Cangrande’s refuge

Castelvecchio, the Old Castle, was built by the Scala family during the 14th century when they were the rulers of Verona. It became their residence and fortress during the rule of Cangrande II in 1354.

Cangrande, appropriately enough, translates as “top dog”.

Like most buildings that are now called the ‘Old’ something, the Old Castle wasn’t called ‘Old’ when it was new. It got the name ‘Old’ when the newer fortifications were built on the hill of San Pietro.

Bridge at Castelvecchio

Attached to the Old Castle is this fortified bridge called Ponte Scaligero over the River Adige, which the Scala family eventually had to use to make their escape from the city when they had fallen out of power.

Museum in Castelvecchio

In the Old Castle there is now an interesting museum with artworks from several centuries.

A painting of Salome in the Castelvecchio museum

Salome was the daughter of Herodias and the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. Her story is told twice in the Bible. Here is St. Mark’s account of it (Mark 6:21-28):

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.

When Oscar Wilde wrote his play Salome in 1890 he made one essential change to the story. In his version is it not the mother who gets the idea of demanding the head of John the Baptist, it is Salome herself, because she wanted to kiss him and he refused. This is also the version that Richard Strauss used for his opera in 1905.

My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: Salome in the opera tent in Liège, Belgium.

5 thoughts on “Cangrande’s refuge”

  1. Old and New, it is a matter of perspective. As always, a nice mix of humor and history, keeping even a non-history buff like me in the game.

  2. I was privileged enough to get to stay here in 2010 for a G8 ministerial summit. The room was a bit cell-like with bare walls and a very high small window – in fact it may actually have been a converted dungeon! – but the food was fantastic. All local produce, so lots of Parmesan, Parma ham and prosecco. Even though I’m vegetarian and the meals were heavy on the local asparagus, it was great. Lovely building.

  3. So this is in a way the opposite in terms of naming to Newcastle, where the castle was called ‘new’ when it was first built (logically) and the epithet stuck, although today only in the city name, not the castle 😉

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