When I recently reviewed two books that take place in Italy, A Small Place in Italy and The Midwife of Venice, my search for Italian photos brought these extras to mind. Castle building was a big business in Renaissance Italy, and one architect, Francisco de Georgio Martini, was the designer for many of the fortress castles topping hills in the Le Marche region, and many were built by the Montefeltro family. Few actually saw war, so they served the same purpose that the building of a mansion or purchase of a yacht serve nowadays–to burnish the reputation of the owners.
You can tour many of these castles now and see museums of armor or instruments of torture (somehow armor always kind of looks like an instrument of torture to me. But some of the castles hold surprises. For instance, some were used to hide priceless art works during World War II. In one we saw a gorgeous baroque theater. And of course, all of them command astounding views of the countryside.
For sheer, jaw-dropping audacity of site, nothing can outdo San Leo. The stern walls with guardian towers present a battle-ready face on the town side and a scale-me-if-you-can challenge on this cliffside. One of the stories about San Leo is that Napoleon came looking for the grave of a would-be sorcerer (or con man) whose “marks” included Catherine the Great of Russia and Marie Antoinette of France. His name was Caglisto and when he was unmasked as a fraud, the church locked him up in a pit in this castle. People still leave flowers there in remembrance. Everybody loves a scoundrel. His unmarked grave site on a hillside around the castle remains undiscovered.
You can see all of these castles within a day’s drive of Urbino in northern Le Marche. Urbino was the home base of the most outstanding leader, intellectual and art patron of eastern Italy, Federico Montefeltro. His Ducal palace, built by Martini in 1444, contains a marvelous display of art and of Renaissance manuscripts and furniture.
Urbino stands on a steep hill and is traversed by narrow cobblestone streets, but nevertheless contains a modern student body at its university. The Duke’s castle was built to take advantage of the terrain with a modest 3-story façade facing the town, and Rapunzel towers on the steep hillside in back. Over the centuries buildings have surrounded the castle, and this was the best I could do for a picture (above). When we trudged up the hill through the town to leave, we went the wrong direction, and couldn’t figure out where our car was. Eventually, we learned we had to go back inside the walls, walk downhill, and then take a turn and go up hill on another side. As invaders, we failed.
We set off to see the Castle at Urbania, but failed to find the turnoff to take us across the river to the castle–so here’s what we saw.
The unique castle of Sassocorvaro, sits rather benignly in its town. The fat bastions of Sassocorvaro resemble tortoises–an alchemist symbol. Count Ubaldini, who commissioned Martini to build the castle in the 15th century, dabbled in alchemy. In the 18th century the owners added a Baroque Theater inside the castle. And in the 20th century, the castle protected masterpieces from around Italy. You can now see full-size reproductions of the masterpieces hidden here during World War II, and learn where to see the originals. In all, 6509 paintings, sculptures and precious manuscripts survived 20th century warfare protected by these 15th century walls.
I wrote about these castles and other features of Le Marche for an automotive publication, which you can see in PDF here, along with more pictures from the area.
All these photos are my property. Please do not copy without express permission.
This is my contribution to Travel Photo Thursday. To see more travel writer’s photos, as each Thursday, go to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox.
Now please read today’s Pet Travel offering, a review of a book about a dog lost at sea– from Pamela Webster, just above this article.