The link between the castles and the female figures that, in different ways, have impregnated the stones of their personality becomes the starting point for a unique tour to discover the history between the hills of Reggio Emilia, Parma and Piacenza, in the hinterland of Emilia.
From the Castle of Canossa to the Castle of Rossena, from Vigoleno, passing through Torrechiara and Sala Baganza, the great ladies of distant times becomes ideal guides for an original itinerary of arms and love.
The itinerary starts from the legendary Canossa Castle. Here, in the very rigid January 1077, the emperor Henry IV - after the ex-communication and the rebellion of the noble subordinates - arrived as a penitent with his army and made a long antechamber to obtain from Pope Gregory VII, at the time guest of Matilde of Canossa, the lifting of the ex-communication and the reinstatement of powers, remaining for three days on the snow, outside the circle of the walls, barefoot, dressed in only woollen clothes.
History and the World have consecrated this episode as "The forgiveness of Canossa". Mediator and guarantor of this "spectacular rite" was the mythological Grand Countess. Among those present at the "humiliation" appears another female figure: Berta of Savoia (1051 - 1087), wife of the Emperor. More than a century earlier, in 930, Adalberto Atto, ancestor of Matilda, had offered shelter within the castle walls to Queen Adelaide, persecuted by Berengario and future empress of Europe.
Next to the Canossa cliff in a landscape of reddish ophiolite, the stronghold of Rossena rises with the nearby tower of Rossenella, defensive outpost of the Canossa in the fortified system of the Enza valley. Here, in the rooms of the castle of Rossena, the ghosts of the protagonists of the ancient legend of Everelina, daughter of a vassal of Matilde of Canossa, who to escape the wedding with a man he did not love, chose to die by jumping into the cliff. Even today, the rocks at the foot of the castle walls remind passengers about this story of love and death that the men of the village have been repeating for centuries. In times closer to us, others female presences have left their mark in the castle that had now become a residence: The Duchess of Parma Maria Luigia and Princess Adelgonda of Bavaria, wife of the Duke of Modena Francesco V of Este.
Beatrice was a princess of royal lineage: her father, Federico, was duke of Lorraine, while her mother, Matilde, was daughter of the duke of Swabia. Orphaned of both parents, she was welcomed to court by her aunt Gisella, wife of Emperor Corrado II. Heir of one of the most prominent families of the empire, in 1038 she was married to Bonifacio of Tuscany and from this union three children were born: Beatrice, Federico and Matilde, who was the only one to reach adulthood to become one of the most famous women of the medieval west: Matilde di Canossa. Upon the death of her husband, in 1052, Beatrice remarried with Duke Goffredo of Lorraine, called the Bearded One, and with him she governed the brand of Tuscany and the possessions inherited from Bonifacio for 24 years, becoming one of the most powerful women of the time.
The castle of Bianello is deeply linked to the figure of Beatrice of Lorraine, as it was she who purchased it in 1044 with an act which constitutes the first certain attestation of its existence.
The itinerary continues in the Parma area along Provincial 665 which leads from Parma to Langhirano. On the undulating profile of the hills planted with vines, stands the imposing and at the same time gentle bulk of the Torrechiara castle.
Twelve years, from 1448 to 1460, were enough to build it and thus create one of the most spectacular castle complexes in Italy and, perhaps, in Europe. Romantic fifteenth-century manor with medieval and renaissance features, it was built by Pier Maria Rossi for his beloved Bianca Pellegrini, whose love story is celebrated by the "Golden Room" attributed to Benedetto Bembo: a pilgrim, Bianca, runs through the possessions of the count, from the mountain fortresses to the great lowland buildings; Love, blindfolded, pierces the two young men, condemning them to an imperishable passion.
The Rocca of Sala Baganza witnessed the events of Maria Luigia, wife of Napoleon, empress of the French and Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, who lived there with her two children in the nineteenth century. Very important for the local defensive system already between the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle now houses the Wine Museum in the cellars and allows you to dive into the noble atmosphere of the past with visits to the Farnesian Garden and to rooms that hold precious frescoes and sixteenth-century and eighteenth-century decorations.
