A few years ago, reporters went wild with stories on the Castle of Santa Severa – located along the ancient Via Aurelia, near Rome – writing front-page pieces about the unsettling spectral presences that supposedly haunted its halls.
The ridiculous clamor – obviously spurred by commercial motives, as newspapers needed to boost sales as much as they do today – was based on the discovery of an ancient cemetery in the castle’s hypogea.
The fact was that one of the 415 bodies buried in that cemetery – used between the 9th and 14th centuries – belonged to a rich medieval knight who was found kneeling, instead of lying down. The odd position led some to the terrible assumption he had been buried alive, and that he had tried to escape from his terrible destiny once he woke up. Articles from the time surmised a posthumous revenge of the unfortunate nobleman, starting a rumor that his spirit often frightened the staff taking care of the 11th-century building, built near a pre-existing Saracen tower.
The mayor of Santa Marinella – the municipality to which Santa Severa belongs – brilliantly exploited the tall tale to increase the town’s tourist appeal. Thus a growing number of people had the chance to discover the medieval village, the castle overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea (which on top of everything else is home to the Museum of the Sea and of Ancient Navigation), and the history of Pyrgi, the ancient Etruscan port that used to be where Santa Severa is now.
Sometimes, even lies can accidentally help beauty.