Canossa is in the heart of the Matildic Lands at the foot of the enchanting Apennine Reggiano hills in the fertile Val d’Enza area, where there is a river that divides the Province of Reggio from the Province of Parma. Until 1991 the municipality was called Ciano d'Enza, a name kept by the capital of the scattered municipality.
Among the hills and on the top of the rocky mounts, Canossa holds a lot of evocative architectural beauty represented by the Matildic castles, emblematic of Matilde di Canossa, an important personality of the Middle Ages.
The location bears witness to the most important historical-architectural testimony represented by the Castello di Canossa, an impressive manor which witnessed European history between the 11th and 12th century, playing a strategic role in the dispute between the Empire and Papacy. “Andare a Canossa” (Going to Canossa), in over thirty languages, is a synonym for humility and pardon.
Centrally located in the Matildic territory, Canossa Castle is set at the top of a whitish sandstone rock from where, on clear days, the Alps may be seen in the distance. There now remains only a fascinating ruin of the castle, heart of the archaeological site and location of the famous episode of the “Pardon in Canossa”. Nowadays it is a National Museum called “Naborre Campanili”, recently refurbished, which contains some precious artefacts among which there is a rare baptistery font from the 12th century.
The castle became the fortified centre of the feudal power of the Attonidi, the powerful family with Longobardi origins who lived their best period during the reign of Countess Matilda. The most famous image connected to history is that of the Emperor Henry IV, kneeling in supplication at the foot of the castle, waiting to be received by Pope Gregory VII, in January in 1077. In 1878 the Italian State bought the ruins of the castle and made Canossa a national monument.
The best way of discovering the location and the surrounding area is surely to follow the Middle Ages by going along the rich network of paths which connect the main naturalistic and historical places, such as the Sentiero Matilde (Matildic Path).
It is one of the most important paths for excursions with stops in the Toscan-Emilian Apennines. The path sets off from the town of Ciano d’Enza, in the municipality of Canossa, and goes all the way to San Pellegrino in Alpe in Garfagnana passing by castles, fortified towers, historical churches and villages made from sandstone.
The best time to visit the area is from spring to autumn.
The ‘Ostello Castello di Rossena’ (4 km) inside the well-preserved Matildic castle, sentinel and custodian of the Matilde di Canossa territory, offers a panoramic view over the Valle d’Enza and hills. From here one of the greatest landscapes of the Emilian Apennines may be viewed.
Near the Castello di Canossa there is the “Casa del Tibet” (House of Tibet) (3.7 km) an enchanting historical village, a Buddhist centre, where it is possible to stay overnight.
A handcrafted Ars Canusina souvenir made by the consortium is a must before leaving Canossa. Each piece is unique and rigorously respects the iconographic standards of the Matildic period. The pieces vary from jewellery to ceramics, terracotta “a tarsia”, sculptures, embroidery and the decoration of cloths.
The typical produce of the area is ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ which is made in the small artisan dairies in the area, respecting a method which has been documented for over eight centuries. Then there is the ‘Canossa Culatello’ made from the best pork which in the Canossa lands has the perfect climate for becoming a DOT certified product.
The Wine and food trail of Scandiano and Canossa also runs through the Matildic lands.
In the medieval village of Cerredolo dei Coppi 4 km from the Castello di Canossa there is the Circolo Ippico Canossa (Canossa Riding School) which offers riding courses all year round in the traditional English manner, horse trekking and riding for the disabled.
The network of trails in the area furthermore allow for pleasant and relaxing rides by mountain bike and on foot.
Don’t miss the historical re-enactment of Canossa, every year on the first Sunday in September, to relive the famous episode of the “pardon”. In the streets and in the squares, characters display their historical costumes and accompany the Grand-Countess Matilde, impersonated by well-known actors or actresses, together with Pope Gregory VII to meet the penitent Henry IV. Shows on horseback and the waving of flags then follow along the streets of the town.
Rossena Castle, 4 km from Canossa, is set on top a volcanic rock of a reddish colour from where it is possible to see a unique landscape, characterised by typical clay formations called ‘calanchi’.
The splendid ‘Torre di Rossenella’, 4 km away, has been recently restored and stands aloof on a rocky peak in the Natural Reservation of Campotrera, of great botanical and geological interest, along the rocky banks of the river Enza.
In addition to the famous castles, there are historical villages among which there is Votigno (3.7 km) a centre for Buddhist spirituality and there is the ‘Tempietto di Petrarca’ erected in memory of the poet’s stay in Selvapiana (18 km) in 1343.