development dates back to the early Middle Ages.
Marostica witnessed bloody battles, dominated by the Ostgotians and Byzantines in the sixteenth century, the Franks of Theodebert I and the Carolingians.
At the end of the ninth century much of Veneto was conquered by the Hungarians, who defeated the Italian king Berengario del Friuli on the banks of the Brenta (September 24, 899).
As a result, between 917 and 921. Marostica, together with all the territory between the left bank of the Astico and the right bank of the Brenta (including the plateau of Asiago), was donated to Bishop Sibicon of Padua, with the obligation to build castles and defences to deter Hungarian invasions.
At the beginning of the 11th century, Marostica became a feudal territory of the Ezzellini dynasty, who repeatedly came into conflict with the municipality of Vicenza: Marostica was one of the disputed territories, so much so that in 1197 it was completely plundered by its neighbors. It was not until 1218 that an agreement was concluded between Ezzelino II and the rulers of Vicenza, by which Marostica was given to Vicenza, but already in 1235 Ezzelino III “Tyrant” had recaptured the city. His reign lasted until 1259, when he was finally defeated by the Guelph League at the Battle of Cassano d’Adda. With his death only a few days later, Marostica returned to Vicenza.
Marostica was then ruled by the Scaligers (it was Cangrande della Scala who in 1312 began building two castles, one on a hill and one on a plain, while the walls were built by his successors) and the Visconti. The domination of the latter ended in 1404 with the advent of the Republic of Venice.
The fifteenth century was a period of great urban renewal, especially with regard to sacred buildings: the Church of San Marco, the Church of the Holy Communion, the Church of San Gottardo and the Monastery of San Sebastiano were erected. The city’s main cathedral also underwent restoration and expansion.
This moment of political stability and economic development was tragically interrupted by the Cambrai League War. After the disastrous battle of Agnadello in 1509, the troops of Maximilian von Habsburg invaded the mainland of Venice, and Marostica itself was repeatedly occupied.
At the end of the conflict, in 1516, the city began to be built again: the Dominican convent of San Rocco was completed and the church of San Benedetto was built.
With the fall of Serenissima in 1797, Marostica awaited the fate of the entire Veneto: the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte. The general marched through the city, which was stripped of all the signs of San Marco (including the lion in the square); revolutionary symbols such as the Tree of Liberty emerged in their place.
Another tumultuous period followed, when Veneto was ceded to Austria and then to France, and finally became Austrian after the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
In 1866, at the end of the Third War of Independence, Veneto became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Attractions of Marostica
The main attraction of the city is its castle. When they talk about the Castle of Marostica, in fact, they mean a complex structure consisting of two castles, the Upper and Lower, connected by a fortress wall about 1800 meters long.
With the conquest of Vicenza and the region by the Scaligers in 1311, the Marostica territory also came under the rule of Cangrande della Scala. It was Cangrande who began the process of urban redevelopment, displacing its historic center that had existed since Roman times.
The construction of the two castles dates back to 1312: they are called the Lower Castle, Castello da Basso, and the Upper Castle, Castello Superiore. Construction of the walls began on March 1, 1372 by Cansignorio Della Scala. They are about 18 kilometers long and are between 8 and 12 meters high. You can see the fortress walls of Marostica from afar, on the approaches to the city.
Access to the historic center of the city with its famous Chess Square, “Piazza degli Scacchi”, is through four gates: Porta Vicentina on the south, Porta Breganzina on the west, Porta Bassanese on the east and Porta del Castello Superiore on the north. The walls are lined with walkways and were guarded by guards in ancient times. Between 1934 and 1935, a new gate was opened on the south side of the walls to facilitate access to the former railway station.
The upper castle – with a square base with four towers on each side and a large central tower – stands on an ancient fortress on the highest point of the Pausolino hill, a fortified fort that was also used in the Middle Ages in Roman times (historical documents say that in 1262 there was a tower “tribus spondis” on the hill)
The castle once contained living quarters, as well as a small temple, a well, and even a windmill. Today, unfortunately, the castle looks more like ruins, but it is from here you can enjoy an incredible view of the Euganean Hills!
The lower castle was originally surrounded by a water-filled moat over which suspended bridges had been thrown: the moat was filled up in the 18th century and the bridges were destroyed and replaced by regular stone bridges.
