Forget about the tales of princesses and happy endings: let’s take a trip through the dark side of Tuscany. From Lunigiana to the Casentino area, the region is full of superb castles that have inspired the spookiest legends. They have become wine estates, museums, hotels, locations for weddings and, like all castles worthy of their names, also have their own ghosts. Here are four legends from Tuscany.
The Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo, in north Tuscany has been the setting of many legends. The most famous of these is about the young Bianca Maria Aloisia, daughter of Jacopo Malaspina and Oliva Grimaldi.
According to legend, the young Bianca was hopelessly in love with the horse groomer. This love, totally inappropriate for her societal standing, horrified the noble parents who locked Bianca Maria in the secret rooms of the castle in a vain attempt to make her desist. The father then informed her that she had been betrothed to a nearby knight, but the stubborn girl objected to the marriage.
This rebellion forced her parents to make a tough decision: they locked the young girl in a convent, but she refused to take vows. Fearing a scandal that would forever dishonor their family, the cruel parents killed the young lover and ordered Bianca back to the castle, where she was buried alive with a wild boar and a dog, symbols of rebellion against her family and loyalty to her lover.
To confirm the authenticity of the story, recent excavations were carried out and the remains of bones, probably belonging to a girl and two animals, were discovered in the castle. It is said that when there’s a full moon out, the spirit of Bianca Maria Aloisia Malaspina still wanders around the castle with a boar and a dog.
From the Lunigiana, we travel to the hills of Florence where the beautiful Castello di Vincigliata rises in Fiesole, the setting for another tragic love story. Here, in fact, in the thirteenth century, Bianca degli Usimbardi and Uberto del Mazzecca fell in love. They were proverbial star-crossed lovers, however, because of the ill will between the two families, more or less as happened to Romeo and Juliet. The relationship between the two lovers was quickly discovered by Giovanni, father of Bianca, who forbade the girl from leaving the castle and seeing her Uberto.
Not long after, Giovanni left for a military expedition and was wounded in battle. Surprisingly he was saved by the sudden help of a knight: Uberto del Mazzecca. As a sign of gratitude, Bianca’s father then agreed that the lovers could get married.
As he rode toward Vincigliata on the day of the wedding, the young groom was assaulted by a group of men from the Usimbardi family who threw him to the ground. Bianca witnessed the brutal execution from a window and died of a broken heart. Since then, it is said that her ghost roams the castle, crying for her beloved, and that she protects impossible loves.
Not far from Florence, in the Gaiole in Chianti area, you’ll find Castello di Brolio, part of a huge Chianti Classico-producing estate and the oldest winery in Italy.
Since 1141, the Castle has belonged to the Ricasoli family, a historic family of the Florentine aristocracy. Bettino Ricasoli was known to govern his possessions in an authoritarian manner and this earned him the nickname “Iron Baron”.
He died following a violent heart attack and his body was not buried immediately, but kept near the altar of the crypt in the family chapel for many days. Disturbing events were already occurring at the time of his funeral: the wind would blow and the windows would open and close violently as if moved by an invisible hand. As if that were not enough, the coffin was so heavy that it felt like it was full of stones and no one was able to lift it. The priest arrived and said a few words in Latin and, to everyone’s amazement, the coffin suddenly became light again. Since that moment, strange apparitions have occurred near the castle.
Some people say that when a full moon is out, his spectrum roams around the property of Brolio riding his white horse, with a line of fierce dogs trailing him.
From Gaiole, we travel to the Conti Guidi Castle in Poppi, where you might find a special guest: it is the ghost of the Countess Matelda, a noble woman hopelessly, passionately in love.
Matelda was forced to marry one of the descendants of the powerful Guidi family, a man who was always engaged in battles, far from the marital bed. The young woman decided to assuage boredom by attracting the most handsome young men in town to her room. Matelda certainly could not risk having her secret revealed, so she invited his young lovers to leave the castle through a secret exit: a corridor that led straight to a certain death. At the end of the hallway they would run into a ditch full of sharp blades.
The huge number of guys who had disappeared in town aroused suspicion and, at some point, the people of Poppi broke through the castle and walled up Matelda alive in the highest tower of the castle: the Devil’s Tower. Since that day, it is said that Matelda’s ghost wanders through the Poppi Castle, appearing at the windows and frightening visitors.