Paolo and Francesca


«Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona,
mi prese del costui piacer sì forte, 
che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona. 
Amor condusse noi ad una morte. 
Caina attende chi a vita ci spense. 
Queste parole da lor ci fuor porte».

Dante, Inferno, canto V, v.100-108.

Rocca di Gradara is a place of magic and fairy tales, where reality and fantasy are mixed into one myth, that of Paolo and Francesca.
Legend has it that in medieval times the tragic love story of two unhappy lovers, encountered by Dante and narrated in his Divine Comedy, took place right in the Rocca.
Francesca da Polenta, daughter of the lord of Ravenna, was bound in marriage to Giovanni Malatesti, also known as Gianciotto (“the cripple”), as a reward for political and military support offered to the girl’s father, Guido da Polenta, for the expulsion of the Traversari family from Ravenna.
Although details are rather fragmentary, documents tell us that Giovanni Malatesti was ugly in appearance but a skilled leader and courageous fighter. On the contrary, his brother Paolo Malatesti, chief magistrate of Florence, was handsome and seductive, prone to laziness, to the pleasures of life and addicted to love.
One day while Paolo and Francesca were busy reading the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere, they were overwhelmed by the fury of love and stealthily exchanged a tender and passionate kiss.
Having seen what happened, a loyal servant to Gianciotto rushed to inform his master, who waited for the fateful moment to burst into the room where the two lovers were, but Paolo tried to escape through a trapdoor in the floor…
It is thought that the story took place in a time span ranging from 1283, when Paolo Malatesti was given the magistrate’s office in Florence, and 1287, when Paolo is no longer mentioned in family documents as a result of his betrayal.
Apart from a few historical documents, unfortunately details about Paolo and Francesca are rather sketchy and drawn mostly from literary sources.
The first to speak in detail of their story is Dante in Canto V of the Inferno, an incomparably beautiful text citing the famous kiss in a verse uttered by Francesca: “trembling all over, kissed me on my mouth”, which Umberto Saba called “the most beautiful words of love ever written.”
The description of the scene and amorous secret encounter was further enriched with details from Giovanni Boccaccio in his Commentary on the Divine Comedy, while in the late 1800s and early 1900s the story of the two lovers enjoyed a renewed popularity, becoming the focus of various works of art, as demonstrated by its revisiting by Silvio Pellico, Gabriele d’Annunzio, William Blake, August Rodin and many other artists.
This magical and mysterious aura of Paolo and Francesca was provided great fortune by the restoration undertaken in the Rocca di Gradara by Umberto Zanvettori, who, following the transposition of D’Annunzio’s opera Francesca da Rimini, rebuilt all the key elements of the tragic love in Francesca’s Bedroom, in line with the medieval revival of the early twentieth century.