Giovanni Malatesta, named Giangiotto, was the eldest son of Sigismondo I, lord of Gradara. He was described as ugly and lame.
Francesca was the daughter of Giovanni da Polenta, lord of Ravenna. Gianciotto, a courageous but exceedingly ugly soldier, obtained her father’s consent to marry her. Fearing that she would be repelled by his ugliness he persuaded his handsome brother Paolo to court her on his behalf.
Once the marriage contract was signed, in 1275 , the real Giancotto (the ugly one) slipped into the marriage bed, to the understandable horror of the young bride.
But, more tragic still, Paolo and Francesca had fallen in love.
Giangiotto was Podesta’ in the town of Pesaro and as he could not bring his family with him (because of a law of the time), he left his wife Francesca and his daughter Concordia in the castle of Gradara.
Then, Paolo, his brother became a frequent caller at the castle:
The story of the two lovers is made well-known by Dante in the V chant of the Inferno. These are the words of Francesca…..
Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona,
Mi prese del costui piacer si’ forte
Che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona
Love, that denial takes from none beloved,
Caught me with pleasing him so passing well,
That, as thou seest, he yet deserts me not.
But Giangiotto happened to know it, maybe from his brother Malatestino: Then he pretended to leave but soon came back to the castle where he caught his wife and his brother alone in Francesca’s bedroom …
Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto
Di Lancialotto, come amor lo strinse:
Soli eravamo e senza alcun sospetto.
Per più fiate li occhi ci sospinse
Quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
Ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.
Quando leggemmo il disiato riso
Esser baciato da cotanto amante,
Questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,
La bocca mi bacio’ tutto tremante.
Galeotto fu il libro e chi lo scrisse:
Quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.
at once my lips all trembling kiss’d.
The book and writer both were love’s purveyors.
In its leaves that day we read no more.
Giangiotto rushed upon his brother to kill him but Francesca sheltered him with her body and was killed at his place. Paolo followed her soon afterwards.
Thus Giangiotto’s vengeance was accomplished.
It was the year 1289.
Where to stay in Gradara
Hotels, B&Bs, apartments and country houses: search and make reservations here.