The Match of the Human Chess Board

The love story behind Marostica's unique and time-honored tradition.

This article is written by ISDA Contributing Editor Tony Traficante.

War or Chess: A Love Story

Tolstoy’s saga of war ended in peace. In Marostica, Italy, the threat of war was settled with a game of chess. (Aah these ingenious Italians!).

It started with two young, hot-blooded noblemen, Cavalieri Rinaldo D’Anganaro and Vieri D’Vallanora, ready to battle over the love of the beautiful Lionora, daughter of Taddeo Parisio, Lord of Marostica. Both families were close friends of the ruling Lord and this love situation caused a fair amount of consternation with the anxious town folk. If this predicament were allowed to fester, it would surely rip apart the realm.

However, the clever Lord Parisio, to avoid a territorial catastrophe (and prevent a potential arms buildup of catapults, longbows and battering rams), ordered an alternative plan: His ruling directed, “We shall settle this peacefully, with a game of chess.” Lionora, then, will wed the winner, and the loser may join the family by marrying the younger sister, Oldrada.

On hearing the alternative, a great sigh of relief passed over the land and the people were happy. Everyone agreed with the Lord’s decision except, of course, the two young ‘bucks’ who would have preferred to flaunt their prowess before the nubile young maiden.

To the surprise of residents, Taddeo further announced the chess match would be performed by human chess pieces. The people were flabbergasted as they watched Taddeo construct an impressive, life-size chessboard on the piazza in front of his castle.

When the day of the match finally came, the enthused citizenry gathered at the piazza to cheer the arrival of the chess participants. Lord Parisio, in regal uniform, led the grand procession of the royal court, along with archers, musicians and falconers. Elegantly dressed human chess pieces, robed in gold and silver, some with horses aside, followed. And the royal announcer prepared himself to call out the chess moves to the players in the original Venetian language of the ‘Most Serene Republic of Venice.’

Though the day began with serious competition, it ended in a wonderful spectacle of fireworks, music, food, wine and dancing.

What a charming, tear-jerking love story, no?

“Ma che peccato, la Storia è  una fantasia.” Sorry — it is a fantasy. Except, of course, for the chess matches. They are real…

The fact is, the story, inspired by the beauty and elegance of the live chess matches of Marostica, is based on a play written by two young university students in 1923, Mirko Vucetich and Francesco Pozza.

Marostica, real enough, is a picturesque, beautiful, quaint town, surrounded by rolling hillocks on the outskirts of the Province of Vicenza, Region of Veneto. Its hillsides are dotted with verdant shrubs and splendid evergreens. Vestiges of its mediaeval beginnings remain,as two traditional grand castles continue to dominate the landscape: ‘Castello Superiore’ sits high above the town while ‘Castello Inferiore’ (Taddeo’s palace) is at ground level, in front of the chessboard piazza.

Besides its other attractions, Marostica remains most famous for its extraordinary performances of the human chess matches. Viewed by millions of world tourists, the chess matches, dating back to 1454, continue every second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of September during even-numbered years. The next matches are scheduled for September 2018.

And now, the rest of the story…

Who won the chess game? Why, of course, “The best man won!”

More information on the 2018 chess matches can be found here.

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