Asolo has been a refuge for artists and writers over the centuries. My father, Douglas Bland, was one of those artists. Eleanora Duse, La Duse, was an actress, famous at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She lived in Asolo and is buried in the Sant’Anna cemetery. Whenever anyone in my family behaves in a dramatic way, we tell them they are acting like Eleanora Duse.
Her casa, at the entrance of Via S. Caterina, was restored by my step-father, a local builder.
We attended an unforgettable New year’s Eve party in the house some years ago and it was amazing to be in the same rooms that once housed the divine Duse, the first woman (and Italian) to be on the cover of Time Magazine.
In 1489 the fiefdom of Asolo was given to Queen Caterina Cornaro (1454-1510), when she was exiled here from her kingdom of Cyprus by the Republic of Venice. I love to stroll around the castle ruins and imagine what her magnificent court was like. There would have been pages, ladies in waiting, servants, courtiers, knights, jesters, guards, priests, artists and musicians. Here I know she gathered around her writers such as the Venetian humanist Pietro Bembo, who wrote Gli Asolani, a dialogue on courtly love. (Bembo later frequented the court of Lucrezia Borgia in Ferrara.) Luigi Da Porto was Caterina’s poet and subsequently penned the novel on which Shakespeare based Romeo and Juliet. The artists Giorgione and Gentile Bellini were also part of this idyllic scene. I can picture the magnificent dinners serenaded by musicians and singers. Sadly, it all came to an end in 1509 when the League of Cambrai invaded and sacked Asolo. Caterina died in Venice a year later and over the centuries her castle fell into ruins. The only parts that remain of the original building are the clock tower and some of the wall. I have set my novel, Lady of Asolo, in this magnificent setting to pay homage to my second home.
Historical re-enactments take place on a regular basis in Asolo, organised by the Asolando Association
Fern and Luca, the 20th Century characters in the novel, take part in a re-enactment of the court where Fern’s nemesis, Cecilia, becomes involved in a passionate affair with the artist, Giorgione, that will put her in mortal peril.