The castles of women


The castles of women

Stories of great women who have left their mark, along a special itinerary among the most beautiful castles in the Parma, Piacenza and Reggio Emilia territory.

Travelling in Emilia is like immersing yourself in the life and intriguing events of the courts of imposing castles and historic dwellings, which have been perfectly preserved and enhanced. Fascinating places that stand out in ancient villages, on elegant rocks or surrounded by woods and fine gardens, and that narrate the events of great women, who have marked history from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age.

The history of some of the most fascinating Castles of Women in the territory of Reggio Emilia is linked to one of the most important protagonists of the Italian Middle Ages, Matilde di Canossa, a powerful feudatory closely linked to the Papacy during the period of the investiture struggle. She managed to dominate a large territory that included Lombardy, Emilia, Romagna, Tuscany, at a time when women were considered of lower rank. The core of her dominion was Canossa, on the Apennines of Reggio Emilia. Today you can visit the ruins of the Castle of Canossa, where the Emperor Henry IV obtained the revocation of the excommunication from Pope Gregory VII, a reconciliation for which Matilde was important. Hence the saying "go to Canossa".

Even the Rocca di Reggiolo (RE), in the historic centre of the town, built around the ancient medieval tower and surrounded by 40-metre walls, was inhabited by Matilde. Another dwelling linked to her is the Castle of Bianello (RE), immersed in the woods, the home of her mother Beatrice di Lorena, a princess of royal lineage, and the place where Matilde was crowned Vice-Queen of Italy by the Emperor Henry V. In 1044 she bought it, dominating with her second husband the Duke Goffredo di Lorena, a vast territory, becoming one of the most powerful women of her time.

Next to the cliff of Canossa, there is also the Fortress of Rossena with the tower of Rossenella, which stands on a rocky spur. A legend links it to the story of Everelina, daughter of one of Matilde’s vassals, who, to avoid marrying a man she did not love, threw herself from the cliff. The castle loved the most by Matilde di Canossa is the Castle of Carpineti (RE), the highest among the Apennine fortresses. It dominates the Valle del Secchia with the keep and a triple enclose of walls.

In the municipality of Casina (RE) stands the Castle of Sarzano, with medieval origins, but restored in the Nineties to bring back the seventeenth-century appearance. Its history is very ancient, but especially linked to Maria Bertolani Del Rio, a scientist and historian of the late nineteenth century, who first studied the castle. She also gave life to the creation of valuable artefacts, which still identify the Ars Canusiana, the refined artistic craftsmanship of Emilia, to whom a room is dedicated on the first floor of the keep.

On the first hills of the Parma Apennines, the Rocca Sanvitale di Sala Baganza (PR) can be admired, a castle in which the events of Maria Luigia, wife of Napoleon, Empress of the French and Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, who lived there with her two sons in the nineteenth century, can be relived.The castle was very important for the local defensive system already between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Today, precious frescoes and sixteenth and eighteenth-century decorations can be discovered. The Farnesian Garden surrounds it and the Wine Museum is in the cellars.

The Castle of Torrechiara, a romantic fifteenth-century manor house with medieval and Renaissance features, stands on the top of a panoramic rocky hill at the entrance to Val Parma, in the Langhirano (PR) area. It was built by Pier Maria Rossi for his beloved Bianca Pellegrini, whose love story is celebrated by the “Golden Room” attributed to Benedetto Bembo, in which all the castles of the fiefdom are depicted.

The refined Italian garden of the Reggia di Colorno (PR), with its water features, flower beds, statues and spectacular fountains is due to Barbara Sanseverino, wife of Giberto Sanvitale, Lord of Sala Baganza. She was a cultured woman and an art collector: she indeed embellished the palace with works by Titian, Correggio, Parmigianino and a particular collection of antique cameos.

In Piacenza, the Castle of San Pietro in Cerro (PC), with rectangular base, 30 decorated and furnished rooms, an elegant internal square courtyard and large garden, owes its beauty to the contribution of 3 Countesses. Maddalena Dolzani was the woman who by marrying Bartolomeo Barattieri in 1421 brought as a dowry, the lands with the guard tower that were then incorporated into the castle. In the sixteenth century, it was Bianca Maria Scotti who lived in the castle: the union of her family with the Barattieri one is sealed in the frieze of the pink room. Instead in the nineteenth century, it was the Countess Maria Teresa Zangrandi to leave a mark on San Pietro in Cerro. The pictorial cycle of the castle’s hall of honour is probably owed to her, signed with the possible pseudonym Leonardo Hernani Magu. The Countess left several works in private collections and at the Ricci Oddi modern art Gallery. Maria Ruspoli Gramont, Princess of the Castle of Vigoleno also had strong artistic sensibility. The austere castle stands in Vernasca (PC) and dominates the Emilian hills, preserving a particularly beautiful fortified medieval village, certified among the most beautiful villages in Italy. Maria Ruspoli Gramont transformed the castle in the twentieth century into an elite art salon, a meeting place for artists as Max Ernst who painted “The embalmed forest” there, and writers as Gabriele D’Annunzio.