A Forgotten Legend

Written by  Giorgio Franceschini
They say that in the palazzo Prosperi Sacrati, on old Via dei Piopponi...
Corso Ercole I d'Este is far too well known to try to describe in just a few lines the hold it can have over those who walk its length. However, in a slim volume published in Siena in 1866 and written by one Panazza, an ardent patriot in earlier years, I read of a most strange affair involving a house in old Via dei Piopponi, which I feel should not be allowed to drift into obscurity.

The story concerns the famous Palazzo Prosperi. The palazzo, which has a splendid and valuable gateway, was started in the closing years of the 1400s by the ducal doctor, Francesco da Castello, and then passed into the hands of the Giraldi family, the Sacrati marquises, the Prosperi counts until eventually, around seventy years ago, it became an asset of the Italian state. Since 1988 it has been the property of the City of Ferrara.

This Panazza, then, paused one day to admire the celebrated gateway and, running his glance over the walls of the building, he noticed that between the windowsill and the marble cornice under the second window, the wall was splattered with blood. He stopped an old man passing by to inquire about it, and was told this story.

At the end of the eighteenth century, the count, a widower, lived in the palazzo with his beautiful, well-mannered and kind daughter Nelda. One afternoon in October 1796 the count, leaning on the balcony, heard the cries of exultation of the populace following the proclamation of the Cispadane Republic at Ferrara. Overcome by enthusiasm, he invited his daughter to attend the celebrations and made her swear to hate forever the enemies of Italy. And Nelda, imprudently, swore the oath.

Two and a half years on, the Austrians returned to Ferrara and, alas, it happened that Nelda fell in love with an officer who she met in the church of Sant'Orsola. Secret meetings followed in a hidden chapel. Everything was going perfectly until some unknown party spilt the beans to the count.

The count, out of his mind with anger, set out to punish his oath-breaking daughter in the most horrible manner. It was the last night of the century, starless and black as sin, and midnight was sounding from the towers of Ferrara. The lover arrived in the darkness and quietly called to Nelda, who appeared, anxiously. But on the balcony above the couple, armed with the sharpest of blades, the patriotic but merciless count was spying on them. On the stroke of midnight, the count hurled his sword from the balcony and struck his daughter clean on the head, killing her on the spot. The horrified Austrian, covered in his lover's blood, ran from the scene.

No other reason is known for that bloodstain, but it is said that from that day since a swallow has flown over the palazzo, singing a lament.
A made-up story? We would like to hope so. However, the curious reader may wish to try and calculate the trajectory of the blade, or perhaps wait for the swallow to pass; certainly, for the royal Via dei Piopponi, one more legend will not be out of place.