Six Legends and Curiosities You May Not Know About Emilia-Romagna
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Italy is an ancient country, rich in legends and curiosities. These stories often remain hidden within the names of cities and places or in the small details in their streets. Some traditions ceased to exist in the words of the populations; little by little they got lost in the meanders of the collective memory.
This article is about six myths and events that are part of Emilia-Romagna’s history, but that not everyone may remember. These six facts regard six cities, their story, their people, and their customs.
The taverns, or “osterie”, stand out as some of the most known spots in Bologna. Indeed they are among the busiest places in the city, maybe for their vintage and naive atmosphere, given by their old wooden tables and the dusty bottles on their shelves. But how were they in the past?
They were popular places for meeting. Many riots and claims often started from there. For this very reason, a 1610 municipal edict limited its clientele. Until the beginning of the ‘900s the most famous taverns of the city were Osteria dei Bastardini, in Tagliapietre street, Osteria Campana in VIII Agosto square, Cantinone di Londra e Bazzanesi in San Felice street; Carnevalazz and Convento in via Zamboni, in the university area.
They were also famous for the extravagant people they hosted, such as songwriter and popular poets. The ways in which the food was given was particular too: for example, Osteria del Ghìtton in Pratello street offered the “Beans’ time”; you could buy unlimited beans for half an hour, kind of an ancient “all you can eat”.
Alessandro Cervellati, a lover of old Bologna’s stories, wrote about the taverns in the seventies. He reckons that in Via de ‘Poeti there was an inn that, until restoration in 1959, had kept unchanged the original eighteenth-century features.
Palazzo dei Diamanti’s Diamond
Palazzo dei Diamanti (Diamonds’ Palace) is one of the most beautiful and fascinating historical buildings in Ferrara. Thousands of diamond-shaped bosses compose its particular facade. That’s where the name comes from. But, according to some, the name “Diamonds” is due to another fact that happened centuries ago.
It is said that Ercole I d’Este had a real diamond, belonging to his crown, hidden inside one of the many façade diamonds. Only two people knew the exact location of the jewel: Ercole I d’Este and the master who had followed the construction work. At the end of the work, the Duke summoned the master to court and, certain that he had not revealed the secret to anyone, made him blind and cut off his tongue, so that would never reveal anything.
The fact, of course, has no historical reliability, but rumor has it that an ancient treasure of the Dukes of Este is still hidden within the building.
Saint Mercurialis and the Dragon
The first bishop of Forlì was called Mercurialis and lived around the fourth century. He has his very own history and legends, well known in Forlì.
Tradition has it that a dragon wandered through the countryside of Forlì, bringing death and destruction on its way. Many knights had tried to kill him, but each time they fell under its power and ferocity. San Mercuriale decided at that point that he had finished the harassment of this ancient creature. So he wrapped the dragon in his pastoral stole, and threw it into a deep well, making it harmless. The place where he threw the dragon, today is called Bussecchio, from Pozzecchio (“small well”).
According to many historians, this myth might have a historical valence: the dragon would symbolize the power of the river Montone, while the saint would be the emblem of human power over the waters.
King Arthur in Modena
On the northern side of the Modena Cathedral, there is a circular bas-relief depicting an episode in the life of King Arthur. Some inscriptions show the names of the characters reproduced among which Geneva, Mordred, Gawain and Arthur himself. According to historians, the bas-relief would date back in between 1120 and 1130, a period prior to the collection of legends about King Arthur made by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1135.
What is the explanation for the mysterious existence of the myth of Arthur in Modena?
Bardi and Hannibal’s Elephant
In the past, the town of Bardi was known as “Barrus”. The popular belief, however, is that Barrus was not a personality of the past, but an elephant, more precisely, one of the 37 elephants of Hannibal.
According to the legend, this elephant came to die in these places and the local population, struck by the extraordinary animal, decided to give its name to the village that stood near its dead body.
This is obviously a myth, despite Hannibal and his el2ephants’ actual passage through these places. In reality, the name of Bardi derives from Longobardi, a group of barbarians that settled here in 600 AD.
Rocca d’Olgisio and the French Army
Olgisio’s castle is one of the oldest fortresses in the area of Piacenza. The first mention of the building in official documents dates back to 1037 AD. It has often been under siege during the wars that hit northern Italy, because of its strategic position. One particular episode deserves a mention.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the King of France conquered the state and possessions of the Duke of Milan. At that time the fortress of Olgisio belonged to the Dal Verme family. The French put them in front of an “aut aut“: they’d better give up the Fortress or to they would slowly die under french cannonballs. The Dal Verme, who knew well about the quality their walls, did not give up. Furthermore, the French had to besiege the fortress with two thousand infantrymen, one hundred knights and several pieces of artillery. The chronicles narrate that in only eight days 1160 cannonballs struck the fortress’s wall, but the besieged didn’t surrender. On the eastern side of the fortress, the effects of the attack are still visible.
The Dal Verme surrendered when betrayed by a man who secretly opened the door to the French.