This castle originally constructed by the Da Fogliano family (14th century) was essentially designed as a military stronghold. With the rise to power of the Boiardo family (1423), the old fortress began to be turned into a noble residence. When the Thiene family succeed the Boiardo family in 1565, the kept expanding and transforming the fort into a grand palace, a process that was also continued by the Bentivoglio family and the Este princes in the 17th and 18th centuries. Up until the 18th century, the castle housed major frescos cycles by painters Nicolò Dell'Abate, now to be found at the Galleria Estense in Modena. Many other artists worked at the castle, including Bortolomeo Spani, Giovan Battista Aleotti and Antonio Traeri.
Many architectural elements in the courtyard bear witness to the artistic stratification that took place here over the centuries. The south wall still has a column from the original 16th century portico, with a typical capital in the “water leaf” style of the late Middle Ages. Several different styles can be seen on the west side (under the most recent curtain wall, constructed in the 18th century), and under the pointed arches of the windows one can make out traces of monochrome 15th -century frescoes.
The regional design for the castle’s grand staircase was conceived by Giovan Battista Aleotti in the early 1600s. Several years later it was divided into a double flight of stairs after the first landing, probably by the Bentivoglio family. The terracotta statues probably depict members of the Thiene family, and were sculpted in the 1619 by the Genoese artist Giovan Battista Pontelli. The four surviving statues are thought to be of Marcantonio, Ottavio I, Giulio, Ottavio II Thiene.
The recovery of the gardens of the Rocca, completed in 2017, gave back to the visitors a space that had never been open to the public before, not only because in the past centuries the Boiardesque complex was a military stronghold, but also - in recent times (after the State concession to the Municipality) - because the area was completely inaccessible, full of debris and spontaneous vegetation. After some years of hard work, the gardens, a previously abandoned area in the southwest side of the Rocca, half-covered by many cubic meters of land, present a fascinating alternation of ancient walls, grassy spaces, and slopes and a terrace over the moat. Several cultural, wine-gastronomic and entertainment events are organized in these “newfound gardens”.