Marostica is a small town near Bassano del Grappa in Veneto, about an hour from Venice. It’s as quiet as an italian village in the countryside can be, it has a very nice centre and a beautiful landscape, as it features two castles – the Lower Castle, right in the main square, and the Upper Castle, built on the top of the Pausolino Hill and connected to the Lower one by high walls that surround a nice and pretty wild park.
Despite being so close to where my grandparents live, I went there just a couple of times to stroll in the square, but I clearly remember my 4th grade school excursion there, when a guide showed us the town, made us climb the hill to reach the upper castle, and told us three legends that I remember ever since.
The three churches
This isn’t exactly a legend, but it’s interesting anyways – especially for me and all of my fellow toponymics fans out there. Just few steps away from Marostica’s main square you’ll find a smaller one, which is also the lower entrance to the park on the hill. This tiny square is known in venetian dialect as Piazza delle Ciacole, which translates more or less in “Square of Chits-Chats”. The reason for this curious name is simple: the three churches’ bell towers sound every hour at the same time, similar to three old ladies who meet to chit-chat about the latest news and gossips.
The two wells
As I mentioned before, Marostica features the Upper Castle and the Lower Castle. They are quite different from each other, but they both have a well in their square, and it is said that their purpose wasn’t keeping water.
During the Middle Age, Marostica was dominated by the Scaligeri family from Verona. Since back then Italy was a constellation of small States, they were, as everyone else, threatened by the neighbours and had to be able to protect their subjects, territories, and nobles. Marostica had its majestic walls, but also an unusal and unexpected protection: the two wells. As a matter of fact, they were connected by an underground tunnel that people could use to sneak in the town if the Upper Castle was besieged, saving their lives. Does it seem a good setting for a cloak-and-dagger novel now?
The Chess Game
In Marostica there once was a Lord who had two daughters. They both were beautiful, loving and kind, but they weren’t men and so the couldn’t inherit the domain of the town and the surrounding lands, neither the older, nor the younger. To solve the problem, the Lord spoke with two nobles’ heirs and told them to reach an agreement on who would marry the older sister, and consequently become the Lord of Marostica – the other one would have married the younger sister.
But the choice was obviously hard, because they both wanted to become the Lord of Marostica and they couldn’t reach an agreement just by discussing the matter. They decided to play a game that was popular at the time, and let the fate decide. The game was simple: each one of them would have to place a coin in front of him and “persuade” a fly to land on it by spreading some jam on top. By deciding on which one of the coins to land, the fly would declare the winner.
The Lord thought about it and found the compromise reasonable, but also thought it wouldn’t be nice to give his daughters’ hand by playing such a plebeian game. So he decided that the suitors would have played a chess game instead.
By that time, the Lord’s daughters marriage issue had become popular among the people: everyone had his favourite suitor and was waiting for the outcome of the challenge. The Lord therefore decided that the chess game would have taken place in the Upper Castle in his presence, but also that his knights would have stayed in the square of the Lower Castle, that was tiled as a chess board, and repeat the game to let the people know how it was going. After a long, intense game, the winner got the older sister’s hand, and the loser the younger’s.
I can imagine not everyone among the people was satisfied with the outcome, but they all witnessed the birth of the story that made Marostica worldwide famous: these days, in the same square where the knights repeated the two heirs’ chess game (Piazza degli Scacchi, or The Chess Square), once every two years in early September a historical reenactment of the legend takes place, with actors, dancers, acrobats and fireworks, so beautiful and popular that getting the tickets is really difficult (they sell out years before the event) – even I, despite living so close to Marostica, never had the opportunity to attend the show, while people from all around the world have. The Chess Game is on my bucket list, and I’m afraid it will stay there forever unaccomplished.
Funny how some tales heard just once in the dawn of time get stuck in your mind, isn’t it? But after all The stories we love best do live in us forever.