Few places can conjure up images of fairy tales and epic adventures like castles, enchanted spaces that evoke a bygone age of ladies and knights, conquest and battles, tragic secrets and great romances.
Visiting the castles of Emilia-Romagna is the ideal way to make a real journey back in time: each province contains a rich heritage of castles, fortresses and ancient aristocratic mansions that are sure to charm visitors of all ages.
So, let us begin our tour through ancient watchtowers, medieval walkways, Renaissance gardens, aristocratic drawing rooms, frescoes and military banners.
To stay informed of the events being held in the castles of Emilia-Romagna, we recommend consulting the programme of events of the Open Castles exhibition.
Starting from the northernmost provinces of the region, the area around Parma and Piacenza is densely populated with castles and fortresses that testify to the succession of families that controlled these lands in the past, including the Houses of Farnese, Visconti and Gonzaga.
Starting in the hills of Piacenza, we find, for example, the thirteenth-century Rocca Viscontea of Castell’Arquato, a charming fortified castle that is open to the public, whose 42-metre-high keep dominates the skyline, and the village of Vigoleno, an ancient, crenellated fortress that is remarkably well-preserved, which – like the Castell’Arquato – served as the backdrop for the film Lady Hawke.
The thirteenth-century Fortress of Bardi, in the Parma area, which according to legend is home to the ghost of Moroello, is perched on a rocky outcrop that offers visitors a spectacular 360-degree view of the Parma Apennines. The Castle of Torrechiara, located in Langhirano, was built in the middle of the fifteenth century as a fortress and residence for Pier Maria II de’ Rossi and his beloved. A testament to the meeting between medieval and Renaissance architecture, the solid, elegant shapes of this picturesque castle stand out clearly against the gently rolling hills of the surrounding landscape.
These are just a few of the many spectacular fortified manor houses that are part of the Castles of the Duchy network – to find out more, just take a look at the official website of the association.
The Malatesta family, in particular, are responsible for the abundance of fortresses and castles in the south of Emilia-Romagna. This noble family reigned over Rimini and part of Romagna for two centuries, until the sixteenth century.
In this part of the region, there are many places worth a visit: among others, the Fortress of Verucchio, a castle dating from the twelfth century, which dominates the entire plain below and offers views that stretch all the way to the Rimini coast; the Malatestian Fortress of Montefiore Conca, with a very unusual shape, which stands on a mountain top not far from the border with Tuscany and also offers a spectacular vantage point.
Plus, there is the Fortress of San Leo, which was built on an ancient erratic boulder; this particular castle was highly sought after because of its enviable position, and was also the home of Cesare Borgia and place of imprisonment and death of the alchemist Cagliostro.
Moving northwards back up through Romagna, the tour of the region’s castles is made all the more interesting with other must-see stops, such as the Malatestian Castle of Longiano, the Manfredian Fortress of Brisighella and the Fortress of Castrocaro.
Once we have reached the plains not far from Ferrara, we find the Este Family Delights, the residences that the noble Este family built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries as pleasure palaces, which have now been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. These include the Este Delight of Verginese, which is surrounded by a magnificent garden.
The province of Bologna is home to the very unique Rocchetta Mattei di Riola, a small fortified castle built as the home of the eponymous count who designed this building in an eclectic style, starting from 1850, as his private residence, as well as a laboratory for his experiments in electrohomeopathy.