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Halloween month special: The ghost stories haunting Tuscany’s top cities

October, 24 2019 ( Updated August, 20 2021)

Italy
Culture
Tuscany

Across the beautiful holiday region of Tuscany, there are plenty of eerie ghost stories to temp Halloween fans here this October…

Carved pumpkins line the wall of a typical Tuscan house

From iconic Pisa and bike-friendly Lucca to the timeless regional capital of Florence, the rich history, beauty and tragedy of these world-class cities invites holidaymakers to enjoy an alternative Halloween weekend break.

So, first and foremost, let’s celebrate All Hallow’s Eve with these creepy Tuscan tales!


Freakish stories from Florence

 

With so many tourist crowds flocking each day to ‘Palazzo Vecchio’ and ‘Piazza della Signoria’, it is tempting to think there’d be no room for paranormal activity.

You’d be wrong.


Centuries ago in 1441, the valiant fighter Baldacci d’Anghiari was wrongly accused of treason and brutally murdered within the confines of the Romanesque fortress-palace.

Betrayed in real life, it is said the ghost of the murdered Baldacci now haunts the area, commanding respect in the afterlife. So, if you’d like to avoid seeing him in person, you’re advised to speak in a low voice within the Palazzo, and not to utter his name, without good reason!

If you’re sceptical, then a sighting from 2001 may sway you…


A moody view over Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria


A loved-up couple were enjoying having some holiday photos taken in the ‘Piazzale Michelangelo’, just opposite the Palazzo. When they looked back at their photos, they were surprised to come across something. In one of the printed photos, a distinctly eerie face points towards Palazzo Vecchio, whilst staring directly at the camera. Analysed by tech experts, the photo was deemed to be real and unedited. After further investigation, it came to light that the face matches the very likeness of Baldaccio d’Anghiari!

‘Palazzo Vecchio’ and its square has indeed witnessed many more brutal executions in its day, so is it any wonder there may be a strong presence there?!

 

Just 8 minutes' walk away from ‘Piazza della Signoria’, you’ll come across the quaint 8th century ‘Church of Santa Maria Maggiore’. Looking up high on the northern wall, you’ll spot an isolated stone face of a woman. Who is she? Florentine legend says the stone face is that of a cursed woman, who was turned to stone by an angered man accused of witchcraft. As he was dragged to ‘Piazza Santa Croce’ to meet his fate, the woman had shouted to the crowd below from an open window not to give the man anything to quench his thirst. She explained it would prevent him from dying. Enraged by the stranger's command, the sorcerer had the last laugh, by turning her to stone and trapping her face forever within the church wall!


A bitter woman enraged a man accused of witchcraft - he turned her to stone


A little distance from the ‘Church of Santa Maria Maggiore’ is the curious case of the open window of ‘Palazzo Budini-Gattai’ (formerly ‘Palazzo Grifoni’) in ‘Piazza Santissima Annunziata’. Nothing unusual about an open window you may think (particularly during a Florentine summer)!

Until you hear the story…

Recently wed to one of the Grifoni sons, a young bride was swiftly abandoned by her new husband, as he was called up to fight in a war. He promised to return to her. With this promise, she faithfully waited for him in the palazzo. Every day in fact, by the same 2nd floor open window, on the far-right side of the palazzo. Decades past and her dutiful devotion came to nothing, for he never returned.


The sad wife waits for her husband, by the window of Palazzo Budini-Gattai


She died in the same room, never seeing her beloved husband again. Upon her death, the window was closed shut. It was then, that the atmosphere completely changed in the room. Furniture violently shook, paintings fells off the walls and books leapt from their shelves. The terrified spectators promptly put two and two together, and opened the window again.

The eerie drama immediately stopped.

Ever since, the window has been left ajar to comfort and appease the heart-broken wife, whose spirit lives on in hope.

 

The petrifying past of Pisa…

 

A full moon hangs above the sky of Pisa


It turns out the popular city of Pisa also has a spooky side.


Some say they hear the famous Lord Bryon climbing the stairs on horseback in the National Archive building (the former ‘Palazzo Toscanelli’, which was his home from 1820-1821). It is said the Victorian poet-in residence would make a habit of riding up the stairs on horseback, and later devote hours to writing, within the dark chambers below the Renaissance palace.


