A chess game with a difference
Words by Pat Eggleton
Every even-numbered year in the medieval town of Marostica, near Vicenza [Veneto] visitors can watch a spectacular open-air chess game with a difference, for the “pieces” are human beings and horses, all dressed in medieval costume.
The tradition is said to date back to 1454, when two noblemen, Rinaldo D’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, fell in love with Lionora, daughter of the Lord of the Castle, Taddeo Parisio.
The two suitors decided to fight a duel but Taddeo, not wishing to make an enemy of either man and also not wanting to see one of them killed, forbade this. Instead, he decided, the two men would play a game of chess for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The loser would not fare too badly, though, as he would marry Lionora’s sister, Oldrada.
There is no record to tell us how Oldrada felt about being the consolation prize but, according to legend, Lionora was already in love with one of the two men. We can only imagine her feelings as the day of the game approached and she imagined her hero losing and contemplated having to watch him marry her sister. Lionora told a servant that, if the “right” man won the game, she would place a lighted candle in her window so that the people of the town would know that she was happy.
Taddeo had decreed that the game would be played with “living persons” as chess pieces and he had a giant chess board made and placed on the square in front of the castle.
On the day, September 12th, townsfolk dressed in black or white represented the kings, queens, bishops and other pieces and real horses, magnificently apparelled, represented the knights.
The two suitors issued instructions for the moves in Venetian dialect. Eventually, Viri da Vallonara won the game. The town celebrated with music,dancing and other entertainments and that night, a candle burned in Lionora’s window.
That, at least, is the tale but actually we have no historical evidence that such a game took place in 1454. Instead, the story was an invention of two university students, Mirko Vucetich and Francesco Pozza, in 1923 and it was in 1923 that the first “re-enactment” took place in Marostica.
The second re-enactment did not take place until 1954 and it was scripted, directed and choreographed by Mirko Vucetich [1898 – 1975]. The “Partita a scacchi a personaggi viventi” [“Chess Game with Living Persons”] has taken place on the Marostica Castle Square every two years since then and people arrive from all over the world to see it. The participants still dress in fifteenth century costume and the instructions are still given in Venetian dialect.
550 people take part in the two-hour game and the occasion is none the less fascinating for being based on fiction.
Marostica is thirty minutes from Vicenza by car or bus and there are directions on the Marostica Chess Game website.
This year Chess Games will take place on:
Friday 10th September at 21.00;
Saturday 11th September at 21.00;
Sunday 12th September at 17.00 and 21.00.
Booking is advised and details are on the website.