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10 Ghost Stories and Odd Legends from Italy

by Cara Duke
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

When you think of Italy, what comes to mind? The endless canals of Venice? The stunning scenery of Lake Como? Or maybe the delicious cuisine—hello, carbonara! Well, did you know that Italy is also home to some creepy ghost stories and a few rather quirky legends? From the window that demands to be kept open to a slightly crazed-looking feline, check out these ghost tales and odd legends from Italy.

Related: Top 10 Mysterious Nautical Legends and Superstitions

10 The Spirit of Baldaccio d’Anghiari–Florence

Florence, Italy: Palazzo Vecchio – Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide – Travel Bite

Our first spooky story is from Florence—the ghost of mercenary soldier Baldaccio d’Anghiari. Born in the early 15th century, Baldaccio was known for his violent temperament. He became a fearless soldier but often switched sides during wartime, fighting for whoever offered the most money for his services. Often described as brave, adventurous, and wise, Baldaccio worked for some of the most prominent rulers of his time, including the pope!

However, this fame and success would turn out to be the death of him. Cosimo the Elder, an influential politician and banker, became fearful of Baldaccio’s brave but terrifying personality, and it seems he was the one who organized the soldier’s murder. In September 1441, Baldaccio was summoned to the Palazzo Vecchio by the Gonfalonier on a treason charge. But he was ambushed.

The soldier was stabbed and thrown out of a window in the Tower of Arnolfo, landing in the courtyard. This wasn’t enough to kill him, and he was then dragged to the Piazza della Signoria, where he was beheaded. His body was buried in Santo Spirito, and his death shocked the city of Florence. The ghost of Baldaccio d’Anghiari has allegedly been seen wandering the corridors of the Palazzo Vecchio, where bizarre noises ring out after closing hours.

So if you happen to visit Florence and you’re feeling brave, be on the lookout for the furious spirit of Baldaccio, still seeking revenge for his brutal murder![1]

9 The Open Window of the Palazzo Budini-Gattai–Florence

La leggenda della finestra sempre aperta

Another spooky legend that originates from Florence is a window of the Budini Gattai Palace that is always kept open. The Palace sits opposite the Palazzo Grifoni square, and the 16th-century legend says that a Grifoni family member went to war, leaving behind his wife. The woman grieved his departure and spent every day looking out the window, hoping he would return someday, but he never did.

She died a widow, and after her death, her relatives closed the window that she had mournfully stared out of. But, as they did this, strange things started to happen. Objects would fly across the room, paintings would get knocked off the walls, and furniture would shake. But as soon as the window was opened again, these bizarre occurrences would stop. If you visit this Palazzo, it’s probably a good idea to leave the window open as it is, or there might be hell to pay![2]

8 The Mouth of Truth–Rome

ROME, ITALY | The Mouth of Truth and Trevi Fountain

These days, lie detector tests involve wires and painless graphs that dance across a screen before your eyes. But for suspected liars thousands of years ago, a much harsher fate awaited them in the form of the Bocca della Verita, also known as Mouth of Truth. Thought to date back to the 1st century, the Mouth of Truth is a huge stone disc with an eerie humanoid face carved into it, complete with hollow eyes and a gaping mouth.

The face is said to be based on a pagan god, but it’s not clear which one. The stone disc’s origins are also shrouded in mystery, but there is one legend surrounding it that’s still believed to this day. It’s said that if you place your hand inside its mouth and tell a lie, your hand will promptly get bitten off! This legend likely came about during the Middle Ages because, allegedly, the stone disc was used during the trials of accused liars. If they put their hands in the gaping mouth and were found to be guilty, a hidden axeman would chop off the offending appendage.[3]

7 La Berta–Florence

Roman Ruins in Strange Locations

Another Florentine legend is the story of “La Berta”—a disembodied head that has been stuck to the side of the Santa Maria Maggiore Church since the Middle Ages. It’s not known where this head came from, so over the centuries, many theories have been thrown around to explain it.

The most common tale is that the head belongs to a woman who was petrified in 1326. The story goes that this woman fell victim to an astrologer named Cecco d’Ascoli. While being paraded along to be burned at the stake on a heresy charge, d’Ascoli paused to request some water. Legend says that Berta watched this happen from a church window and shouted to everyone to refuse him water.

Berta accused d’Ascoli of being an alchemist who used water to talk to the devil, granting the man immunity. An angry d’Ascoli cursed Berta, and she was prevented from ever moving from the spot she stood in. Of course, more realistic theories exist to explain the head’s origins. The most believable is that Berta is the head of an ancient Roman statue, but this doesn’t stop the locals from entertaining passersby with tales of curses and dark magic.[4]

6 Carezzo Rainbow Lake–South Tyrol

Breathtaking mountain lakes can be found all over the globe, but how many have a backstory that involves drowned rainbows and a lovesick and slightly forgetful sorcerer? In the South Tyrol region of Italy, a legend originates about a water nymph who lived in the clear waters of Lake Carezza, or Rainbow Lake.

One day, the nymph was braiding her hair while sitting on the shoreline when a sorcerer named Masaré heard her singing. Overcome with that “love at first sight” feeling, he asked a witch to help make the nymph fall in love with him. They hatched a plan involving a rainbow being cast across the lake and a jewelry salesman disguise.

