Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Time travel lets us imagine the Battle of Altopascio fought near Montecarlo during the era of Castruccio Castracani

Castruccio Castracani talks to one of his advisers about his life
leading up to the Battle of Altopascio while standing on the
steps of the Mastio of the Fortress of Montecarlo.
Lucy and I stepped back in time to 1325 recently to view a dramatic reenactment of the Battle of Altopascio, in which the armies of Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli defeated the Florentine army in the plains near Altopascio. We toured the Fortezza di Montecarlo Sunday with our friend and favorite tour guide Elena Benvenuti, who had arranged a dramatic presentation by using actors from Lucca’s Teatro del Giglio and costumed characters from the balestrieri of the Contrade San Paolino of Lucca, an association that helps celebrate and relive historical events.
Who would dare attack this fortress with its imposing walls and alert and well-armed guards?

The show, sponsored by the Banca di Pescia, included guards, soldiers and women dressed in medieval costumes, but the actor playing Castruccio himself took center stage and delivered 99 percent of the dialog. He popped out of the fortress at various times to explain his personal history and deliver updates on the battle, which history tells us he directed from on high at the Rocca del Cerruglio at Vivinaia—now known as the fortress of Montecarlo. The battle pitted Ghibellines (Lucca and its allies) against Guelphs (Florence).

Elena explains the recent history of
the Fortezza as the tour begins.
A small garrison of Castruccio’s forces, outnumbered 17,500 to 500, held out in Altopascio for nearly a month before they had to surrender to commander Cordona in August, but Castruccio held on in Montecarlo and reinforced his position while appealing to leaders in Milan and Arezzo to come to his aid. According to some sources, Castruccio had to pay 25,000 gold florins in advance to Azzo Visconti of Milan in exchange for the services of his army. The historian Giovanni Villani relates that Castruccio sent the most beautiful women of Lucca, including his wife Pina, to deliver the money along with a plea for help.
Those lovely maidens in the garden were sent to persuade other Ghibelline forces to come to Lucca's assistance.

Once the additional armies arrived in September, Castruccio attacked. The first charge failed, but the second succeeded, overwhelming the Florentine infantry in a resounding victory. The Lucchesi regained Altopascio and several other villages. Meanwhile, their cavalry cut off escape routes, capturing Cardona and the surviving Guelph soldiers. Castruccio obtained the title of Duke of Lucca; unfortunately, he died three years later at the age of 28.

Castruccio, from a drawing found in the
State Archives in Lucca.
The reenactment was more history lesson than drama, as the actors had little interaction with each other and Castruccio’s lines basically stuck to the known history of his life and the battle. As usual, Lucy and I didn’t understand all the Italian words, but we enjoyed the atmosphere anyway. A group of soldiers and historically attired townspeople stoked a fire and roasted chestnuts after the performance to celebrate the victory. We also looked at a realistic replica of the crown of Carlo IV, the beloved ruler of Montecarlo, who invested much time and funding to build up the city’s fortifications from 1333 to 1339—and for whom the city henceforth took its name.
Chestnuts roast on an open fire as the fortress inhabitants prepare for a victory celebration.


  1. Dear Paul, I would like to thank you for such a beautiful article on the Fortress of Montecarlo and its history!! Francesco Menchini

  2. Hi Paul, thanks for writing this article and taking pictures about the event. We are gathering everything on our website, I've just added a link to this article and your pictures on your album here: http://consanpaolino.org/post/152262942698/corona-san-venceslao-montecarlo-lucca

    Thanks again!


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