<p>(by Giancarlo Dessì, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)</p>
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Sardinia

A truly breathtaking climb to discover a castle shrouded in mystery.

The stronghold
(by Xoil at Italian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Xoil at Italian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

We are now at the entrance to the fortress, where the first gateway to the stronghold probably opened. Looking at these stones and walls, one can guess the defensive importance of this fortress. Indeed, the Pisans, as usurpers and conquerors of Sardinian lands, had to be careful and protect themselves from any local threats from Sardinian armies. Near the entrance is still visible a particular narrow curve that was purposefully created to prevent a potential breakthrough attack with a battering ram. Moreover, the gate was also guarded by guards and archers, who, safely hidden behind the loopholes, could hiss arrows into the air. Inside the first line of defence are cisterns to collect rainwater, an essential must for any castle. On the ascent, are visible stone walls in the shape of a herringbone, typical of Pisan constructions, and thus important confirmation of Ugolino’s presence here in this outpost. As one ascends, the impressiveness of the stones and constructions increases. Worthy of note is the typical square battlements symbolising the ‘Guelphs’, a faction to which Pisa belonged.

Guelphs and Ghibellines were the two opposing factions in Italian politics in the late Middle Ages, particularly from the 12th century until the birth of the Signories in the 14th century. The “Welfen”, hence the word “Guelph”, were the supporters of the Bavarians and Saxons and belonged to one of the oldest and most illustrious dynasties of Frankish blood in Europe.

Historically, the Guelphs were later associated with those who supported the pope, and their fortresses were characterised by their square battlements. On their flag was drawn the cross of St George. Waiblingen, formerly Wibeling, hence the word ‘Ghibelline’, identified the supporters of the Hohenstaufen, Swabian lords of Waiblingen Castle. Later the Swabian house acquired the imperial crown and, with Frederick Barbarossa, sought to consolidate its power in the Kingdom of Italy. 

Politically, the Ghibellines began to identify with the faction linked to the emperor and their military structures were characterised by swallow-tailed battlements. Their flag depicted the cross of St. John the Baptist. The terms ‘Guelph’ and ‘Ghibelline’ were initially used in connection with the opposing Tuscan factions; given the geopolitical situation of the time, the confrontation between the two groups of family alliances became more intense in this region. Between 1250 and 1270, the confrontation became more virulent, setting a precedent that established a school for the following decades.

It was precisely this different factional affiliation that marked the fate of Ugolino Della Gherardesca.


1. Origins

2. Ugolino Della Gherardesca

3. The stronghold

4. The Legend