Gradara pulls off something amazing. The municipality in the Province of Pesaro and Urbino in northern Marche is both a scenic city of arts that exudes extraordinary allure and one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. Gradara managed to retrain most of its original, medieval look, most certainly due to the more than dominant fortress. It is one of the best-known castles in the entire country, definitely at least in part because of its very prominent mention in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Walking around the small town history becomes palpable, accompanied by unique views of wide hilly countryside and coastal regions. Gradara is a city of arts of extraordinary beauty, very compact yet still absolutely worth seeing.
The fortress as a central historical site
While the region around Gradara had already been a major transport nodal point in ancient times, its actual history only really kicked off during the Middle Ages. The powerful De Grifo family had a tall tower built at an altitude of 142 m in 1150. After they had fallen out of favour with the pope, Malatesta da Verucchio conquered the giant and turned it into the keep of his fortress. Galeazzo Malatesta sold Gradara to Francesco Sforza in 1445, but Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, the “Wolf of Rimini”, refused to hand over the village. And he didn’t give the money back either. How rude. Sforza’s subsequent siege failed.
The village Gradara had become anchored between the first two wall rings in the meantime and was gradually extended. However, once the pope had excommunicated Sigismondo Malatesta, the fortress was soon lost as well. Federico da Montefeltro captured it in the name of church and gave it to the Sforza family who had finally achieved its goal. Gradara became hotly contested henceforth and saw many different rulers including the Della Rovere, the Borgia and the Medici. The Rocca started to deteriorate under the rule of the Papal States until it came to the Zanvettori family in 1920 who decided to restore it. It is thanks to them and the Italian state who would assume ownership later on that the city of arts Gradara managed to retain its original beauty and got to both blossom during the following decades.
Fortress and fortifications
Are you ready for a colossal surprise? We’ll take a look at the fortress now. Yeah, totally unexpected! As you’ve already seen, Gradara’s history is inseparable from that of its fortress. Dante Alighieri immortalised the city of arts by mentioning it in his “Divine Comedy”. Gradara Castle is the site of the doomed love of Francesca and Paolo Malatesta who were actually discovered and killed here by Francesca’s husband Granciotto on a September day in 1289. Dante’s very emotional fifth canto dedicated to this story is among the most famous parts of his magnum opus.
You’ve always wanted to take a closer look at this unique historical site or go on a little walk atop the old castle walls? Well, you’ll be pleased to learn that you can do exactly that in Gradara. Inspect the various rooms at your heart’s content for only a small admission fee. We recommend taking part in a guided tour offering numerous facts and details from behind the scenes of this impressive facility. The panoramic round walk on the fortress walls opens up breathtaking views of the rolling Marche hills and even to the Romagna’s coastal regions.
One fortress visit and that’s it? Honestly, that wouldn’t really do justice to the friendly city of arts Gradara by a long shot. Many small streets and dreamy alleys lead onto little squares, to various churches and even a few hidden gems here and there. Don’t miss out on the following three sights:
- Museo storico: The fortress isn’t the only place to marvel at Gradara’s exceedingly fascinating history. This privately owned history museum is the home of various historic documents and exhibits from days long gone depicting life in Gradara and its surroundings over the course of many centuries. Various armours, torture devices, copied weapons, and items from everyday rural life accompany your visit. There’s a trip to the tuff caves below the fortress waiting for you at the end.
- Air theatre: More than 70 birds of prey dominate the skies over Gradara. They are the stars of the air theatre (Teatro dell’Aria) performing breathtaking manoeuvres on command during shows – a captivating experience with a unique view in more ways than one.
- Cimitero di Guerra: The cemetery of the Allied Forces expands across several terraces in close proximity to the motorway. More than a thousand Commonwealth soldiers of the Eight British Army and one Belgian soldier were laid to rest here. A walk through this stunningly cultivated facility impressively shows how important peace is. Or would be.
More things you should know about Gradara
Jolly celebrations are a popular pastime in the city of arts Gradara. Several events are dedicated to its rich historic heritage celebrating the uniqueness of the fortress, sometimes even taking a gander at the cuisine of the Marche. We have picked three favourites for you:
- Il Medioevo a Tavola: Gradara’s multifaceted medieval history is celebrated throughout the year in many different ways and is most definitely palpable at every corner of the town. This festival takes its name literally and brings the Middle Ages to the table. Local restaurants become 14th century taverns serving traditional dishes like the popular Tagliolini con la Bomba.
- Assedio al Castello: There’s even an entire event dedicated to Francesco Sforza’s siege of the fortress. Re-enactments with actors, horses and special effects take place every last weekend of July. It probably goes without saying that the special medieval atmosphere can be felt throughout Gradara.
- The Magic Castle: A former Celtic festival turned into a hotspot for magic and emotions over the last couple of years. The Magic Castle is dedicated to gripping magic performances, dance theatre and artistic highlights with artists from all over the world attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year across multiple evenings.
Yes, Gradara is everything but your run-of-the-mill city of arts and mostly focuses on one of the most impressive fortresses in all of Italy. However, there are many historical treasures, jolly festivals, and a delicious rural cuisine hidden behind its walls, all accompanied by astonishing views. Discover this hidden gem in the Marche, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, and a special, invaluable city of arts.