Heart of structures with ingenious design and nourishment for eyes distracted by the urban landscape, the cloisters are secret spaces, open to anyone who understands spirituality as an intimate and personal moment.
But cloisters are also for those who want to walk with their eyes and feet in architectural jewels, that have hosted authentic dialectical and meditative marathons over the centuries.
The itinerary among the places of meditation in Emilia starts in Piacenza from the cloisters of the Church of San Sisto; it was a beloved place to the Farnese family and inside there is the funeral monument to Margherita d’Austria and a copy of the famous Madonna Sistina by Raffaello, the original one was sold in 1754 to Augusto III King of Poland.
The cloister is a Renaissance temple and the first work by Alessio Tramello.
Visitors can cross the entrance door through a large colonnade with twenty-one arches in the centre; above the arches, ancient frescoed medallions are still visible, depicting eighteen images of emperors and abbots.
In the Trebbia Valley, in Bobbio, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, the complex of the Abbey of San Colombano is well worth a visit, with its majestic cloister, which is also the setting for the Bobbio Film Festival directed by Marco Bellocchio.
The Abbey, best known as a source of inspiration - with its Scriptorium, now unfortunately largely lost - for Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose", was one of the most important monastic centres in Europe during the Middle Ages, the last one founded in Italy by St. Columbanus in 614 and still today the beating heart, from a cultural point of view, of the town.
The catalogue of its Scriptorium, in 982, included over 700 codices and after dispersion to other libraries it preserved 25 of the 150 oldest manuscripts of Latin reading in the world.
The Basilica was built between 1456 and 1522 and has numerous frescoes inside, decorating the two minor naves and the transept, painted by Bernardino Lanzani and one of his assistants around 1527-1530. Near the entrance on the left is the 7th-century baptismal font which, according to legend, Queen Theodolinda gave to St Columba and where he celebrated his first baptism. The room in front of the crypt houses the precious floor mosaic of St. Columbanus (mid 12th century), which miraculously re-emerged during renovation work in 1910.
The abbey complex also houses the Abbey Museum, which contains a collection of archaeological materials and works related to the figure of St. Columbanus from the 4th to the 18th century, the beautiful internal cloister and the City Museum, located in the former refectory.
For lovers of walking, a stop in Bobbio is a good opportunity to follow the historic Via degli Abati, also known as the Mountain Via Francigena, which runs from this village in the Piacenza area to Pontremoli.
The abbey of Chiaravalle della Colomba in Alseno, about halfway between Piacenza and Parma, was founded in about 1136 by St Bernard, Dante's last guide in Paradise.
The name derives from the legend according to which it was a white dove that outlined the perimeter of the future building with straw deposited in front of the monks.
This fourteenth-century square cloister is the heart of the structure and allows you to appreciate its architectural, decorative and mystical-symbolic quality typical of the Middle Ages.
These qualities and elements are combined together in a sublime integrity.
Particularly during the hours of soft light, a walk along the 40 metres of the cloistered ring evokes a past of monastic meditation favoured by the contrast between existential rigour and artistic splendour.
A tip: the best time to visit is probably between May and June, when the 'Infiorata del Corpus Domini' is held and a wonderful carpet of flowers is laid out along the nave.
The abbey is now included in the two Council of Europe Cultural Routes Via Francigena and Route Européenne des Abbayes Cicterciennes.
A majestic cloister dating back to the 16th century opens up to marvel at the Certosa di San Girolamo, better known as the Certosa di Parma.
Reopened for visits from January 2022, this architectural complex, whose name inspired Stendhal for the title of his famous novel, was founded by Carthusian monks in 1285 on the outskirts of the city, but over the centuries it has been completely transformed, showing today the Gothic church rebuilt in 1722 in Baroque style, the neoclassical façade dating back to 1847, the ancient sacristy and splendid Renaissance furnishings, including frescoed or sculpted altars, capitals, frescoes and altars.
The sacristy and the main cloister date from the 16th century, while the smaller cloister dates from the 15th century.
Among the best secrets kept inside the mighty walls of the 10th century Benedictine complex, there are three cloisters, an authentic oasis of peace in the historic centre of Parma.
As soon as you enter, the silence draws your attention. The Benedictine rule welcomes visitors: “Ora et labora” written on the wall of the first and most recent cloister, called St Giovanni or "della Porta". It was built between 1537 and 1538, it has an arcade with Ionic columns, a central fountain inaugurated in 1589 and part of frescoes from the late 16th century, such as those by Leonardo da Monchio and Ercole Pio, dated 1579.
The Monumental Library is divided into three naves, with two rows of Ionic columns that support the ceiling made up of eighteen round vaults. The pictorial work by Abbot Stefano Cattaneo from Novara is amazing: it includes 5 geographical maps, the genealogy of Christ and 3 chronologies, 4 illustrations of the archetypal constructions of the Old Testament, the celebration of the victory of Lepanto, the decoration of the vaults and the one of the lunettes above the two doors.
