Personal Journeys


April 10, 2005|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

'Living' chess is a crowning touch

By Gene Taylor


I was 7 years old when my father, a Baltimore firefighter, gave me my first chess set as a Christmas present.

It was a standard Staunton chess set, made out of wood, with a king that stood about 4 inches high. My father proceeded to teach me the game, which led to my lifelong fascination with chess and its history, players and events.

I was about 10 when I first learned of a "living" chess match played in a little town in Italy called Marostica. The game was first re-enacted on Sept. 2, 1923, and is now held on even years during the second weekend in September. I remember wishing that I could one day actually be there to see the event in person.

While planning a September trip to Italy with my wife and friends, I realized that the living chess event, properly called in Italian, La Partita a Scacchi di Marostica, was being held during the first weekend we were in Italy, and we planned to attend.

My friend thought that he might fall asleep during the performance because nothing could be so boring as watching two people play chess, even if the pieces were alive.

The story of the Marostica chess game dates to 1454. Two noblemen fell in love with the beautiful Lionora, daughter of the Lord of Marostica's castle.

As was the custom, they challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of Lionora. Lionora's father, not wanting to make an enemy of either suitor or lose either in a duel, decided the two rivals should play a chess game. Lionora would take the winner as her husband. The loser would also join the family, marrying Oldrada, Lionora's younger sister.

The game was played with real people in front of the castle. (The actual game moves are lost to history.) Today's re-enacted game is based on moves from "The Immortal Game," a match played in 1851 by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. It is one of the most famous chess games of all time.

The more than two-hour Marostica pageant is filled with some 550 costumed locals in elegant period costumes. The performers included flag-tossers and jugglers, and there are parades that include the living chess pieces. A jester captured our attention as he wandered on and off the chessboard and into the stands to interact with the spectators.

Marostica is a lovely little town in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. The ancient protective walls of the city rise up the hillside and end at a major bastion at the top of the hill. It was a wonderful town to visit, and it was the highlight of our trip, not to mention the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Gene Taylor lives in Towson.

My Best Shot

Judith Zahren, Baltimore

Yellowstone the beautiful

My friends and I experienced many beautiful scenes at Yellowstone National Park last summer. An eight-hour tour covered a third of the park. The weather was perfect -- sunny and clear. The song "America the Beautiful" kept running through my head all day. We saw eagles, herons, owls, fox and elk. A return trip to Yellowstone is on my short list of future destinations.

Readers Recommend

Cape Horn, South America

Edward Hullett, Skyesville

While navigating the Beagle Channel on the way to Cape Horn, I was impressed by the stark beauty of Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. The depth of the water surrounding its rocky base is treacherously shallow, and my thoughts were of all the unfortunate sailors who did not make it safely through this narrow passage. When we rounded the Horn without incident, I could not help but breathe a sigh of relief.

Holland, Mich.

Larry Ey, Bel Air

Our annual motor-home trek took us to Holland, Mich., last summer, where we saw the 240-year-old DeZwaan windmill. The windmill, 12 stories high, was originally operated in Holland, near Amsterdam, but was shipped to Michigan in pieces in 1964. The mill produces fine graham flour.

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