• Don Giulio's prison

    Don Giulio's prison

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The prisons

The ancient military and repressive vocation of the Castle is well represented by its prisons, whose gloomy and impregnable atmosphere owes much to their location in the basement.

These dungeons were not destined to ordinary prisoners, usually held in custody in the town’s jail in the Palazzo della Ragione, but to high-ranking personalities or, alternatively, to those prisoners whom the Este wished to secure to a strict surveillance.
In the basement of the towers, today one may still read the incised writings left as a memory of the prisoners’ unhappy fate.
As reported in ancient chronicles, the dungeons witnessed the tragic execution of Ugo and Parisina, the young lovers decapitated at the bottom of the Tower Marchesana.
They were respectively Nicolò III’s son and second wife, both just twenty years old when they had to face death in 1425. So the anonymous author of the Ferrarese Diary wrote: «MCCCCXXV, del mese de Marcio, uno luni, a hore XXIIII, fu taiata la testa a Ugo, figliolo de lo illustre marchexe Nicolò da Este, et a madona Parexina, che era madregna de dicto Ugo; et questo perché lui havea uxado carnalmente con lei. […] Et furono morti in Castel Vechio, in la Tore Marchexana: et la nocte furno portati suxo una careta a Sancto Francesco et ivi furno sepulti».
To atone for the punishment, possibly commissioned by Nicolò III himself, a devotional fresco was painted on the site of the execution depicting the Virgin and Child with the Saints James and Anthony: the composition bears the eloquent title “Decapitation Tryptych”.
Less gruesome than the story of Ugo and Parisina is the episode linked to the prison of don Giulio, a cell located inside the Lions’ Tower where Giulio and Ferrante d’Este, brothers of Alfonso I, were secluded in 1506. Both condemned/sentenced to death, accused of having plotted against the duke and their brother the cardinal Ippolito, the conspirers had their sentence commuted to a life imprisonment.
Both endured quite a long time of captivity: Ferrante spent there 43 years before being pardoned; don Giulio was released in 1559 at the age of eighty-one.
The sources relate that the crowd assisted astonished at the old man release. The still energetic noble man walked along the street wearing his garments in vogue half a century earlier. Among the episodes connected to the prisons of the Castle one cannot ignore that of the noble Gigliolo Giglioli, a clever jurisconsult and valiant commander of Reggio. Just as soon as he enjoys the marquis Nicolò III’s favours, Gigliolo is suddenly arrested for treason by order of the marquis himself. It is 17 January 1434, when Gigliolo, at thirty, was thrown into the most horrible dungeon inside the Torre Marchesana, also called Tower of Saint Michael.
This special toponym will inspire the title for the play or “comediola” Micaelida, composed by Gigliolo during the thirteen of his harsh detention.

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