The Chapter house is inside the loggia of the oldest cloister, called “del Capitolo”.
The Cloister of St Benedetto is the largest one. It was built between 1508 and 1512 with a very elegant line giving a sense of lightness to the 36 column portico; each column is separated from the next one by 26 figures of saints made by Giovanni Battista Merano and Tommaso Aldrovandini at the end of the 17th century.
Founded by Pier Maria Rossi in 1471 around the pre-existing church dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows, the Abbey of Santa Maria della Neve is located in Torrechiara, a town in Langhirano, a few kilometres from Parma, best known for its scenic castle.
The capitals of the fifteenth-century cloister recall those of the main courtyard nearby the castle.
The original bell of "magister Antonius" and a terracotta tile taken from a marble by Amedeo (1481-84) representing the Flagellation, offer lovely views between the harmonious arches of the quadrangular perimeter.
Here you can peek into the rooms: among them, a small oratory with a fresco depicting the Madonna col Bambino in Mandorla.
Don't miss a stop at the splendid Torrechiara Castle, where you can visit the Camera d'Oro (Gold Room) attributed to Benedetto Bembo and the wedding room, places that reveal the love story between Pier Maria Rossi and his beloved Bianca Pellegrini. Discovering these marvels is also an opportunity to try the culinary delights of the territory and of Parma, the UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.
Stop at a restaurant to savour typical dishes such as tortelli or anolini in broth, round in shape and filled with meat stew, seasoned with Parmigiano Reggiano and accompanied by plates of cured meats, including Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello di Zibello, Salame di Felino and others.
A wonderful example of a monumental complex of the Renaissance, in the historic centre of Reggio Emilia: the unique style of Giulio Romano meets Ionic columns, arches, gables and seventeenth-century statues of saints of the Benedictine order.
The structure is based along the two recently restored cloisters.
The smaller one - perhaps designed by Alessio Tramello - is a triumph of architectural elements.
The red and white marble columns by Clemente and the wall decorations by Moresino complete this oasis of peace next to the chaos of the city.
Alongside the Emilian elegant miniature there is the late Mannerist sculptural grandeur of the large cloister.
Today it is an exhibition space, a cultural centre of international importance and a place for talks and meetings, for sociability and innovation; it is also a co-working place with comfortable workstations, IT services and coffee breaks in the cafeteria space.
The Monastery is the oldest place of devotion in the city; it was built between 1233 and 1236 during the preaching period of the monk Giacomino of Reggio.
Inside the complex there are two cloisters with a very original history.
The friars' cells overlooked the largest one, built during the sixteenth century, while in the small one the past meets the contemporary of Robert Morris's "Less Than" sculpture.
Between the first and second courtyard, two lunettes suggest the presence of a seventeenth-century fresco.
The southeern part of the cloisters is now an exhibition space, while the first floor is headquarters of A. Peri Musical Institute.
In the heart of Reggio Emilia, the Chiostro della Ghiara (Cloister of the Ghiara), which can be visited from the entrance of the Ostello della Ghiara, in Via Guasco, has been returned to the city as a meeting point where it is possible to enjoy cultural events, musical performances, exhibitions, and taste the specialities of typical Emilian cuisine. It is part of the structure annexed to the magnificent Basilica della Beata Vergine della Ghiara, from which it takes its name, whose origin is linked to the presence of the Servants of Mary who settled in the city in 1313, building the convent and the dedicated church in a gravel area, since the ancient bed of the Crostolo river was diverted from outside the city walls.
A new sanctuary was inaugurated in 1619 with a festive ceremony of allegorical machines, which gave birth to the Giaréda festival. A wonder for the eyes and for the spirit the frescoes and decorations entrusted to the most talented painters of the time such as Leonello Spada, Ludovico Caracci, and Guercino. A visit to the cloister and then to the basilica is like a trip to an Emilian art gallery from the first half of the 17th century, with the substantial difference that the paintings are still visible in the place and location for which they were intended, including Guercino's "Crucifixion of Christ with the Madonna and Saints Mary Magdalene, St John and St Prospero".
Just a few kilometres from Reggio Emilia, the municipality of Rubiera is home to Corte Ospitale, a 16th-century monumental complex whose main cloister can be admired at the entrance, followed by a second, smaller cloister.
Following careful restoration, since 2000 the Ospitale has been a cultural centre for the area and a theatre, with fully equipped rooms, but also a guesthouse and exhibition spaces for shows and events.
A deconsecrated church is also revealed inside. Also not to be missed is the theatre season at the Herberia Theatre in Rubiera, one of Emilia's historic theatres.
Designed with late-liberty features and inaugurated in 1926 with a performance of Puccini's opera Bohème, it was later adapted as a cinema. After a long period of closure, it was restored and reopened in 1998 with state-of-the-art technology.