Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Legend of a Legend

By Patricia Winton

Photo by David M. Gann
One of the highly touted festivals in Italy is the Partita di Scacchi a Personaggi ViventiChess Game with Live Charactersin Marostica, near Venice. On the second week of September in even-numbered years, the 550 inhabitants don medieval dress and re-enact a local tradition dating from 1454, so the story goes. 

According to the legend, two noblemen, Rinaldo D'Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, fell in love with Lionora, the beautiful eldest daughter of the local lord, Taddeo Parisio. The two men decided to settle their dispute with a duel, but Taddeo forbade the combat because he revered both men and didn't want to lose either of them. He decreed that they play a game of chess instead, with people as the chess pieces. He had a giant chess board set up in the town square in front of his castle.

Lionora, it seems, was in love with one of the two men, and the approaching match made her very nervous. She confided to a servant that if her chosen lover won, she would put a candle in her window to show that she was happy.

Mirko Vucetich
On September 12, a royal procession led by Taddeo and his court, followed by archers, musicians, flag twirlers, falconers, along with local farmers and the townspeople entered the piazza. The living chess pieces, garbed in black and white, took up positions on the giant board, complete with horses for the knights. The two combatants called out their moves using the local Venetian dialect. Eventually, Vieri won the match. Fireworks and music heralded the finale, and the people celebrated until dawn. A candle burned in Lionora's window.

A storybook ending you say? Exactly. You see this tale doesn't date from 1454 but from 1923 when university students Mirko Vucetich and Francesco Pozza wrote a play called La Partita a Scacchi, The Chess Match. The townspeople performed the play that year, but there wasn't a repeat production until 1954 when the play was again directed by Vucetich. It's been performed every two years since, and the pomp has become so ingrained in the circumstance that many people believeand report onthe event as if it were indeed more than 500 years old instead of slightly more than 50. The event lasts three days, bringing tourists from around the world. The coffers of both the town and local businesses are suitably enriched, and a good time is had by all.


  1. Hi Patricia, I loved this story about the human chess game and suspect that many traditions we assume are age old have a more recent origin. BTW, I think we had lunch together at Killer Nashville in 2011. I'm glad you're still enjoying life in Italy. --Mary Ann (Maya) Corrigan

  2. Maya, thank you for your comment. Of course, I remember our lunch...and our Jeopardy game!

  3. Harry Potter sure got some mileage off that legend.