The 10 Castles of the Duchy not to be missed

  • Rocca SanVitale di Fontanellato di Mattia Notari
  • Castell'Arquato di @lo.tangelini

Today we want to provide you with a TOP10 of the most fascinating and suggestive fortresses of the Castles of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza.

In the province of Parma:

BARDI Perched on a spur of red jasper located in the middle of ValCeno valley, the building stands above the point where the river Noveglia flows into Ceno. The fort is one of the greatest examples of military architecture in Emilia; it is completely surrounded by sloping walls, equipped with patrol path, which can be run entirely, whose irregular shape follows the conformation of the rocky spur [history, opening times and tickets, how to get there]. Inside the fortress, besides the fortified structure, you can visit the Museum of Valligiana Civilization, 5 Alpine Rooms dedicated to Captain Pietro Cella and the Poaching Museum.  The legend tells that a ghost roams within the walls of the castle: it is the restless spirit of Moroello, young guard commander whose life was marked by a tragic love story with Soleste, lady-in-waiting at the Court of Landi. The ghost has also been repeatedly "photographed" and some researches about it have been recently carried out by the Parapsychologist Centre of Bologna.

COLORNO The Ducal Palace of Colorno was built at the beginning of the 18th century by Duke Francesco Farnese on the remains of an earlier medieval castle. The palace became the favourite residence of Philip of Bourbon and his wife Louise Elisabeth, who renewed it according to the model of Versailles (the external staircase was added in this period), and later it was inhabited by Marie Louise of Austria, the "good duchess", to who we owe the transformation of the large French garden into a romantic English garden [history]. The palace consists of more than 400 rooms with pink marble floors and frescoed ceilings; however, most of them are devoid of furniture. After the Unification of Italy, in fact, the palace was sold by the Savoy family to the Italian State Property and almost all movable furniture of the palace was moved to other palaces of the family. Currently, it is possible to visit (only with guided tour) the Piano Nobile (noble floor), the New Apartment of Duke Ferdinand of Bourbon and the Ducal Chapel of San Liborio, while the Historical Garden of the Palace is open to the public for free from 7 a.m. till dusk.

FONTANELLATO The medieval Sanvitale Fortress in Fontanellato is situated right in the middle of the village, surrounded by a wide moat. Its square structure, with 4 towers at the top and crenellated walls, has the typical features of military buildings and originally the access was through a drawbridge, now bricked [history]. The interior, decorated with Renaissance furniture and furnishings, houses one of the masterpieces of Italian Mannerism: the room painted by Parmigianino in 1524, depicting the myth of Diana and Actaeon taken from Ovid's Metamorphosis. Moreover, among the halls, there is the nineteenth-century "optical room" which, thanks to an ingenious system of lenses and prisms, allows snooping in the life of the square in front of the castle.

MONTECHIARUGOLO Montechiarugolo Castle stands on a natural terrace (hence the toponym of its name Monticulus Rivoli) overlooking the left bank of the torrent Enza, in the strategic border location between Parma and Reggio Emilia. Built by the warlord Guido Torelli in 15th century on the remains of a pre-existing settlement, the fort had its heyday during the lifetime of Pomponio Torelli (great humanist and grandson of Pico della Mirandola), who made it the destination of a select group of artists and famous guests, including Pope Paul III and the King of France Francis I. With the "conspiracy of the feudal lords" in 1612 the castle was expropriated and given to a military garrison. Inside, a factory for processing of burning powders was placed.  In 1864 it was purchased by the Marchi family, who is still the owner. The history of the castle is also linked with the sad legend of Fairy Bema, whose ghost manifests itself in the castle on 19th May of each year. In contrast to the tough outer structure (composed of crenellated walls and a drawbridge), the interior of the building has rich Renaissance decorations, with pictorial cycles, canvases and frescoes and beautiful flower gardens. Well preserved are the covered patrol walkways (currently closed to the public), while from the loggia the landscape throughout the Park of Enza opens up.

TORRECHIARA This charming castle which rises in Langhirano, on the first Parma hills, was built between 1448 and 1460 (on the ruins of an earlier fortress) by Pier Maria II de' Rossi in honour of his beloved Bianca Pellegrini. The building, in fact, served not only as a defensive structure but also as an isolated dwelling for the two lovers: the defensive function is attested by three walls and four corner towers, the residential function instead is proven by the wealth of ornaments, including the cycle of frescoes attributed to Benedetto Bembo which lies in the so-called Golden Room, depicting scenes of the chivalrous love ritual and celebration of the bond between Bianca and Pier Maria. The fresco bears the coats of arms of the two lovers and two hearts with the writings Digne et in aeternum (worthily and eternally) and Nunc et semper (now and forever), as evidence of the eternity of their earthly love. The castle is considered one of the best preserved examples of castle architecture in Italy because it combines elements of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance.

