Fortress of Castrocaro

Fortress of Castrocaro (Terme e Terra del Sole, Via Fortezza, 2 –  Read More)

In the heart of Emilia-Romagna, where the river flows slowly in the valley between the slopes of the foothills of the Apennines, there is bedrock on which, for over a thousand years, stands the Fortress of Castrocaro. This singular and accentuated rock outcropping is what remains of an ancient underwater reef of the Pliocene age (10 million years ago), formed by calcareous sandstone and rich in marine fossils of great geological interest.

Due to its elevated position and difficult access it is easily defensible. This area has had strategic value since prehistoric times offering, in many caves which are still visible, a safe shelter to its inhabitants.

The fortress was once part of the holdings of Caterina Sforza.

Caterina Sforza was powerful and feared Lady of Imola and Forlì, first with her husband, Girolamo Riario, then as regent of the eldest son Octavian. Although not originally from Romagna (she grew up in the refined court of the Sforza in Milan and in Rome), Caterina Sforza is historically considered one of the most important female figures of this land, so much so that she was called the “lioness of Forli”.

Astute, shrewd and daring, she was able to conduct herself with determination, shrewdness, and daring spirit. She has been described as beautiful, intelligent, energetic, and learned and was one of the most-admired women of her time.

Caterina was the llegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan and Lucrezia Landriani. This female descendant of a dynasty of famous military condottiere  distinguished herself at an early age for bold and daring action. In her private life she devoted herself to a variety of activities, among the most important were the “experiment” in herbal alchemy, hawking, riding, and hunting.

She was also very passionate, careful and loving of her children, of whom the last, the famous Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, truly inherited her passion for weapons and for strategic command. She was halted, after a heroic resistance, only by the greedy conquest of the Borgias.

In 1472 her father gave her in marriage to Girolamo Riario, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV and Lord of Imola. In this marriage they both also became the Duke and Duchess of nearby Forli. After the death of Sixtus IV, fearing for the inheritance of her children, Caterina took possession of Castel Sant’Angelo until the conclave promised her husband in writing to give them safe passage to their invested lands. On April 14, 1488 Girolamo Riario was killed in Forlì. Catarina, with guile, strength, and ruthlessness went on to defeat and punish the conspirators and on April 30 of that year she began her role as regent for her son Octavian.

Later, she secretly married Iacopo Feo, castellan of Ravaldino, and acquired a very important role in Italian politics at the time of the fall of Carlo VIII by supporting at first the Aragonese and later the French. In 1495 Iacopo Feo was killed cruelly and Catarina, after having avenged his death by disembowling the conspirators.

Catarina went on to marry Giovanni de’ Medici while still the regent of Octavian in Forli. This marriage produced a son later known as Giovanni dalle Bande Nere.

The Borgia pope and his family had eyes to regain Forlì  and in 1499 Cesare began his siege of Catarina’s city with an army of 15,000 men. Caterina took refuge in the fortress of Ravaldino and put up a fierce resistance personally directing the defenses. Despite her efforts on 12 January 1500 the fortress of Forli fell, Caterina was taken prisoner by Cesare Borgia, and imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo, where she was tortured and humiliated. On June 30, 1501 Caterina was released and lived the last years of her life in Florence with her son Giovanni.

Caterina Sforza was a figure of great importance in the society of her time, a valiant fighter, of virtuous character, known both as a virago and female demon, an expert in herbal alchemy (she wrote a treatise on this subject that contains over 500 different recipes, from cosmetics to deadly poisons), and known able to be violent and resolute with her enemies.

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