A statue of Lord Byron - his ghost is said to haunt Palazzo Toscanelli


Within the San Francesco quarter of Pisa, some ghostly goings on have occurred around the area of the local theatre, close to the former ‘Church of Sant’Andrea’. A host of eyewitnesses have reported sightings of a man wandering the narrow streets at night, dressed in typical medieval-era clothes. The ghostly figure is said to then walk straight through the closed door of the church.

Local research has revealed the spectre to be that of Pietro della Vigna. The 12th century diplomat met a rather tragic end. He committed suicide in that same very church, after failing to defend his master from allegations of heresy.


An altogether more gruesome haunting has been reported by students of the ‘Scuola Normale Superiore’ in ‘Pizza dei Cavalieri’...

Back in the 1980’s, chilling cries could be heard from behind the library wall. Many believed the cries to be from the frightened children of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca. Accused of treachery by the Archbishop, the count and his family were locked up in the Gualandi tower of their house. The keys to the tower were thrown into the River Arno, by the bitter Archbishop. Left in the tower to starve, the imprisoned Count went desperately insane, devouring the flesh of his own children. The remains of the unfortunate corpses were finally laid to rest at the beginning of the last century, in the Gherardeschi family chapel.


Count Ugolino della Gherardesca sobs, driven desperate by his confinement


Aside from their cries, the Count’s spirit is said to appear on the site of the former tower (which was demolished after the prisoners’ deaths). The ghost is said to be in rags, with the frantic eyes of a madman, driven insane by his own captivity and murderous depravity. In the numerous sightings, he appears angered at the sight that his tower house is no more. Understandably, it is said the ground there is cursed, so no one has felt brave enough to build upon the site. Instead, the site forms the garden of the city’s ‘Fiume e Fossi’ offices.

 

A lurid tale from Lucca

 

Stormy skies above Lucca


Within the beautiful botanical gardens of this great Tuscan city, lies a rather alluring ghost story.


The story goes that once upon a time, there lived the Lucchesi noblewoman, Lucida Mansi (1606 – 1649). Famed across the land for her beauty, it seemed the young, pampered girl was equally enraptured with herself. She would gaze at herself in mirrors whenever the opportunity arose, even installing a room of mirrors in her new martial home, for this very purpose.


The figure of Lucida Mansi, gazing in a mirror


Married young, her first husband Vincenzo Diversi died soon after their wedding, in mysterious circumstances. The young, beautiful widow was swiftly married off to the wealthy (much older) silk merchant, Gaspare di Nicolao Mansi. In her new marriage she was able to indulge in a luxuriant lifestyle of decadence, lavish parties and privilege. As well as her own vanity!


Forever obsessed by her own youth and beauty, she became distraught at the sight of her first wrinkle. With that, she made a pact with the Devil...


An evil Lucida Mansi made a pact with the Devil


The Devil agreed to give her 30 more youthful years, in return for her soul. Upon her death it would be his, for all eternity. As the years went by, the ever-youthful Lucida’s taste for love making took a more sinister side. She began to take pleasure in killing her admirers after each amorous meeting. She installed a trap door with sharp blades underneath the room, to the frightful shock of each unsuspecting victim(!)

Two stories surround the death of this infamouse femme fatale; neither one is less dramatic.

It is said that upon dying of the plague in 1649, the Devil dragged Lucida's lifeless body through a gaping void which opened up on the floor of the marital bedroom in Palazzo Mansi. Today, the eerie ‘hell’ hole is covered up with a floor plug.

Another story goes that upon her death, the Devil drove her personally to hell, in a carriage engulfed in flames (eyewitnesses have reported seeing the blazon carriage race through the botanical garden on a moonlit night, before diving into the depths of the pond).

One thing’s for sure, if the Devil does exist, it may be that both stories are true!

It is said that if you stare into the water of the pond, the youthful reflection of Lucida will soon come into view.


The pond at Lucca Botanical Gardens 

Intrigued by these ghostly goings on? See them for yourself, take a trip to Tuscany!

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