Unearthing Italy's Hidden Renaissance Castles: The Borgia and Orsini Affair
Having a home in the fascinating historic town of Vejano, north of Rome, fueled Marcello Assandri’s curiosity about the history of the area. He has scoured the National State Italian Archive, the Secret Vatican Library, the Orsini Archives in Rome and in Los Angeles, the Regional State Archive in Viterbo, the local Government Archive in Vejano, several of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings in different digital libraries, the archive of the local parish and many publications on the historical period known as the High Renaissance (1492 – 1519).
This extensive research led to some intriguing hypotheses regarding key figures of power and control at the time, especially the feuding between the Borgia and the Orsini families, their lives, and their interactions. It has also uncovered a history of Vejano that was lost due to events in the 19th and 20th century which left the records interred.
Perhaps the most exciting reveal though, is that Marcello’s research has led him to the whereabouts of multiple lost castles. He deduced he could find these lost castles (or at least what is left of their ruins) in the nearby countryside, some left unnoticed and almost forgotten for centuries. In the final instal;ment, a castle complex which is absent from historical records is revealed.
Marcello also has a keen interest in astroarchaeology, and his research has led him to conclude that the known castle in Vejano, (the Borgia Rocca, known prior to 1872 as Viano) was built in combination with other, lesser castles in the region to form a Taurus (Viano), Orion (Oriolo), and Pleiades (Rota) constellation pattern. If he is correct, this is quite a revelation, and has been lost to history until now!
Here is the full series:
- Unearthing Italy's Hidden Renaissance Castles 1: The Borgia and Orsini Affair
- Unearthing Italy's Hidden Renaissance Castles 2: Bracciano Castle, the Orsini HQ
- Unearthing Italy's Hidden Renaissance Castles 3: Rites and Recreation in the Renaissance
- Unearthing Italy's Hidden Renaissance Castles 4: Escape Route Rome
- Unearthing Italy’s Hidden Renaissance Castles 5: Castle Complex Discovered
Over this series, Ancient Origins follows Marcello as he elucidates his findings and scours the landscape to find the precise locations of these fallen fortresses. Each day his video diary (below) reports back on his findings, augmenting the details presented in the articles and taking you to the actual locations of the story. This is an historical investigation in action, the research has been done, the evidence found, and now Marcello is following the trail to its ultimate end. It should be quite a trip!
On September 26th, 2023 the Castle of Viano, Vejano, Italy will host a very select group of international experts from seven countries for a private visit. The last professional visit documentation goes back to 1609 signed by the architect Orazio Torriani. For 414 years the interior of the castle of Viano has not been studied or open to the public. We will be there via Marcello to cover this historic occasion!
Will Marcello’s investigations bear fruit? Are his deductions correct? Do the castles still exist? What further revelations has Marcello got for us on the murky goings on in this Renaissance Italian region, and the cosmological connections that were playing out? Follow the series published in the next few days to follow the story.
Now over to Marcello to set the scene.
Sowing the Seeds of the Castle Quest
Hello. My name is Marcello Assandri. I live part of the year in Vejano, Italy where I bought a 14th century tower palace situated in front of a Renaissance triangular castle (La Rocca), known in the history of architecture as a ‘rivellino’. There are not many such castles. All are the works of the best military architects of the time - the Sangallo Sect whose members included Leonardo da Vinci.
Marcello Assandri outside Castillo San Agello in Rome.
They were followers of Pythagoras, all of them being from Florence and raised in the Medici academy. They worked on the Viano castle (now Vejano) seemingly aligning it to the Taurus Constellation at the time of Pope Borgia Alexander VI.
In 1496 the Borgias and the Orsini went to war against each other. The stronghold of the Orsini was the Castle of Bracciano, in Lazio. The town of Viano had been given to the Orsini vassals - the Santacroce family - who became Lord of the Feud of Viano. The newly created Feud of Viano caused a diplomatic controversy which involved the Vatican, Pope Alexander VI, the brother of Lorenzo de Medici, Piero de Medici, the King of France and the King of the Kingdom of Naples.
Cesare Borgia, illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI (from when he was a cardinal), destroyed the Viano Castle in 1496 and kept it for at least four years under Borgia rule.
