The fortress of Verrucole is near San Romano to the north of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana in the upper Serchio valley. It once formed part of a complex defensive system whose other main protection points are Mont’Alfonso fortress, just outside Castelnuovo, the castle in Castelnuovo itself, Camporgiano castle and the fortified town of Castiglione di Garfagnana.
We first visited Verrucole for a mediaeval afternoon described in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/castling-in-garfagnana/ in 2005 to attend a mediaeval afternoon with dancing, sword fighting and cross-bow shooting.
Since that time, and thanks to European Union funding, the fort has been almost fully restored and we were keen to revisit it a couple of days ago.
Parking is in the actual village of Verrucole itself and there is a steep but not difficult fifteen minutes’ walk to the castle gate where a “dogana” now charges admission (standard is 5 euros. For more price and opening time information see the web site at http://www.fortezzaverrucolearcheopark.it/orari.php.)
The first thing we noticed was the restoration of the keep to its full height which is now crowned by an octagonal roof. We were advised to visit this part first and were treated to a truly interesting display of medieval life carefully explained to us by a young man who’d graduated in mediaeval studies and really knew his stuff.
He explained much about daily life, fighting strategies and medical practice of those times in which the castle was used.
For example did you know that the Italian word ‘ammazzare’ – to kill – come from mazza which is that steel ended club-like weapon guaranteed to smash anyone’s cranium in? It naturally became a symbol of power in the English mace, which is a symbol of mayoral power through the UK and, indeed, form part of the UK’s and the commonwealth’s parliamentary regalia.
We almost needed medical attention ourselves since there was a plant with large sweet berries growing in the herb garden by the tower which I tasted but did not swallow. It was, in fact, belladonna, three berries of which can kill one adult outright but which in small doses was used by mediaeval damsels to enlarge their eye pupils and make them more alluring.
The chain mail was particularly heavy and explained the fact that those crusaders wearing it in the holy wars against the Muslims were unable to bear the heat generated by such heavy armour as against the more lightly clad Saracens.
The one thing chain mail armour could not withstand was the arrow and we were led into the courtyard to the north of the tower for a demonstration and hands on experience of firing from long-bows. I managed to hit the target but it must have been beginner’s luck.
The crossbow and even the muzzle loaded harquebus were unfavourably compared to the long-bow whose archers won us the battle of Agincourt, After all, twelve arrows could be shot in one minute with a long bow whereas only two could be fired in the same time by the crossbow and the harquebus.
We then visited the top floor of the keep which was laid out with dioramas and a souvenir shop. The view from the windows here were absolutely stunning, looking out over both the Apuan and Apennine range.
Looking at the fantastic location of the fortress I could easily understand why it was seriously challenged only once, in the twelfth century.
We then walked around the rest of the fortress which originally had two separate keeps joined together by further crenellated walls in the fifteenth century and treated ourselves to some delicious fruit salad ice cream and blackcurrant tart.
We thought that our visit was one of the most satisfying ones to any castle in Italy. It wasn’t just another pile of rubble but a well-kept, well-organised place in an awesome location. The bringing to life of the castle via its brilliant mediaeval guide, the excellent refreshment facilities, the characters in appropriate costume: in short, the total presentation was an example of how a castle should be presented to the public. Full mark for the effort put into Verrucole. It really made our day!