The castles of Bellaguardia and della Villa look at each other on Montecchio Maggiore hill. They are also known as Romeo and Juliet's castles, the two unlucky passionate lovers whose legend was narrated by the count Luigi Da Porto. He was from Vicenza, vicar in Arzignano, town fortifications strategist, poet and author of the novel earlier known as 'Historia' and later as 'La Giulietta' which was reprised in the early XVI century by authors of different nationalities to become at last William Shakespeare's famous masterpiece.
Although the hill fortification has older origins, the first news on the two castles' origin dates back to XIV century: they are mentioned in the peace treaty stipulated by Mastino II. della Scala in 1339 at the end of the Venetian-Scaliger war.
The current castles had been built by Cangrande II., Lord of Verona, since 1354.
They were destroyed by bombards by Bartolomeo d'Aviano during the War of the League of Cambrai in 1514.
Purchased in 1742 by the the municipality of Montecchio Maggiore, after various restoration works and environmental improvement, the two castles are nowadays used for recreational activities. Juliet castle is used as a restaurant with a spectacular roof terrace, whereas Romeo castle is used for performances and cultural activities.
If Shakespeare borrowed Romeo and Juliet's family names from Dante, the reality behind the theatrical tragedy is different.
Romeo and Juliet's story in fact is not fictional: it actually refers to an autobiographical fact intertwining military events, politics and inheritance issues which see Luigi Da Porto as writer, poet, noble of Vicenza, captain of "Serenissima" who wrote the "novel" in his house in Montorso Vicentino. He had moved there after leaving the military career due to a wound in his face inflicted in a battle.
Montorso Vicentino is only a few kilometres away from Montecchio Maggiore and the view from the windows of Villa Da Porto to the awe-inspiring Scaligeri castles must have been impressive in those times as it is nowadays. This scene of the two castles almost in contrast with each other might have inspired Luigi Da Porto to write the novel, considering also the parallel between the name of Montecchio and Montecchi given to Romeo's family by Da Porto.
If the setting of the novel was always in Verona, it is likely to think that the castles in Montecchio Maggiore played an important role to inspire the writer's poetic imagination.
The story begins in 1511 in Udine where Da Porto fights in the War of the League of Cambrai. He meets there his beloved whom he will never be allowed to marry. He writes the Historia in 1524 when he was 39. The Historia was published after his death, it was reprised by Shakespeare in 1594 and set in Verona.
If you want to discover more about it, read the book: Romeo and Juliet's true story by Antonio Di Lorenzo, published by Ergon, 2005.