Poppi Castle, the Campaldino battle, and history’s irony
The battle of Campaldino between some twenty thousand men – Ghibellines mostly from Arezzo and Guelphs from Florence – was fought right in front of the Conti Guidi Castle, also known as Poppi Castle, in the province of Arezzo. On the Florentine side, a twenty-four-year-old Dante Alighieri served with his hometown’s “feditori”, an aristocratic corps who attacked the enemy with light weapons on horses, to overwhelm the opponents with a violent first strike.
Perhaps Dante referred to that bloody June 11, 1289 in his “Inferno” (Canto XXII) when he wrote,
I have erewhile seen horsemen moving camp, / Begin the storming, and their muster make, / And sometimes starting off for their escape; / Vaunt-couriers have I seen upon your land, / O Aretines, and foragers go forth, / Tournaments stricken, and the joustings run, / Sometimes with trumpets and sometimes with bells, / With kettle-drums, and signals of the castles, / And with our own, and with outlandish things.
In the end, the Florentine faction won and continued to reaffirm its supremacy over Tuscany. Two thousand men died that day, almost all among the defeated.
Poppi Castle was built around 1274 according to a design by Arnolfo di Cambio, the great architect from Colle Val d’Elsa who would create Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio twenty years later. The two buildings indeed look alike, to the point some consider the Conti Guidi’s fortress to be a “prototype” of Florence’s major place of power.
History has its own irony, it seems.