Unfortunately, the blundering sorcerer forgot to wear his disguise and was seen by the nymph. Escaping his trap, she disappeared, never to be seen again. Masaré was heartbroken, and in a fit of anger, he smashed the rainbow into pieces, and they fell into the lake. This is said to be the cause of the rainbow colors that radiate through the crystal-clear water, which can still be seen today.[5]

5 Musciattino’s Hand–Prato

Display of the Holy Girdle in Prato from the Donatello’s pulpit.

Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Prato is home to the closely guarded Marian relic, the Holy Girdle. Catholic tradition says that the Virgin Mary wore this belt, and it was passed on to Saint Thomas during her acceptance into Heaven. But, in July 1312, the Holy Girdle was stolen by Giovanni di Ser Landetto, also known as Musciattino. He planned to take the belt to his hometown, but according to legend, a thick fog descended upon him, causing him to lose his way.

Disorientated, Musciattino accidentally returned to the city walls, thinking he had reached Pistoia. He then requested that the city gates be opened, declaring that he had stolen the relic from Prato. Unsurprisingly, the people of Prato were furious about their precious relic being stolen, and they captured Musciattino. His punishment was brutal—his right hand was chopped off before he was strapped to a donkey and taken to the Bisenzio River.

His ordeal ended with him being burned alive, and his remains were discarded into the river—if ever there was motivation not to steal a Holy Relic, this is it! Legend says that the thief’s severed right hand was thrown at the cathedral, where it left a famous bloody handprint. This can still be seen today in the left corner of the south entrance of the cathedral.[6]

4 Palazzo Aldegatti’s Cat–Mantua

One of the more fun and quirky legends on this list is the Palazzo Aldegatti’s cat! Above the main entrance to the palazzo sits a life-size cat’s head that has been there since 1540. The word gatti is Italian for cats, and the decoration became the family’s crest, albeit unofficially.

The amusing legend says that the cat’s head comes alive at night as it tries to escape, occasionally meowing to attract attention. The origin of the story is thought to come from the cat’s annoyed and slightly crazy facial expression![7]

3 The Sanctuary of Santa Vittoria–Monteleone Sabino

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hiding in the hills of Sabina lies the Romanesque Santa Vittoria church, a medieval structure home to a legend of religious devotion and spirit. Dating back to the 12th century, the church was built over a shrine dedicated to Saint Victoria, a 3rd-century Christian martyr. After refusing to marry a pagan noble, Victoria was banished to Sabina, where she was responsible for a miracle happening.

The legend says that a dragon was terrorizing the citizens of Trebula Mutuesca, but Victoria bravely chased it away. But she was then outed as a Christian to the Roman authorities and killed because she refused to worship an idol of the Roman goddess Diana. The cave she was allegedly buried in was where the dragon lived and is now the site of the Santa Vittoria Church.[8]

2 The Ghost of Fosco Loredan–Venice

Located near the Rialto Bridge in Venice is the beautiful Remer Square. But this picturesque square is the site of a tragic story that happened in 1598. The story goes that a nobleman named Fosco Loredan was married to the Doge of Venice’s niece, Elena Grimani. Unfortunately, Loredan was known for being incredibly jealous, and he frequently accused his wife of being unfaithful, which she always denied.

One night, Loredan went looking for his wife in Remer Square as he was convinced she was cheating on him. He found her, and in a fit of jealous rage, he brandished a sword and chased her. He caught her and decapitated her in front of a crowd, including the Doge himself. Immediately, Loredan begged for forgiveness as he believed it was his right to punish his cheating wife, but the Doge wouldn’t hear any of it.

Instead, Loredan was punished by being made to carry his wife’s headless body to Rome to ask for Pope Clement VIII’s forgiveness. But when he arrived, the pope refused to even see him, and he was sent away without forgiveness. He was almost arrested by the guards but managed to evade them, and he returned to Venice with the body of his wife.

Upon returning to the scene of his heinous crime, Loredan committed suicide by throwing himself into the square’s Grand Canal. These days, local legend says that on full moon nights when the north wind blows, you’ll see Loredan’s ghost emerging from the canal, clutching Elena’s head.[9]

1 The Dwarves of Villa Valmarana ai Nani–Vicenza

Villa Valmarana ai Nani: our exclusive visit to discover one of Italy’s best kept secrets

Located in the city of Vicenza is the well-known and frequently visited Villa Valmarana ai Nani. The rooms inside the villa are decorated with frescoes that are considered to be the most exceptional masterpieces from 18th-century Venetian art. But beneath the impressive artwork, the villa also holds a famous legend.

The story goes that the villa owners had a daughter, Princess Layana, who suffered from dwarfism. Because of this condition, her parents kept her hidden within the sprawling villa. They also only chose dwarves to act as custodians and servants of the villa to avoid their daughter feeling self-conscious about her deformity.

Soon, news of the princess, who had never been seen, began to spread around the village, and a prince decided to enter the villa and search for the girl. He found her, but as she saw him and realized she had a deformity, she felt so distressed that she committed suicide by jumping out of the tower where she was being held. As she did this, her loyal dwarf servants all transformed into stone. To this day, the 17 faithful, if slightly grotesque, dwarves can be found on the villa walls.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen