A Castle Tour to Remember: Fumone

Ever arrive at a hotel or bed and breakfast and immediately regret making the reservation? We had a close call like that when trying to cram in lots of research into a short amount of time.

The research subject was Pope Celestine V—you’ve seen his name on this blog before. He resigned as pope in 1294, and was promptly taken prisoner by his successor, Pope Boniface VIII, to prevent Celestine’s friends from claiming that his resignation was coerced. (I don’t believe it was.) Boniface sent the former pope to the castle of Fumone, on a hilltop two hours north of Naples, where he died in 1296.

We phoned the day before our visit, and a man with a fine command of the English language assured us there were tours available in English, and even overnight accommodations. As our travel times were uncertain, we decided to play it loose and didn’t reserve a room.
Fumone’s hilltop fortress, between Rome and Naples.

Fumone is a spectacular sample of a medieval hilltop fortress, with parking outside the walls, and narrow twisting cobblestone streets.  We parked and walked through the gates in mid-afternoon, eager to find the castle inside the fortress, and begin our tour. We enjoyed wandering through the streets, but could not find the castle entrance, nor any real help finding it, because the
town was pretty deserted.

Darkness was falling by the time we knocked—and waited—at the castle door. It looked like no one was home, but after a few minutes a light came on, and a young man of Pakistani or maybe Indian origin opened the door. When we explained we wanted a tour in English, he reluctantly invited us to step into the entryway, then yelled up the stairs to an older man of similar origin, in a language we did not understand. They argued, apparently about who would be stuck showing us around, and the older man lost, so off we went with him. He turned lights off as we left the entry, and lights on as we came to each new room, so it seemed that whatever room we were in was the only lighted room in the castle. A little eerie.

As our guide began to describe…  ?? What was he saying? We came to realize he was speaking English, but with his thick south Asian accent, pretty much everything required two or three repetitions for us to understand. Our first stop was the chapel built adjacent to the “cell” where Pope Celestine spent his last months. The chapel was built at a later date, from the room which housed Celestine’s companions during his imprisonment. On the chapel wall hangs a shadowbox style reliquary containing relics of various saints and holy objects, and in true Roman Catholic style, it contains a relic of Celestine himself—a tooth.

Then, in dramatic tones our guide says there is another very sad story connected to the castle’s history, and it is difficult for some people. Are we sure we want to see it? Yes?  He leads us to another room with a portrait on the wall of a mother and child. This woman and her husband had only daughters, and prayed for a son. They were overjoyed when their prayer was answered, but their daughters knew very well that their brother would inherit all the family’s wealth. They poisoned their brother. But the mother, unable to part with her son, kept his body preserved (we are directed to look at a closed cabinet) so she could always be
near him. Inside the cupboard we are shown a glass case holding said child, and his little wardrobe of clothes and toys stored with him.

Then there is the virgin’s well…. I’m just going to let you read about that on the castle’s website here: http://www.castellodifumone.it/italy/arx/pozzo2.htm

We no longer had any interest in lodging at the castle, even though lodging at castles is always an enthralling prospect for me. No, we completed the tour, made our way down the hill in the dark, and were glad to find a room at a dreary, cold hotel a few miles away.