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The wall started from the Lower Castle at the bottom of the hill, fanned itself around the old town and then its thick crenellations interspersed with tall watchtowers climbed up the hill all the way to the ruins of the Upper Castle.
We were perched at the highest point of the Upper Castle. The medieval walled town of Marostica lay at our feet. Beyond it, the flat plain of Veneto stretched all the way to the horizon.
Marostica had been at the top of my travel wishlist since we moved to Italy at the end of August. We glimpsed its majestic wall, holding in its defensive embrace the old town and the hill looming above it, on several occasions whilst exploring the nearby Bassano del Grappa and the ceramics heaven of Nove. We never felt tempted to just drive the couple of kilometres that separated us from it and have a quick look around. No, the unspoken consensus was that Marostica deserved a whole day of exploration.
So, last Sunday, feeling ready for a Marostican adventure, we piled in our little red car and drove there from Vicenza. For the first time since we arrived, we didn’t use a GPS outside of town and this made us feel like bona-fide locals. We went through San Pietro in Gu, advanced through the still lush fields, spotted the huge farm house that grabs my imagination every time we drive past it, crossed Nove and once again Marostica and its wall loomed into view.
It was a market day, so huge stalls surrounded the famous chessboard pavement of the town’s main square. Every other September, Marostica holds there a chess game with real people and horses instead of traditional chess pieces. This is in commemoration of a love rivalry that centuries ago pitted against each other two noblemen who were both in thrall to the daughter of the local ruler. Wanting to prevent a bloodshed, the ruler ordered them to play a chess game instead of engaging in a duel. The winner would marry the lady of his heart and the loser would be betrothed to her younger sister.
We missed the chess game this year. I crossed my fingers really tight, wishing that we would be staying in Italy until 2016 in order to see the spectacle the next time round. It’s truly stunning, we have been assured.
So, we wandered past the market stalls watching the traders offering little samples of their tasty wares and chatting away with customers.
Little dogs were out for a walk with their masters. To our baby’s delight they were only too happy to be petted.
We kept walking. We passed through some beautiful wide archways with the most level and widest sidewalks we have come across in Italy so far. Believe me, when you explore medieval towns with a buggy, you soon learn to pay attention to such things.
We reached the Church of St Antonio Abbot. A little square lay in front of it.
Wide cobbled steps led all the way up to the Church of Carmini. It was all so quiet. We took a little rest, just admiring the beauty of it all. It felt good not to be tied to a stressful sightseeing schedule and we just enjoyed taking our time to discover it all one step at a time.
As fellow tourists started to appear, we made a move.
Strict parking limitations meant that before long we had to move our car. Instead of looking for a new parking place, we decided to drive up to the Upper Castle and admire the views from there. A winding road took us straight to the top. It followed the curve of the wall and seeing it this close made us appreciate its amazing size. We debated walking down the wall into town and also which baby carrier would be safer to use – the Ergo with our daughter clasped against me at the front or the BushBaby with her sitting comfortably whilst her daddy carried her on his back.
We reached the castle, parked and, eager to explore, decided to stray a little from the beaten path.
This little track was covered with a thick carpet of fallen leaves and flanked by a green mossy wall. It was really picturesque and offered some stunning views towards the mountains.
Then we continued up to the castle. It is now in ruins, but climbing up its walls, looking down onto the valley below and exploring its hidden corners makes you realise how big it must have been in its heyday and how it must have ruled its world from the top of the hill.
We were a little disappointed to find out that you can’t walk on the wall all the way downhill. I must admit that I was slightly relieved, too, as up close we had come to realise how much bigger and steeper it was.
There is a path which follows the curve of the wall, goes down to the Church of Carmini and from there into town. Still, after some thought, we realised that going down there and then up again to pick the car would take us most of the afternoon. We preferred to give our baby a chance to run around for a little bit, instead of keeping her strapped in a carrier for a long time.
The path looked quite amazing though, so hopefully we will have a chance to walk it some other time.
We drove back into town, only to be faced again with the issue of parking somewhere in our car. Finding a parking space has been relatively easy for us in Italy so far, especially in comparison with the parking nightmare that London can be. Still, for a moment, Marostica seemed to be on a par with it, as not only parking lots were restricted to a 90-minute stay, but they were also chock-full. We had to drive slightly away from the old town and park on the street as locals do.
In the meantime, thick throngs of people had started to flock into the old town. We walked around slowly, watching whole families taking their passegiata, meeting friends and neighbours and chatting animatedly.
We walked up a narrow curving street alongside the wall. After a few minutes we came upon one of its watchtowers. It had a bench and a little potted garden in front of it, curtains on its windows, a number on its door and a postbox next to it. With delight, we realised that someone must live in it. We imagined a modern day Marostican Rapunzel and hung around for a while chatting about what it must be like living in a medieval watchtower.
Then we were off to the town square. The market was still in full swing and an open air display of flag dancing was taking place. A huge crowd had surrounded the flag spinners, the drummers and the musicians. I tried to take some photos and here are the best.
It started to get dark and the winged lion – symbol of the rule of Venice – stood out against the blue and gold sky.
The Lower castle looked postcard perfect, too.
It was time for us to go. We will be back, though, and not just for the chess game in two years time. Marostica is also renowned for its cherries and, needless to say, this is my favourite fruit!