Perched on a cliff controlling the right bank of the Arno, a short distance from Pratovecchio, Romena Castle is one of the perfect places to relive the magic of the Middle Ages in the Casentino.
In 1008, the town of Romena and its first fortress were under the control of Guido di Alberto, a member of the noble lineage of the Marquises of Spoleto. During the 11th century, ownership passed to the Alberti Counts, who also called themselves Counts of Romena. At that time, the castle was smaller than today, characterised by a keep protected by a wall circuit at the top of the hill.
Countess Ermellina Alberti, at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, brought the place and other Casentino possessions as dowry in her marriage to Count Guido IV. From then on, Romena became one of the symbols par excellence of the dominion of the Guidi Counts in the Casentino valley, and they promoted the encastellation that still characterises the territory of the upper course of the Arno today. From the Castle of Romena and other fortresses, the noble family could control the road network from Arezzo to northern Tuscany and Romagna.
During the XII century, the towers of the manor were transformed and strengthened. The great Piazza d’Armi was also created with its new walls, separated from the summit area of the Cassero.
In 1213, the Guidi Counts gave rise to four comital branches. Aghinolfo, a strong supporter of Ghibellinism, inaugurated that of Romena, which became the reference centre of a vast county over which the Guidi exercised their legal and political power. From the tensions and feuds with the other family branches, Florence took advantage on several occasions to gradually extend its presence also in the Casentino valley.
The XIII century was, however, a period of great development for the castle, with the raising of the Torre del Mastio and the Torre della Postierla, the construction of the Palazzo Comitale and the Torre delle Prigioni, the raising of the inner walls of the Cassero and the construction of a third circle with eleven quadrangular perimeter towers and four access gates, of which Porta Bacia and Porta Gioiosa remain well-preserved. A village developed within the new walls.
In the early XIV century, the Guidi Counts of Romena hosted Dante Alighieri, exiled from Florence, in their manor. Between 1357 and 1359, the last representatives of the branch, Piero and Uberto, ceded the rights to the Florentine Republic, which set up an office there.
Having lost its military importance, already by the sixteenth century the fortress fell into gradual decay, also caused by the earthquake of 1579. The walls became a quarry providing material for the houses in the area and the terracing of cultivated fields. Between the XVIII and XIX centuries, the Cassero area was put to agricultural use, the moat filled in and the structures rebuilt.
In 1768, the Goretti de’ Flamini Counts purchased some buildings in the immediate vicinity of the castle at auction, and in 1786 they also acquired the ruins of the fortification. Thanks to Count Ottaviano, in the first half of the last century the recovery of much of what had been saved of the castle began. It is worth mentioning that in 1902 the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio set up a tent in the Piazza d’Armi and found inspiration for the composition of the collection “Alcyone”.
Since its reopening to the public in 2007, Romena Castle is among the most visited places in the Casentino. Inside the Casa del Podestà, tourists can also observe a scale reconstruction of the castle as it appeared in the thirteenth century, to better understand its grandeur.
A little further down the valley, Fonte Branda commemorates the forger Mastro Adamo da Brescia, who in 1281 paid with his life for having forged the florins of the Florentine Republic on behalf of the Guidi Counts. Dante Alighieri included him in the XXX canto of the Inferno. Descending further, we reach the slopes of the fortified hill, where the Pieve di San Pietro a Romena, an absolute masterpiece of Casentino Romanesque architecture, awaits us.