In the province of Piacenza

CASTELL'ARQUATO Strategically perched along the hills on the left bank of the river Arda, the medieval village dominates with its towers the surrounding countryside of the Val d'Arda. Built at the behest of Luchino Visconti in the half of 14th century, the Visconti Fortress was the seat of the military garrison and consists of a quadrangular plan with four square towers placed at the top and surrounded by a moat with two entrances; next to it there is the keep, or main tower. The castle is also famous for having been chosen as set for the film Lady Hawke and currently houses a museum devoted to medieval life .

RIVALTA The age-old Rivalta Castle stands on a steep slope overlooking the banks of the river Trebbia, in a position that - although not too high - allows a broad view on the ValTrebbia. This impressive walled complex has always belonged – with brief interruptions – to the Landi family, who still owns it and lives there.  The castle has a quadrangular plan, with a central courtyard surrounded by a double order of loggias, but the architectural element that best characterizes the building is the tower topped by another small tower accessible from a spiral staircase. Inside the tower houses the infamous “Cut Well”, named in this way for the blades on its bottom, instrument of torture for the victims who were thrown down there.  The interior is still equipped with furniture, paintings and antiques, including a wide exhibition of armours, weapons and uniforms and a curious collection of ancient musical instruments.

GROPPARELLO Gropparello Castle sits atop a spur of ophiolitic rocks, on a cliff overlooking the river Vezzeno; its position forms a gorge of about 85 meters of height, which made the castle impregnable over the centuries. The toponym of its name seems to derive from the Celtic term Grop, indicating a natural rocky obstacle. The complex was built in the 8th century on the site of a Roman castrum placed to defend the road to Velleia. The only Guelph stronghold in Piacenza, the castle was a battleground between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and passed through many families (Fulgosi, Pallavicino, Sforza, Campofregoso, Attendolo) until becoming property of the Gibelli family, who has currently opened it to the public. The building has an irregular shape and its double crenellated wall follows the steep profile of the rocky spur.  Although composed of parts dating back to different ages (the oldest part is the square tower built on the top of the cliff) it has preserved the compact appearance of a fortress, accessible through a double drawbridge. In the 19th century the path built as a patrol walkway carved into the rock was turned into a sensory path of flowers, trees and medicinal plants, called the Growing Rose Museum. In the surrounding forest, the Fairytale Park has been recently created. It is the first emotional park of Italy, where children, accompanied by entertainers in costumes, can discover Nordic myths and fairy tales.

SAN PIETRO IN CERRO Founded by Bartolomeo Barattieri in 1460, on the remains of a previous settlement, the castle is located 20 km away from Piacenza, on the border with the provinces of Parma and Cremona. Conceived as a fortified noble residence, the building has a rectangular plan from which the entrance keep and two round towers stand out; its external austerity is though refined by an elegant court with a 15th-century double loggia.  Inside, it is possible to visit over 30 rooms, richly furnished, two living rooms, kitchens and jails. Among the rooms there is also a historical library, which contains over 2,000 volumes on the history of Piacenza, which can be consulted by appointment. The attic rooms houses the MIM - Museum in Motion, a collection (rotating exhibition) of over 800 works by contemporary masters, both Italians and foreigners, with a section dedicated to the painters from Piacenza.  The building is surrounded by a large wooded park and a vast garden .

 VIGOLENO This imposing fortified complex lies on the eastern hills of Piacenza, on the border with the province of Parma, in the municipality of Vernasca. Placed on the ridge that separates the Valley of the river Ongina from that of the Stirone river, it dominates the surrounding countryside and its vines.  The medieval town, still intact, is among the most beautiful and richest in history of Piacenza. Its foundation goes back to the 10th century and throughout history became the property of several families, mostly of the Scotti family.  In 1922 the Princess Ruspoli-Gramont restored it and made it home to mundane meetings with famous artists and writers, such as Gabriele D'Annunzio, Max Ernst and Jean Cocteau. In the early 80's it was also (as Castell'Arquato) chosen as set for the film Lady Hawke. The village has a ellipsoidal structure enclosed by crenellated walls, which a scenic patrol walkway runs entirely. From the walkway the square keep stands out, adorned with Ghibelline battlements, which today houses some museum rooms.

Obviously in this area there are many other castles to explore. If you decide to take a tour of these places please note that with the Card of the Duchy you are entitled to a discount on the entrance fee of fortresses and strongholds, as well as other benefits (the card costs 2 Euros and is valid for one year from the date of purchase).



Elisa Mazzini
Elisa Mazzini

My roots are in Bologna but I love to travel, both physically and imaginatively, with books and movies. @lelimaz


Focus On