Marostica, the history and our visit

Julie Jurden

Today we are sharing some thoughts from Stefano, our Italian partner. He recently witnessed the human chess game in Marostica. 

I want to share with you a great experience I had few days ago: the Historical Live Human Chess Game in Marostica.

Marostica is a small town of the Veneto Region, near Bassano Del Grappa. According to some archaeological finds, Marostica dates back to the Ancient Roman time. After the fall of the Roman Empire it was the object of conquest for centuries by Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards, and many more armies, even Napoleon.

For that reason, over the centuries, two castles have been built together with beautiful walls that perfectly arrived to us. The two castles, lower and upper, date back to 1312, while the construction of the walls began in 1372. Every time that I arrive in Marostica, driving from the front of the castles, I look at the walls, fascinated and amazed. 

Entering the town through the lower castle you’ll be immediately greeted by the beautiful "Piazza Degli scacchi” (Square of Chess). Surrounded by historic buildings, the center of the square features a giant chessboard where, once every two years, an event famous the world over takes place: the Historical Live Human Chess Game.

The legend of the Chess Game dates back to 1454. It is said that in that year two brave warriors, Rinaldo D'Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, madly fell in love with Lionora, the beautiful daughter of Taddeo Parisio, the lord of the castle. To claim the right to marry her, they were challenged to a duel, as it was customary at that time. Taddeo Parisio, who did not want to lose either of the talented youths, prevented the bloody clash and decided that Lionora would marry the one who could win the match in a noble game of chess. The loser would become a relative as well, marrying Oldrada, the sister of the lord, young and beautiful as well.

Taddeo ruled that the chess game would be held on a festive day in the square of the Lower Castle, using large live pieces, armed and marked by the white and black signs. He also decided that the competition would take place in the presence of himself, his charming daughter, the lords of Angarano and Vallonara, the nobles of the close cities and all the people. The challenge would be honored by an exhibition in the field featuring artists, dancers, infantry and cavalry, fireworks and lights. 

And so it happened. The square was crowded with archers and halberdiers, infantrymen and knights, the castellan and his court with Lionora and Oldarda, ladies, gentlemen, the herald, falconers, pages and bridesmaids, standard-bearers, musicians and villagers, and of course the wonderful white and black pieces with kings and queens, rooks and knights, bishops and pawns. Rinaldo d'Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara ordered the moves of the living chess pieces. At the end of the challenge, a blaze of fireworks, lights, and festive shouts greet the winner.

Today, as then, the emotion is renewed! In a sumptuous frame of precious costumes and gonfalons, charming ladies and intrepid knights, zany jokers, jugglers and fire-eaters, we are reminded of the old times and of a passionate love affair.

It's truly exciting to see this event! About 600 people volunteer as actors. The entire small town is involved in this event. I was amazed to see this enormous number of people in costume... Women and men, children and grandparents, everybody was perfect in their role, moving together with the others and creating marvelous scenography. They truly reproduced the atmosphere of ancient times.

If you happen to be in the area in September 2018, don’t miss this event. Be sure reserve tickets for the night show, which sells out early! We bought our tickets only 10 days before and there were only tickets for the afternoon match available: no fireworks and special lighting.

To get a sense of this darling event, explore Marostica in the videos below.

Marostica Live Chess Match from POVitaly on Vimeo.