Sunday, September 12, 2010

La Partita a Scacchi (Human Chess Game)

In 1454 in the small town of Marostica, which then still belonged to the Venetian Republic, two noble knights, Rinaldo D'Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of the beautiful Lionora. Taddeo Parisio, father of Lionora and Lord of the Marostica castle, not wanting to make an enemy of either suitor or loose them in a duel, forbade the encounter in conformity with Cangrande della Scala's Edict. He decided the two rivals should play a chess game: Lionora would take the winner as her husband and the loser would in any case join his family, marrying Oldrada, the younger sister. The Lord also decided the challenge should be honored by an performance of armed men, fool-soldiers and knights, with fireworks and dances and music.

The game took place in the town's main square, which was inlay-ed with marble to resemble a giant checkerboard. Each knight had people dressed to represent the various chess pieces and they carried a white or black ensign. Each knight would call out their move and the people would move according to the instructions of each knight.

To complicate things more, Lionora was secretly in love with one of the two knights. Lady Lionora secretly informed the population that if the winner were her beloved, the Lower Castle would be illuminated by white light so that all the town's people could share in their joy.

To commemorate this historic event, the people of Marostica recreate this human chess match every even numbered year. The event involves over 550 characters and last two hours. Once the sun sets, the event begins with archers high on the towers of the Lower Castle shooting flaming arrows to the outskirts of the chess board. In a burst of flames, the chess board comes to life. The orders are still given to the characters and cast today in the "Serenissima Republic of Venezia" dialect. The game ends in a celebration of music, dance, and fireworks.

To view all my pictures of the Human Chess Game, click here. To see a short video of the spectacular finale, click here.