Today inside the fortress you can explore several halls (the Hall of Councils, where the municipality meets, the Armory (a museum of antique furniture and weapons), the Hall of Banners and the Hall of Honor); there is also a museum of the costumes used in the game of “Living Chess”.
After walking among the castles, head to the main square of the Marostica, Piazza degli Scacchi or Piazza Castello, on the north side of which rises the 13th-century Palazzo del Dolone, formerly called Rocca di Mezzo, with a tall clock tower.
During the 11th century, the tower was a sort of customs house: it was through it that traders who brought goods for sale to Marostica passed, as the main road followed the modern Corso Mazzini boulevard.
During the Venetian era (1404-1797), the palazzo housed the chancellery, the archive of protocols and, above all, the Armoury, which housed up to seven hundred armours used for military exercises.
“Living Chess” Marostica: the history of the tournament that became a national treasure
It is probably the most famous chess tournament in Italy, although few people know the winner by sight. All because the chessboard is located right in the central square of the town of Marostica, located in Veneto, and the chess pieces – actors dressed up in Renaissance costumes, who are placed on the squares of the chessboard to remember the game, which in the fifteenth century could well develop into a bloody battle.
At the time (it was 1454), Marostica was allied with Venice. Two knights, Rinaldo d’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, fell in love with the beautiful Lionora, daughter of the ruler of the city, Taddeo Parisio, and decided to settle the dispute in a duel. The lord, who, according to the story, did not want any blood to be spilt on either of the knights (but most probably because Venice forbade all sorts of duels) decided to avoid a duel and decreed that he would give his daughter to the one who would win a chess match, and not an ordinary one, but with live pieces on the square. The loser would marry Leonora’s younger sister Oldrad.
To commemorate this event, every two years in September they play live chess in the magnificent Piazza Castello in Marostica.
The next chess match in Marostica will take place on September 11 / 12 / 13, 2020. As usual, spectators can expect shows, performances and historical processions in costume each evening, and a colorful fireworks display at the end of the game. The chess game can be seen by 4,000 people and the ticket price, depending on the sector, ranges from 15 to 80 euros (all information at www.marosticascacchi.it).
The show lasts about two hours and it’s a really chic experience, partly because the orders to the pieces are given in the language of the Republic of Venice.
What else to see in Marostica
Marostica, of course, is not just about “live” chess and a castle with walls. First of all, it’s worth a stroll along Via Mazzini, looking into the cozy stores sheltered by a row of arcades. In Piazza Castello, order an ice cream or cappuccino for one last look at the famous chessboard, then visit Palazzo Dolone. Next to the palazzo towers a bell tower with an ancient sundial.
Among the main attractions in Marostica is the Church of the Madonna del Carmine. You meet it as you walk up the little white staircase that starts from Via Bassano. Behind the Baroque façade are beautiful frescoes. Moreover, from the church you can see the entire historic center of Marostica.
Less than five kilometers from Marostica is the Sanctuary of the Madonna dei Capitelli (Santuario Madonna dei Capitelli), which houses a painted wooden statue of the Madonna with the Child in her arms. Believers claim it is a reproduction of the Blessed Virgin of Loreto.
It is dedicated to cherry lovers.
Marostica is famous not only for its unique “living” chess, but also for its delicious and juicy cherries. They were the first Italian cherries to receive the European Geographical Indication (IGP), which identifies and protects the specific characteristics of a product whose production takes place exclusively in a particular geographical area.
In May and June a festival and exhibition of cherries takes place in Marostica: that’s when you can eat your fill!
How to reach Marostica
Take A4 Milan-Venice, take the A31 Valdastisa, continue to the Dueville exit. Follow the signs for Marostica Bassano.
Take SS 248 Schiavonesca Marosticana towards Bassano del Grappa to the traffic circle leading to the center of Marostica.
From Venice Padua Verona: take the A4 in the direction of Vicenza, immediately after entering Vicenza continue on the A31 Valdastico freeway. Exit in Dueville and follow the signs for Marostica Bassano.
From Treviso: take SS53 Postumia in the direction of Castelfranco. From Castelfranco, follow the signs for Bassano.
From Trento: Take SS 47 Valsugana till Bassano del Grappa; continue on Nuova Gasparona till the “Marostica” exit.