There is a simple way to get to know the history of Reggio: just walk among its squares and visit some of its most important buildings and monuments. With map in hand, let yourself be guided through the historic centre, discovering the stories and fascinating features hidden within the city walls.
The itinerary begins in Piazza della Vittoria, the largest square in the city. Together with the adjacent Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio, it forms one large meeting space, overlooked by some of Reggio Emilia's most important cultural sites: the Valli Municipal Theatre and the Ariosto Theatre, the Museums Palace, the Parmeggiani Gallery, the Resistance Monument and the monument dedicated to the Fallen of the First World War, as well as the Parco del Popolo, a historic park in the heart of the city centre that runs along the northern side of the square.
Interesting detail: inside the Parco del Popolo is the Concordi Monument, an extraordinary Roman tomb enclosure found in Boretto in 1929. Take a couple of minutes to walk among the flowerbeds of the ancient medieval Citadel and discover to which famous personages the statues are dedicated.
Piazza Cesare Battisti is commonly known as "Piazza del Monte", after the prestigious building overlooking the square, the Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, whose rudimentary nucleus dates back to 1188 and was the seat of the first municipal palace.
On the tower, there was once an extraordinary mechanical clock with wooden figures, the work of Giampaolo Raineri (the same craftsman, together with his son Gian Carlo, of the famous ‘Moors’ clock of St Mark's Clocktower in Venice), now preserved in the Museums Palace.
The square is surrounded by two other important buildings: on the north side is Palazzo Busetti (1657), which is traditionally attributed to a design by Bernini, while on the east side is the ancient Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, now Albergo Posta, which dates back to 1280. Its current appearance is the result of ‘interpretative’ restoration work carried out in the 1930s, following the traces of the 13th-century façade.
Attraction: go inside Palazzo Busetti and take a look out of the window on the first floor: here you can admire a wonderful and unusual view of the city!
Piazza Prampolini is surrounded by some of the city's main buildings: the Baptistery, the Bishop's Palace, the Cathedral, the Palazzo dei Canonici and the Tricolour Flag Hall designed in 1774 by the architect Ludovico Bolognini to house the archives of the Estense Duchy (House of Este). Adjacent to the Hall is the Tricolour Flag Museum, a free museum suitable for both adults and children, where you can discover the history of the Italian flag.
At the north end of the square, you can observe the allegorical statue depicting the Crostolo torrent, which comes from the Villa Ducale in Rivalta together with the statues of the Panaro and Secchia rivers, which now decorate the San Pellegrino bridge.
Interesting details: At the end of Via Farini are the Church and Palazzo San Giorgio, built by the Jesuits to house a college. Today, the palace is home to the city's most important library, named after Antonio Panizzi, an eminent Reggio Emilia figure and director of the London-based British Library for ten years. The library is one of the most cherished places by the people of Reggio Emilia: it is open all day and inside you can see the magnificent contemporary fresco ‘Whirls & Twirls’ by Sol Lewitt.
Piazza Roversi is also called Piazza del Cristo, after the beautiful Baroque church overlooking the square. Walking along Corso Garibaldi, first we can see Palazzo Magnani, home to important temporary exhibitions, and then the Basilica della Madonna della Ghiara, one of the most important Holy Mary churches in Italy, created by the people of Reggio Emilia in response to a miracle.
The avenue, formerly the bed of the Crostolo stream, ends in Piazza Gioberti, near Palazzo Ducale, now the seat of the Province. This is where the Duke of Este once resided during his stays in Reggio Emilia and the route from the city residence to the country home, known as the 18th century path, led to the Reggia di Rivalta and Villa D'Este.
Interesting fact: the narrow streets facing the Via Emilia marked off the ancient Jewish Ghetto of Reggio, a genuine independent district, which had bakeries, shops and a Synagogue. It is thought that it was the Jews of Reggio who invented the famous Erbazzone, the characteristic rustic savoury pie of Reggio Emilia. On the corner of the Basilica della Madonna della Ghiara is the Big Cloister, a lovely place of leisure in the heart of the city, home to a restaurant and a hostel.
After returning to Piazza Roversi and stopping in front of the beautiful church of Sant'Agostino (home, among other things, to one of the four Reggio Emilia paintings by Guercino), we take the narrow street running alongside the Church of Christ: in just a blink of an eye we are now in the liveliest and most popular square of the city. Here, in ancient times, the presence of the Guazzatoio Canal enabled activities for processing silk and the tanning of hides. Via del Guazzatoio leads up to the ‘bastion’, the only remaining evidence of the 13th-century city walls, now incorporated in Casa Lasagni.
Interesting detail: if you head towards the bakery, you will notice strange writing on the pavement. This square, like Piazza Prampolini, was the site of a market since ancient times and to prevent merchants from cheating the local people, the old numbering symbols used before the metric system were inscribed here, which can also be seen on the left column of the Baptistery.
We continue along Via San Carlo: on the left, under the portico, hidden among the other buildings, is the Oratory of Saint Charles and Saint Agatha, now a venue for various temporary exhibitions. On the right, at number 10, the Palazzo dei Mercanti del Panno (Palace of the Merchants of the Cloth) dates back to the late 15th century and is recognizable by its capital with a ram's head. The palace overlooked the main branch of the Secchia Canal, from which it drew the water needed for wool washing.
We continue along Via Toschi, one of the main streets of the city, leading us directly to Piazza San Prospero. On our left is Palazzo Pratonieri, the headquarters of the Unicredit bank, with striking decorations inside. The staircase decorated with golden bees is a real jewel in the heart of the city. Arriving in Piazza San Prospero, we can see the impressive Basilica dedicated to the Patron Saint, with its imposing octagonal bell tower based on a design by Giulio Romano.
Interesting detail: the porticoed path of the Broletto connects "Piazza Grande" directly with Piazza San Prospero, also known as "Piasa cèca" (small square). The portico was built in 1488 when the passage under the loggia was opened to the public and takes its name from the brolo, the canons' vegetable garden. At the end of the garden you might want to stop and take a picture of the characteristic sign: "Get off your bike"!
From Piazza San Prospero, we go on towards Vicolo Guidelli and find ourselves in front of the city of Reggio Emilia's point of origin: the Gromae Locus. Here, the Romans placed the Groma (a surveying instrument comprising a staff with cross-pieces) and traced the two main axes that led to the development of the Roman city. One of these axes, the decumanus maximus, corresponds to the Via Emilia running west-east from Piacenza to Rimini; the cardo, the north-south street, on the other hand, is today's Via Roma, and here we end our itinerary.
Interesting detail: At the end of Via Roma is the Gabella, one of the city gates, named after Giuseppe Garibaldi. At number 13 in Vicolo Venezia is the first graffiti in history: "Il Popolo giusto vuole la neve!" – “The honest people want the snow!" (‘Popol Giost’ was the so-called name of people in this popular district).
Along Via Secchi, we have now come back to Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio and this is where our itinerary ends, a circular route to discover the most characteristic stories and monuments of Reggio Emilia.