Ladies, imagine walking through a thick forest, climbing up a steep hill and then coming across a ruined castle and falling in love with it.
This is how the castle looked like when first found:
Imagine, then, having a rich husband who not only will buy up the hill but also provide sufficient funds to restore the castle to its former grandeur.
Imagine finally that the castle and its location take off successfully, not only as one’s own home, but also as an exclusive holiday resort and conference centre.
This, in brief, is the story behind the Castello dell ‘Aquila (Eagle Castle) which lies just to the north of the Garfagnana in that castle-ridden area called Lunigiana.
The Castle overlooks the mediaeval village of Gragnola which is on the railway line going all the way from Lucca to Aulla. Its origins go back to the times when pilgrims would travel along the via Francigena to reach Rome and it is first mentioned in 1366. The families that owned the castle came from branches of the Malaspina. Its founder-builder was Galeotto di Fosdinovo (1352-1367) who was succeeded by his son Leonardo I (1393-1403). The family died out in the first half of the fifteenth century and was succeeded by Lazaro, son of Antonio Alberico Marquis of Fosdinovo. This family, too, died out in the first half of the seventeenth century and the castle was abandoned to the elements until rediscovered by the current owner who hails from the Veneto region.
We have visited the castle on two occasions. The first was in June 2006 when I and a supply teacher took our class from IPSIA (technical college), Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, on a visit to the castle. The students were particularly impressed on hearing that only two years previously a skeleton with an arrow through its throat had been found and was now on show:
The second occasion was in winter and the castle, again, did not fail to amaze.
The views from the castle are quite sublime, encompassing the Apuan and Apennine ranges.
The guests’ rooms are tastefully furnished with many antique pieces.
There is a great hall and a chapel which are used for conferences, mediaeval banquets, marriages, concerts and other events.
When I was a kid I used to read the “adventure” series by then popular children’s author Enid Blyton. I was particularly gripped by “The castle of adventure”. It seemed to me that, visiting the Castello dell ‘Aquila, I had truly come across the prototype of such a castle!
For more information on the castle see its web site at: http://www.castellodellaquila.it/castelloaquila/.