“Stand there so I can gaze at you. No, move a few steps to the left. Perfect. You look adorable in the candle-glow…”
And then it’s farewell, Romeo.
Like the Marquesa’s last illicit lover, the discarded bedmate plunges through a trap-door into the Well of Oblivion—a pit of sharpened blades. From battlements to dungeons, the walls of Castello Malaspina di Fosdinovo are thick. Nobody can hear his screams…
I’m in northern Tuscany’s Lunigiana, the “Land of 100 Castles”. Originally built in the late 12th century, Fosdinovo is one of its best. Crowning a hilltop, it’s a square, fortress-like structure with inner garden courtyards and gorgeous tapestries. Incredibly gruesome stories, too.
The amorous Marquesa, Cristina Pallavicini Malaspina, lived here in the 17th century. Apparently she had a paranoid fear that aristocratic lovers would betray her. So instead, she slaked her passion by having one-night stands with lusty lads whom nobody would miss. Her murderous reputation may be deserved. After all, why have a trap-door in a bedchamber?
The castle has another three of these deadly traps. So it’s best not to go poking around where you shouldn’t. There may be more still awaiting discovery. Tumbling down a hidden hole and getting skewered by centuries-old sword blades seems a rather unpleasant way to end a vacation to Italy…
Like the Medicis, the Malaspinas weren’t overly scrupulous in how they made problems disappear. The torture room displays a nightmare vision of instruments such as spiked handcuffs, tongue thongs and clamps to crush the head. Some enemies rotted in the dungeons. Others were hung on an iron arm that jutted from a tower wall. And there they stayed until life had fled.
The beauty of the Renaissance was matched by brutality. The violence of the age sometimes even spilled over among the family. One Malaspina baby was kept locked inside a cage-like crib made of iron. The child’s uncles had murdered his father.
As you’d expect, Fosdinovo lays claim to being haunted. Bianca Maria, the errant daughter of Jacopo Malaspina, met a particularly nasty end. Her crime was to fall in love with a peasant. She was initially sent to a convent, but this didn’t stop the lovers meeting again. And so her father walled her up to die of starvation inside the castle. Sharing her fate was a dog, the Malaspina symbol of fidelity, and a wild boar, symbol of rebellion.
That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Instances of immuring (walling up) wanton wenches occur throughout medieval Europe. During recent excavations at the castle, chained skeletons belonging to a girl and two animals were unearthed.
You can visit Malaspina di Fosdinovo castle every day except Tuesday. Guided visits are 6 euro. You can also stay here. Including breakfast, room rates start at 100 euro ($133).
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