|"Castles, ghosts, legends" Teresa Garofalo|
Crumbled towers, ruined ramparts suffocated by weedy brambles and thick ivy branches, walls torn to shreds, wretched ruins perched on deserted peaks in high places overlooking valleys, fords and passages: this is what remains of the ancient "castellum", military posts of the late Roman era and residences or fortified villages spread throughout Europe in the 10th-11th centuries to defend raids. The remains of these ancient buildings stand alone on impervious peaks wrapped in the most boundless silences. Yet to those who know how to listen, with a faint whisper, these old stones speak, narrate, bring back distant memories, dark fears, heroic pasts.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in the heyday of the feudal age, castles and citadels were built with towers, ditches, bastions and drawbridges, mostly in an isolated and elevated position to cope with the rampant barbarian invasions. There are still countless examples of these castles, some of which are still perfectly intact today.
In the Renaissance period and especially from the 16th century onwards, the term “castle” refers to an imposing building situated in a reassuring natural setting or surrounded by cozy gardens built as a noble dwelling which, like feudal castles, has defensive elements in its structure preserved but only as architectural motifs. The castles built in the Romantic era can only be considered re-enactments.
The castles irresistibly attract the curiosity and interest of visitors with the narrative of their past, which is also ours, in the eternal kaleidoscopic cycle of dazzling lights and dark shadows, to any historical period they belong to and to any use they were intended for. To increase the suggestion and their charm, however, have certainly also contributed the many blossoming legends around the ancient mansions, fantastic stories of mysteries, spells, magic, crimes and supernatural events.
There is not a single castle without its good ghost, strange apparitions of ladies, warriors or lords of the place, ectoplasms, bodily forms in which restless spirits materialize that in the nights of the full moon wander through the corridors and the secretions between the sinister sounds of chains, groans and wailings.
It is easy to understand why in European literature of all ages, from the Middle Ages to the present day, the castle is a constant theme, an indispensable, often strongly symbolic background to the stories that are told. The distinctive elements referred to the castle in the various literatures are the isolation, the harsh and unreachable place, the almost always involuntary segregation of the protagonist or protagonists.
In fact through the centuries the castle takes on particular connotations and meanings. In medieval adventure novels, for example in the poems of Chrétien de Troyes, a 12th century French poet, the castle is on the one hand a place of imprisonment, often of a woman, and on the other an ideal destination or place to be reached or conquered by a hero.
The didactic and religious literature, from the Middle Ages to the Baroque Age, proposes the castle as a spiritual and allegorical place that, kingdom of joy and good, opposes the World with its temptations and perditions and for this reason it must be strenuously defended. In its mystical meaning the castle is therefore a place of perfection and moral elevation of the soul.
In the historical novel the imposing manor house is a symbol of power while in literature from Romanticism to the 20th century it is a desolate setting of intense passions, a romantic remnant of the past, a place of ancestors and family stories that narrate the inevitable decadence and decline of the aristocratic class and its values.
In the fairy tales of all times, in the chivalrous poems and in the Gothic novel, finally, the castle is mostly told as a fairy-tale place, to be destroyed or from which to escape. Dark and threatening forces afflict its inhabitants and to break spells and sorceries only succeed the courage and value of a hero, as we read in many famous tales of Charles Perrault, in the fairy tales of the Grimm brothers and in those of many other fairy tales authors of the nineteenth century.
Even in the chivalrous literature there is talk of magic, of heroes imprisoned in enchanted castles then liberated by mysterious, strong and adventurous knights. Sinister castles immersed in hallucinating landscapes in which innocent girls are held prisoner by perverse usurpers, witched castles frequented by wizards or infested by terrifying ghosts, castles in ruins or otherwise destined for destruction form the backdrop and the ideal environment also for the very popular Gothic novels in the second half of the 18th century.
This and more are the castles. Masterpieces of architecture, evocative symbols of power and royalty, custodians of precious memories, have always bewitched young and kids with their stories that recall imaginative scenarios in which past and present, reality and fantasy blend harmoniously. We are even more fascinated by the legends, wonderful fairy tales that hover there and which we want to believe because of the desire to revive a time that has now been definitively lost.
What about ghosts? They give us the chills, but it's true... so many stories and so many emotions!
Milano, May 5, 2020, Teresa Garofalo