A daisy…for the Ottoman empire

MaremmaPeople often fear the month of January: it is the beginning of a new year, of the unknown, and we all have expectations about what the coming year holds. I’ve always imagined January to be an austere and imposing character observing the other months, laying in wait under him, with severity, his arms crossed.

Our journey into the new year has just begun; some of us already know that we will take a well-trodden path, others will start out on a new adventure, following where events lead them…but for now I suggest you all follow me in this Tuscan Journey, it may seem a little unusual for the time of year, but I can assure you it’ll be worth your while.
Imagine a castle, built on a cliff-top which rises steeply out of the sea, on a dark and stormy night…imagine a sudden and unexpected incursion of pirates climbing up the cliffs from the sea and reaching the castle, ready to plunder whatever they find…you may think this sounds like a scene from a novel – and certainly I would like to tell you of a story, or better, of a legend which happened on the coast of Tuscany (or, to be more precise, on the Monti dell’Uccellina, in the present Maremma Regional Park) some centuries ago now. Those of you who have visited the area should remember the Bella Marsilia tower, which is now in ruins, but many years ago, and until c.1500, was one of the most beautiful castles in the area, as well as being home to the rich and powerful Marsili family.
The tower’s name was taken from the family’s daughter; the beautiful Margherita, with red-hair and purple-eyes; she was so good-looking that as she grew she became both confident and brave.

At that time, Maremma was an inhospitable and marshy land, with malaria reducing life expectancy to little more than 20 years. Groups of bandits and pirates would often invade the area – and this is exactly what happened to the Marsili family one night. Outside a storm raged and the castle seemed naturally protected from pirates by buffeting winds and the sea, which was railing against the cliffs, so the heavy guard of the castle was lowered: nature seemed to be strong enough to protect the family from pirate invasions…but actually it wasn’t.

Pirates were able to climb the cliffs and reach the castle, stealing inside and slaughtering everyone, except of the beautiful Margherita, who was caught and carried to Sultan Soliman II.
The sultan was so taken by Margherita’s charming beauty that he decided to admit the girl to his harem; she then became his favourite lover and eventually his first wife.

The charm of this Maremma girl was so strong that the Sultan submitted to her will. Very soon Margherita understood how influential her beauty could be, and though she was still a teenager, she did her best to take advantage of it.

She got rid of any women in the harem who tried to oppose her growing control, and step by step she became the actual ruler of the Sultan’s empire. She also had two children with the Sultan, thus ensuring her family’s continued succession to, and rule of, the Ottoman Empire. All this from the brave girl known as Margherita Marsili, the red-haired, who, maybe because of fear, rage or sorrow, never returned home to be among those Tuscan sea cliffs that saw her birth.

According to legend, every day at sunset, the sky above the remains of the old Marsili castle lights up, as to remind us of the beautiful Margherita’s red hair, while the sea below becomes as purple as her eyes.

Who knows if the place where she was born, grew up and was caught truly marks her remembrance every day at sunset by honouring her unique beauty, which represented both her success and her downfall. If you would like to find it out, and go deeper into the legend, January is the perfect month to visit Maremma and re-create the atmosphere of that long night…and if you are lucky, maybe you’ll get a storm as well…but trust me don’t lower your guard!

See you next month

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