Romance may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of a chess game, but if there is one constant in the chess world, it is the game’s ability to surprise when least expected, to open your mind to a new possibility, and its romantic nature is no exception. The themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and protecting the queen all speak to the drama, and passion that flows like lava deep beneath the earth, and that are found at the heart of every move a player makes. One town in Italy honors both the history and passion found in the game of chess, by depicting a legendary chess match that puts love on the line.
The town of Marostica in Italy is in and of itself, a dream-like setting. Featuring a castle nestled into a small forest on a hill, it is here at the base of the castle that the most fantastical chess game you may ever witness plays out in life-size fashion during a 3 day festival : La Partita a Scacchi Viventi, or, The Living Chess Game. The festival is an incredible display of community, with nearly a thousand people coming together every two years to recreate the story of Lady Lionora, and the two men who were prepared to face death to win her love.
As the story goes, each man was enchanted by Lionora’s grace and charm, and knowing she could only marry one of them, they challenged each other to duel until only one remained. Lionora did not wish for either man to be hurt and went to her father, Lord of the Manor and Governor of Marostica, to explain the situation and devise a solution. So it was decided that the two men would engage in the honorable game of chess on a grand scale. Each piece was brought to life by a real person, dressed in finery, and allowing for a brilliant display of pageantry and ceremony honoring both competitors. To this day the showmanship, passion, and love of love, live on in Marostica as the chess board returns to life with armored men on horseback, queens and kings attended to by servants, and heroic pawns who move nobly across the board.
All in all, La Partita a Scacchi Viventi, is a true labor of love on its own, painstakingly recreating this epic story with faithful attention to detail, from the clothing, to the language, to the display of fireworks as checkmate is proclaimed at the game’s end. But it is the festival’s emphasis on the fiery nature and intense, all-consuming power of love that makes The Living Chess Game a testament to the soul in love, and the strength found in its benevolence. This Valentine’s Day we hope you are inspired by love in all its forms, and that you receive love that is both fierce and compassionate, humble yet majestic, and that it continues to grow and live on through the ages.