Il Castello di Arechi
This castle, started in the 800′s, and added to for 300 years, looms over the city of Salerno, but isn’t just a ruin. The steps and stairs and many public areas are maintained, there’s a small museum and cafe (no Italian goes three steps without an espresso) and there’s even an elevator (which we didn’t find until we were leaving, which was character-building). The day we came, the Castle was paying for its keep by catering a lunch for cruise ship passengers and acting as a romantic backdrop for wedding photos.
The view of the city and harbour is immense and gorgeous. No enemy could ever have gotten close without being seen from a distance.
Two walls extend down from either end of the castle to embrace and protect the old city of Salerno, and you can still make them out, with some difficulty. So the view from the air is of a piece of pie, and the white stone castle is the little bit of whipped cream squirted onto the tip.
The dungeons show the remains of some old graffiti done by artistic prisoners – St. Leonardo, the patron saint of prisoners, and St. Catherine, the patron saint of people who suffer. St. Catherine suffered by refusing to marry Maxentius, a Roman emperor of the 4th century, who immediately and persuasively threw her into prison and then continued his courtship by having her tortured on a daily basis. I would have told him to try roses first. His whole approach reminded me of the sign I saw on a Naval officer’s desk once: ”The floggings will continue until morale improves.”
Anyways, Maxentius, finding that Catherine was as stubborn as he was hot-headed, threatened to have her tortured on a giant spiked wheel. The power of prayer ensured that the wheel broke down. They don’t say how a wheel, which is not exactly a complicated piece of machinery, can break. In any case, Maxentius had to settle for having her beheaded instead, which apparently was a disappointment for him, but certainly taught her a lesson. Ever since, Catherine is always pictured with the great spiked wheel, as a reminder of what might have been.
I cannot imagine living in a castle. The day was hot and muggy, and the interior was dank, and now I know what they mean by “an airless space.” With no cross breeze, I soon became a claustrophobic puddle, and could not wait to get outside to feel a puff of wind on my skin.
Once upon a time, some other poor woman, dressed in all her medieval gowns and skirts, was probably even more miserable than I was. That was on the day she lost her precious thimble, found centuries later by archaeologists, and now on display in the castle’s museum. It is made of bronze, and has an open top, just like the ones we have that leave room for long fingernails. Nicely rounded and uniformly dimpled, I can imagine she sat herself down and had herself a good cry when she discovered it was gone. It’s a fairly large size, and given the stature of Mediterranean women, perhaps she used it on her thumb. Or maybe its large size was the reason it dropped, unnoticed, from her finger.
Whatever the situation, I always find museum exhibits containing personal possessions of this sort just a little bit sad. They make me wonder which of my prize possessions might someday be an exhibit for people to gaze upon without knowing any of the significance that it once had for me.
My wedding ring? The silver teaspoons that belonged to my grandmother? And whatever will they make of all those plastic bottles?