At one time, the d'Este family were in charge of one of Europe's leading courts. With all the usual baggage that goes along with such power, they had bloody inter-family disputes but also spawned some enlightened Renaissance patrons.
In the late 13th century, Nicolo II took control of the town. Nicolo III's claim to fame however, was that he had his wife and her lover murdered.
In the early 16th century Alfonso I married Lucrezia Borgia from one of Italy's most notorious families.
Ercole I (1407-1505), after failing to poison a nephew who tried to usurp him, had him executed anyway. The family remained in power until 1598 when directed to move by the papacy. The fortress that Ferrara is famous for is in its present state due to a rebuild by Ercole I (see Intro page).
The picture here is of another of their palaces, named after the long lived man himself.
Il Palio di San Giorgio: Flag Carriers
The most impressive group of revelers to participate in palio festivities were alfieri, the flag bearers.
They performed choreographed formations, tossing banners into the air. Up close, we got to watch them practice their moves on Piazza Castello. It was a thrill.
I liked watching the young boys being instructed by the experienced men in the art of flag tossing (see photos #1 and #2).
Il Palio di San Giorgio: Boys’ Race
”Sometimes the prize was fortified by a more material gift, as at Ferrara and Bologna by a horse.”
— from “The Modern Language Review” 1906 by Modern Humanities Research Association
PRIZE WINNERS Over the years the word palio has come to refer to the race and the festival leading up to, and following, the race. Yet its origins is not the race, but the prize. It was a cloth banner awarded to the winner of the horse race. Palio derives from the Latin pallium, the word for cloth.
The first race run was the boys, putti, foot race; it is known as il Palio di San Romano. Karim Bouic, from Borgo San Giovanni, was the victor. We were surprised by the depth of involvement by all the participants throughout the parade. But when the boy’s foot race ended and members of Borgo San Giovanni leapt on to the track, hoisting Karim on their shoulders, singing and giddy with glee, we were caught off guard by their enthusiasm.
Este's Castle Dungeons
The thing that impressed me really much are the written walls that I saw down in the dungeons of the castle. Prisonners were used to leave a trace of their lifes, writing something on the walls. If you have time to read some words in latin, you will find a sentence written in 1597. Impressive!
The Estense Castle
This huge structure looms over the center of Ferrara and is surrounded by a real moat, original drawbridge, and the towers.
This castle was enlarged from the family's Castle of San Michele because of a dangerous popular revolt . Niccolo II wanted to have a strong defensive structure for his family and other Dukes. Thus, this fortress was erected by the lords against their own people.
A covered and elevated passageway, still in existence, once joined the military fortress to the Este palace (today Palazzo Municipale). After a few centuries, the danger of uprisings ceased, and then the castle became a splendid court residence where a roof, terraces, marble balconies and the Renaissance-style courtyard and elegant apartments were added.
We took a tour of the castle on our own and were able to visit the NARROW dungeons.
There were English written explanations in each area, and we learned that Parisina, the second wife of marquis Niccolo III, had a love affair with Ugo (the natural son of the marquis and his favorite mistress). The two young lovers (both 20 years old) were caught in the act and put, for a short time, in these dungeons before they were beheaded.
We also visited Duchesses' Garden, the Ducal Chapel, decorated halls, the Room of Dawn (with Chronos and the Fates sitting surrounded by the four phases of the day: Dawn, Morning, Sunset and Night).
Next, we visited the Little Room of Games as well as the Room of Games. The most fun was the "Orange Tree Roof Garden".
The Este family lived in the castle until 1589 when the city was put under the rule of the Papacy. We visited a series of rooms decorated during this Papal period: "Hall of the Coats-of-Arm, "Room of Geography", "Hall of the Landscapes", and the large "Hall of Government".
We then walked 122 steps up to the Lion's Tower (original of the towers) where we were able to see a view of the entire city. This was a very rewarding visit.