What are the Matildic Lands? Where are they?
Like true followers of Alberto Angela, in this itinerary you will set off to search for proof of the times of Matilde di Canossa, a very strong-willed woman who succeeded in dominating the entire Italic territory north of the Pontifical State in an era when women were considered inferior.
Of course, the fulcrum of the Matilde di Canossa dominion was in Canossa.
In May 1111, after having resisted with incredible stoicism to the riots that took place during the peak of the fighting between the Pope and the Emperor, Matilde was crowned Vice Queen of Italy in the Castello di Bianello, in Quattro Castella.
And here is exactly where your itinerary begins, on the prowl to discover the Matildic Lands.
As stated, the first day is dedicated to the Castle of Bianello.
Situated on a fascinating natural balcony right on the first hills of the Reggiano Apennines, the tour runs you through all the phases of the life of this noble dwelling. You will walk from the kitchen, to the baroque living room, to the room with the painting of Matilde di Canossa and then up to the medieval tower where the vinegar cellar is.
To get to the cellar, you will have to go up the characteristic spiral staircase that is hidden within the deep walls.
Once this tour is over, it is well worth exploring the Oasi Bianello that contours the castle and where many paths intertwine deep into the surrounding nature of the Apennines. The ideal thing to do next is stop for lunch in the town centre of Quattro Castella and afterwards dedicate some time to shopping for typical products such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia and Colli di Scandiano as well as Canossa wines.
In the afternoon, you will visit the “theatre” of the crucial episode that made history, “The humiliation of Henry IV”, the Castello di Canossa, or what is left of it, as well as the Naborre Campanini Museum that hosts the ruins from the excavations carried out around the castle in 1877 and 1893.
Right before reaching Canossa, you will see the little church called Madonna della Battaglia [Madonna of the Battle], built by Matilde in memory of the victorious battle with the imperial militia in 1092.
To remain on the same subject of the sovereign, after Canossa, you must also stop in the nearby Castello di Rossena. Apart from being the most beautiful and better-preserved castle in the entire Matildic area, it stands erect on the peak of a volcanic cliff with particularly red soil.
Although all the areas seen up until now were framed by breathtaking sceneries of nature, the panoramic view from the Castello di Rossena is unique and can only be seen from here for it embraces a large area of the Po Valley and of the Apennine ridge of Tuscany and Emilia.
The first day ends with an overnight stay in Reggio Emilia where you can again savour a typical meal (don’t forget to order the erbazzone, a savoury pie with green vegetables) and indulge in the town centre’s soft evening atmosphere.
The second day starts with a new route that goes across the province of Reggio Emilia, to be exact the south-east side of it. Once you leave the town behind, your first stop will be Albinea, another town in the Matildic area that was part of a defensive system made up of a grid of towers and castles so as to guarantee protection in case of barbarian invasions.
Just a few kilometres away you will find the town of Scandiano where you can visit the Rocca dei Boiardo and the Castello di Arceto, a typical example of a medieval castle where you can still see the motes and walls and see traces of the drawbridge, the triangular fortress and the postern tower.
When proceeding to your next stop, as you continue seeing Matildic historical traces, try imagining yourselves living in the contentious era of this noble sovereign. Following Scandiano is Casalgrande, where every summer, a true reproduction in traditional dresses of the era takes place.
Toano is the next stop. This village has ancient roots and was built on the sunny hill, bearing the same name, right under Pieve di Santa Maria, which was renamed Pieve Matildica during the dominion of the Canossa family.
The last stretch of this day brings you to Viano, another Matildic town where you can take your mind off history for a while and enjoy a nature break. In fact, in the outskirt of Regnano, you can find an active mud volcano called Salsa di Regnano.
On the dawn of the third day, you will head towards Modena to continue the Matildic monumental route. The first stop has to be Abbey of Nonatola. What was once the ancient monastery is today the Benedictine and Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art. This is where some of the most important sacred parchments and the Evangelistary of the Abbey Archives are kept and displayed, some dating back to the era of Matilde di Canossa.
The next thing to do is explore the Apennines and climb up the valleys, Secchia and Dragone, to reach the towns Montefiorino, Palagano and Frassinoro.
In the Matildic era, the latter town became the site of an important Benedictine monastery. After a landslide in the fifteenth century, the ruins of this monastery were used to build the current church, tower bell and adjacent rectory. This church hosts a splendid chisel-finished, enamelled Eucharistic dove decorated with gems. In medieval times, it was placed on a plate and hung over the alter with a chain.
The itinerary can only, therefore, finish in the historical centre of Modena with a visit to the Duomo [Cathedral], one of the most significant examples of Romanesque art that was consecrated on 8 October 1106 in the presence of Matilde di Canossa herself.
These journeys, in the search of the historical and cultural patrimony left by Matilde di Canossa, have allowed you to gain more knowledge of a very important person of the twelfth century, not only for the territory of Emilia.
Those who choose this itinerary will be the ones who witness how much her heritage still deeply influences the areas she crossed and lived in.