GradaraThe Castle is situated on a charming hill facing the sea, with its thick town walls and famous fortress. Gradara's location was strategic throughout the Middle Ages: at the bottom of the valley ran the Flaminia road, used by armies, travellers and pilgrims from Eastern and Western Europe, who wanted to reach Rome rapidly avoiding the most difficult mountain passes (especially in winter) of the Apennines of Tuscany and Emilia. Gradara lies on the first hills overlooking the Adriatic coast after the river Po plain: for this reason the castle was the most important "sentinel" on the geographic boundary between Northern and Central Italy (together with the nearby walled villages of Monteluro, Tavullia, Granarola, Gabicce Monte, Casteldimezzo e Fiorenzuola di Focara).
The Castle was the residence of the Malatesta family who built the walls: they measure about 550 m. of length, have 14 square towers and are topped by projecting battlements supported by small pseudo arches. In 1463 the castle passed from the Malatesta to the Sforza family who added a lovely internal portico, the grand staircase and the frescoes in the rooms where Lucrezia Borgia lived after her marriage to Giovanni Sforza (February 2, 1493). It later belonged to the Della Rovere family until it became part, together with the other lands of the Duchy of Urbino, of the Papal States (1631). After nearly three centuries of abandon, in 1920 Umberto Zanvettori used his own assets to gradually restore the fortress; until in 1983 it became a State property. Today Gradara displays its monumental fortified nucleus of town walls and towers and, among the old buildings in the town, preserves the churches of Saint John the Baptist, with a valuable wooden crucifix from the 15th century, and of “SS. Sacramento”, with an altar piece by Antonio Cimatori (1595). Inside the fortress is the prized altarpiece painted in 1484 by Giovanni Santi, father of Raffaello, for the old parish church of “Santa Sofia” . According to an ancient legend, the fortress of Gradara was the place where Giovanni Malatesta, called “lo Sciancato” [the cripple], murdered the lovers Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Polenta. The story was eternalized by Dante Alighieri in his famous verses (Divine Comedy – Inferno, Canto V).