Gradara, the land of the Middle Ages, Francesca da Rimini and a fortified hamlet
''There are places dedicated to those who have the sun inside them, even if it is raining outside.''
(Cit. M. Mazzotti)
According to the etymology, Gradara derives from ''grate aura'', precisely because of the "pleasant" air (but it would be a pale euphemism to define it as such) that you breathe, once you reach the top of this wonderful fortified cliff.
But the journey to Gradara, a municipality in the province of Pesaro Urbino, begins much earlier.
It is the land of the Middle Ages, of fortified hamlets, of culinary excellence, of good living.
With its castle and its hamlet, Gradara represents a real jump back into the Middle Ages, so much so that, walking along its silent streets, one has the impression of seeing ladies and knights strolling, craftsmen intent on working iron, bakers baking bread.
In Gradara everything smells of the ancient, of history, of beauty. The Castle has ancient origins dating back to the 12th century and it has come down to us through the care of those who have always had its fate at heart.
It stands on a hill 142 meters above sea level, while the keep and the main tower are 30 meters high, dominating the entire valley.
This is exactly the impression one gets: dominating the valley, looking at the sea from afar, feeling the strong sense of protection and the embrace of ancient walls.
Walls and rooms that tell the story of the Malatestas, the Sforzas, the Borgias, the most powerful and influential families of the Middle Ages who walked the corridors of this castle.
Finally, coming to the present day, in 1920 it was the engineer Umberto Zanvettori of Belluno, to bring it back to life.
He called on renowned collaborators such as the architects Ferrari and Giovannoni, and with a precise and exquisite restoration he connected up with the one carried out four centuries earlier by Giovanni Sforza.
But before entering the Castle, a walk along the ''Camminamenti di Ronda'' (wall walkways) is recommended, a 300-meter route from which it is possible to admire the whole hamlet from above - and in the distance Mount Titano (the Republic of San Marino), Montefeltro and the Adriatic Coast - and take yourself back to the past imagining you are a ''soldier on patrol'' who is controlling the borders of the territory.
A few meters from the entrance to the Rocca (Fortress), the Church of St. John the Baptist, built in 1290, is also worth a visit, where you will find a wonderful Crucifix that shows, depending on the angle you look at it from, three different faces: silence, suffering, relief.
And here we are. Finally ready to enter the Castle, which can only be accessed via the drawbridge, and then enter the large courtyard consisting of an elegant arcade of Gothic vaulted arches, round arches, and massive and sinuous travertine columns.
The first room to be explored is the Hall of Torture or the Prison complete with sharp objects, chains, wooden logs and axes that reproduce with great fidelity, some aspects of the period.
Going up to the first floor, the rooms are totally different: stately, elegant and refined. The Halls are adorned with fine works of art such as the 15th-century painting ''The Battle'' by Amico Aspertini, the terracotta Altarpiece made by Andrea della Robbia, the altarpiece the Madonna Enthroned with Child by the painter Giovanni Santi father of Raphael Sanzio, and many more.
All embellished with meticulously decorated ceilings and walls, antique furniture, exquisitely carved canopy beds, and damask fabrics.
One of the most beautiful and fascinating rooms is the one where the private room of Francesca da Polenta was reconstructed; she was murdered together with her lover Paolo, the brother of her husband Gianciotto Malatesta and made famous by Dante in Canto V of the Inferno.
The tragedy also inspired Gabriele D'Annunzio who wrote ''Francesca da Rimini'' interpreted by the legendary Eleonora Duse.
Today the wonderful dress worn by Duse stands out in the foreground of this room of the Castle and in the background the triptych of the Madonna and Child amidst Saints.
A trip to Gradara is a journey through history, into a past that can be seen in every stone of its castle, in every ''taste'' of culture or food and in every step you take along the streets of its historic hamlet.
In all the rooms of the castle, you have in fact gone through small thematic museums, where you could admire paintings, frescoes, and relics from a period that made the history of much of our territory, crossing the borders of Romagna and Marche.
Gradara Pro Loco
Piazza 5 Novembre, 1, Gradara, Italy
+39 0541 964115