- ITALY -
This precariously perched fortress was once ruled by a crow-worshipping baron.
Roccascalegna is a small village in the Majella region of Abruzzo in central Italy. The village, thought to be founded by the Lombards around 600, sits at the foot of the impossibly-built Castle of Roccascalegna.
This extraordinary fortress is perched on the edge of a massive basalt cliff, and was likely built to guard the Secco Valley below. The rocky outcrop looks out over lush meadows and olive orchards, but the idyllic setting has a rough past. In the centuries since it was first built, the valley has seen several invasions and pirate incursions from the Adriatic coast.
Starting in the 15th century, the fortress was rebuilt and enlarged, but over time its fortunes changed. Around 1700 the castle was largely abandoned, and years of neglect, weather, and looting led it to a state of disrepair. In 1985, the town of Roccascalegna took ownership of the structure and began restoration works that took more than 10 years to complete.
The castle’s most famous legend is that of the Corvo de Corvis, or the Crow Baron, who, in the 17th century, introduced the right of jus primae noctis, which held that all newlywed brides of his fiefdom were obligated to lie with him on their wedding night. Stories say the baron was stabbed to death, either by one of the brides or her husband in disguise, and upon dying he left a bloody mark on the walls which could never again be washed away. Some claim that the mark is still visible within the castle, as is the restless spirit of the Baron.
Nowadays, visitors can visit the keep, the inner courtyard, the prison, the chapel, and the castle walls, which provide an exceptional view on the landscape below, which includes Majella National Park. As of 2018, you can also rent the castle as an event venue for €100 (about $110).