- The House of Borgia: Family Of Great Renown, Wealth And Corruption
- Pope Alexander VI: Unscrupulous Borgia Patriarch With a Lust for Power
Portrait of Pope Alexander VI by Cristofano dell'Altissimo, Uffizi Gallery. (Public Domain)
The military strategy against the Borgia by the Orsini had been to concentrate all forces in the castles of Bracciano and Viano and abandon all secondary castles. Through the study of notary documents of the time, I have found ruins of three of these minor castles now in the forest, and I will reveal them to you over the coming episodes.
Day 1: Location 1: Oriolo Romano Palazzo Altieri (or Santacroce) Museum
The first place we will visit in order to help set the scene, is the Palazzo Altieri or Santacroce in the city of Oriolo Romano, to learn some of the history of the feuding families and their affiliations, and to uncover some of the evidence of the whereabouts of two lost castles.
The video footage will unravel real discoveries in the history of the Renaissance. These are, literally, something new, left unrecorded the history books of Italy. The series of episodes will end in Rome where we will see the Santacroce Palace and Tower, and the Castle of Pope Borgia Alexander VI.
The series will give you an insight into how devastating was the war between the Borgia and the Orsini in the military northeast sector for the defense of Rome during the papacy of Pope Borgia Alexander VI.
Oriolo Romano is an Ideal City - “Citta’ Ideale” - of the Renaissance, created by the Feudal Lords of the Viano Feud in 1570. This was Oriolo Romano, the second Ideal City that they created, the first being Viano, now Vejano.
Oriolo was aligned with the Orion Constellation 77 years after they became Lords of Viano Feud.
Inside the Palazzo Altieri we can see a painting of Viano as painted in 1595-97, during the Renaissance.
- The Banquet of Chestnuts: A Perverse Pastime at the House of Borgia?
- Caterina Sforza: A Renaissance Warrior Woman That Knew How to Get What She Wanted
Image of Viano (today Vejano) north of Rome during the Renaissance. The wall painting, found in the is dated 1595-97. (Marcello Assandri)
Faintly in the background you can see two castle fortifications which are found in notary documents of the time: Alteto and Torre d’Ischia. These two castles are unknown to Renaissance historians, but we will visit both of them! This evidence is explored further in the introductory video from the Palazzo Altieri Museum at Oriolo Romano, below.
The Astroarchaeology of Oriolo Castle
Oriolo, as the name indicates, was designed to mirror the Orion Constellation. This ‘ideal city’ was built by Giorgio Santacroce III in 1570. The times had changed and the Santacroce family had evolved from a military family into a family of clergymen and administrators in the Vatican.
The new city was meant to display the growing status of the Santacroce family in the Vatican hierarchy. As of 1562 residents from nearby provinces were invited to relocate in the new city. There was a need for a representative work, to show the increasing status of the Santacroce family. It was for this reason that he began to build the second Ideal City. He called to the castle of Viano the notary of Viano Ser Pietro on April 18, 1560 to draw up a notarial deed founding Oriolo, and construction was completed in 1570.
Points of the Orion star constellation, superimposed on a map of Oriolo Romano. The star points fall on ‘particular sites’ around Oriolo Romano (Source: Patrizia di Filippo. Oriolo Romano: un Luogo, un Simbolo, un Messaggio. Pg.75.)
Oriolo Romano from a wall painting inside the Oriolo Castle (Marcello Assandri)
What is also interesting about this castle is, later on Pope Clement X, before his election as Cardinal, commissioned the copy of the portraits of the Popes according to the Prophecy of Malachy (1094-1148) and his vision of the 241 portraits of Popes became known as the Prophecy of the Popes, the last being the Black Pope (Il Papa Nero). These are the only surviving images of the Popes, as the originals were destroyed in a fire in Rome during the late 18th century.
Some of the Pope portraits, the center of which here is Pope Alexander VI, particularly important to this historic exploration. (Marcello Assandri)
Day 1: Location 2: The First Lost Castle Site – Alteto Castle
After following the clues in his research, Marcello hit the road to find the lost Alteto Castle visible in the painting at Palazzo Altieri, and this video diary shows how it went.
The hill near Vejano where the Alteto Castle is hidden. (Marcello Assandri)
At the base of one of the Alteto Castle towers. (Marcello Assandri)
Remains of a tower at Alteto Castle. (Marcello Assandri)
Top image: Marcello at the site of Alteto Castle, near Vejano, Lazio, Italy. Source: Marcello Assandri
All video courtesy of Marcello Assandri.
For more details of the informative and adventurous history tours Marcello provides, contact him at: [email protected]