Tag Archives: Italy

Land of Bandits

by Mattia Ravasi

murder in monzaThe city of Monza lies in the north of Italy, not too far away from fashionable Milan and its dreadful Duomo. It is the main center in a small but lively province called Brianza, a name that comes from the Latin word for “bandit”. My own surname, a rather common one in the area, is derived from the Latin word for “thief”. This is to say more about how the Romans saw the region and its inhabitants than about the inhabitants themselves.

Monza is an amazingly picturesque city, and those looking for horror might find plenty of it—if only they are willing to drive a few miles out of town to the industrial suburbs where you breathe in misery with exhaust fumes.

Dedicated searchers—especially those with some knowledge of the region’s history—might choose to linger for a while and perhaps visit the colossus that is Monza’s Park, this part of Italy’s green lung. It also features a small benign tumor in the form of a Formula 1 race track.

A wall was built around the park in the 18th century by the Austrian invaders who were to be kicked out, come back, kicked out again, and return at least four more times such that it is difficult nowadays to say whether they’re gone or they’re still here. In a much similar way, it is not so clear whether that first tall wall around the park was built to shield it from the expanding communities around it or to prevent anything inside from roaming where it shouldn’t.

The main function of the park was in fact that of being the private hunting ground for the Habsburg rulers of northern Italy. A Royal Villa was built in the park to serve as the summer dwelling of the Archduke of Austria, yet the much-despised rulers had introduced foreign animals to the park long before the Villa was conceived. The beasts that were left free to roam in the park came from the dark forests of Germany, from the even darker vastness of northern Europe, and from the rocky hills of the Balkan Peninsula. There is a cave not far from the Villa local parents like to show their children, giggling at amazed expressions when the small ones are told it once was the den of a bear.

It wouldn’t be absurd to wonder whether many of the strange folk stories from the city’s past could be based on reality: tales of slender predators stalking the streets of Monza at night, leaving their victims ripped to pieces and disfigured. Said predators were nothing but wolves, or lynxes. Of course, the region is full of tales of weirder beasts (the symbol of Milan itself is a basilisk devouring a child). Whatever the creature was—cryptid or plain animal—it did murder quite a number of locals. The stories agree on this point. To this day, the night life of the city has not recovered, and if you are alone in Monza late at night, you’ll wish you weren’t.

More disquieting still, and much more gruesome, are the many reports—probably exaggerated—of what the period’s Austrian rulers liked to do with political opponents and rioters. The stories are legion and they all disagree, but the common element they share is that poor souls were left alone in the park at night where they’d become the meal of the wild beasts, forced to fight to the death against each other, or—and this is the most widely diffused account—they’d become prey in a peculiar and merciless hunt, one for which it was always open season. The final touch to this unlikely but disturbing scenario is that these night hunts apparently did not stop with the end of the Habsburg rule and the establishment of the kingdom of Italy.

Every summer the king came from Turin. While in the Villa, he liked to carry on the memory of his predecessors by enjoying what the park had to offer—everything, if the tales are right.

Diabolic murderer or not, the locals never liked the king; after all, he came from Savoy, which wasn’t even “the real” Italy, and then again, people in Brianza hardly love each other let alone strangers.

Throughout the 20th century, no reports of hideous games, murderous monsters, or exotic creatures can be found. It would seem the old fantastic tales did not survive the clash with modernity. And the Villa lost most of its shine when the king himself was shot dead in Monza in the first months of the century. The murderer was an anarchist extremist, apparently, though at the time there was no lack of voices affirming there were more personal and secret reasons behind the assassination. However it was, the following generations of kings chose never to visit Monza.

The town has built a monument to commemorate the assassination, a tower-shaped chapel called Cappella Espiatoria. It is Monza’s oddest beauty, and any trip through the town should end here in the rather isolated and silent corner where the monument stands. The chapel’s statues and high reliefs show stark images of suffering, yet there is also an element of mockery in the gothic features of the whole structure, and in the bat-like wings that decorate the fence around it. To this day, huge bright graffiti keep appearing on the monument, and on the asphalted road that runs before it, praising an assassination that took place more than a century ago.

Mattia Ravasi was born in Italy in 1991 and has lived in Milan and in Birmingham, UK. He currently is in Venice where he writes short stories and works on novels, though he is supposedly studying for a postgraduate degree in English Literature. His fiction has appeared in the humorous magazine Hobo Pancakes and he will soon be featured in the steampunk anthology The Lost Worlds, edited by Eldritch Press.

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