For those with a passion for castles and the legends to which they are often linked, Squillace, in the province of Catanzaro, is a must. Here, in fact, you can visit the remains of an ancient manor from the one-eyed stone wall, on which the stone gate stands the weapon in marble of the Borgia family, known now for the mystery of the “scheletri abbracciati” (embracing skeletons).
In 1044 Squillace was conquered by the Normans, becoming one of the largest feudal counties of the South. It was the Normans who built the castle (where there was a fortification of the Byzantine era – the last bastion conquered by the Arabs in Calabria in 904), which was given the name “Stridula,” for “shrill”, indeed for the fact that the wind causes whistling within its walls. Architecturally, the complex with a presents as discontinuous structure, apparently because over the centuries, it was the subject of several changes, additions and functional redevelopments. The facade consists of two imposing towers, one cylindrical and the other polygonal.
Then comes Roger I of Hauteville, a Norman, whose name is linked to the revival of Squillace after the Byzantine and Arabic conquest. In this period, in fact, as well as the reform of religious rites, he stabilized in the community of Squillace an atmosphere of peaceful and fruitful coexistence of languages, races and cultures. The Hauteville dynasty, which dominated Squillace for about a century, expressed by personalities such as Robert Guiscard, the Counts of Ruggero, Eberhard, William and Richard, but also important female figures as Adelaide, Elizabeth, and Sichelgaita and Medania. It is documented that the on July 29, 1098, the Castle was the scene of a meeting between the great Count Roger de Hauteville and St. Bruno of Cologne, in the presence of the Blessed Lancino and last bishop of Greek-Byzantine rite, Teodoro Misimerio.
The catastrophic earthquake of 1783 did not spare the Castle Squillace. The force of the earthquake, in fact, caused numerous collapses in the structure, changing the profile forever.
The mystery of the “lovers” buried (alive?)
In the early nineties, arriving in Squillace was the Ecole Francaise, the prestigious institution based in Rome, specializing in historical, archaeological and sociological research, to begin a campaign of excavations at the Castle. During the same time, two skeletons “locked in a tender embrace,” were unearthed, having been buried in the inside corner of the fortress, coinciding with the polygonal tower. Their feet turned to the northeast, having the tower as a reference, lying hand in hand, with the skulls facing each other. These things have sparked the imagination of scholars, curious about their identity and their sad fate. Through the scientific findings of the Superintendent of Antiquities of Calabria and the studies carried out by experts from the Ecole Francaise, it was found that the skeletons belong to a woman and a man who lived at the turn of 1200 and 1300. The male was tall 1.70 mtr the female 1.68.
Considering the period in which presumably their deaths occurred, their (unusual) burial, and the stature of their bodies, it is conceivable that they were not of local origin. More likely, one might think “Nordic” in origin which would be also supported by the particular context in which the events had taken place. While it is difficult to speculate on the specific situation of the two “lovers,” it’s certainly useful, on the other, to frame the period in which the event would have happened.
Guido Rhodio, journalist, politician and founder of the Institute of Study of Cassiodorus and the Middle Ages in Calabria, in his capacity writes in the magazine Vivarium Scyllacense: “… and in the succession of this whirling tumult, remaining still largely unexplored is the mystery of young lovers buried alive in the castle of Squillace, whose skeletons were uncovered tenderly embracing during recent archaeological excavations of the Ecole Francaise.” referring to conflicts and plots, often obscure, that marked relations and alternations of power between Swabians, Angevins and Aragonese between 1200 and 1300 specifically Calabrian and Squillacian. With a certain trust in test results on the remains of the pair, he concluded: “One will understand, that it, if the sentimental love story of two young loves or lovers was the consequence of the terrible and deadly conflicts registered in the Squillacian manor between Byzantine and Norman families, the Normans and Swabians or Swabians and Angevins and Aragonese, or if can be explained as the culminations of an impossible or unrequited love, exploding within the same family of Lords and Dignitaries or Knights of the feudal Squallacians.” Who really knows, but for now (thankfully) the mystery still remains.