Centuries before Maria Luigia, the manor had already seen another great woman as protagonist: Donella de' Rossi, born around the year 1435 by Antonia Torelli and the Magnificent Pier Maria Rossi, count of Berceto and marquis of San Secondo. In 1454 he married the first earl of Sala, Giberto III Sanvitale, in a famous and controversial union, the result of an attempt at alliance between the two families, bitter opponents in political and territorial games.
In August 1482, taking advantage of the absence of Giberto III and his son Bernardino, engaged in the defence of the Rocca of Oriano, Amuratte Torelli, cousin of Donella, attacked the Rocca of Sala, unexpectedly finding the obstinate opposition of the countess, decisive not only for the battle but also for the future fate of the Sanvitale, who, thanks to this act of courage, will maintain the uncontested dominion over the area for over a century and a half.
Considered one of the first emancipated women of the "Modern" Era, the marquise Giacoma Pallavicino is the protagonist of a truly exciting story, closely linked to the Castle of Scipione. An important Renaissance female figure, daughter of Bernardino Pallavicino of Zibello, she married very young, in 1529, to the elderly cousin Giangerolamo Pallavicino di Scipione. From this "political" marriage, which was imposed on her to strengthen the bond between the two branches of the family, a story full of twists and turns begins. Left alone following the murder of her husband by the cousins, Giacoma, who had no children, found herself fighting against family conspiracies, leading a Castle, administering personally - an exceptional fact for the time - a huge heritage.
The young widow challenged the agreements by deciding not to remarry and expressing Ignatius of Loyola the desire to enter the Society of Jesus several times. Punctually refused for the mere fact of being a woman, she set up the "Spiritual Young Women Company" on her own, dedicating his life to help the weakest and in particular unmarried girls and children, to whom he will allocate all the proceeds of his properties. Her painful family affairs and battles were collected by the art historian Katherine Mc Iver in the important book "Women, Art and Architecture in Northern Italy", where she is defined as one of the first examples of emancipated woman of the "Modern Era".
To transform the Castle of Vigoleno into an incredible worldly drawing room was the beautiful Princess Maria Ruspoli Gramont, a friend of intellectuals, actors and musicians of the calibre of Gabriele D'Annunzio, Max Ernst, Anna Pavlova, Alexandre lacovleff, Jean Cocteau, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Elsa Maxwell and Arthur Rubinstein. All were guests of the manor.
In 1933, the surrealist artist Max Ernst spent a holiday period in Vigoleno at the invitation of the princess: here he painted "The embalmed forest", oil on canvas (162x253 cm), now preserved at the Menil Collection in Houston, a frottage where the perfect fusion of the greens, yellows and blues of the plants in the foreground with the blue and emerald green of the sky creates a mystical and disturbing atmosphere. Even between the two wars, Maria Ruspoli Gramont lived for long years in Vigoleno. A stone walled in the garden terrace of the castle reminds us of its admirable restoration. However, the wealthy and eclectic lifestyle and the redevelopment of the castle cost her the fortune she had inherited from her first husband, the elderly duke Antoine XI Agenor de Gramont: in 1935, after having squandered her wealth, she returned to France and married Francois Victor Hugo (1889-1981), son of the writer. However, even this marriage was not happy and ended in divorce.
Another woman protagonist this time of a story of blood, intrigue and passion. Legend has it that the ghost of the beautiful Laura Della Vigna who with her lover Sergio was beheaded here still wanders around the prisons of the Rocca Viscontea in Arquato’s Castle.
In 1620, in fact, Cardinal Sforza condemned to death the alleged conspirators of his Lordship, the brave Sergio Montale and his servant Arturo Galatti known as Spadone; but the two prisoners are made to flee by the jailer's daughter, the beautiful Laura, in fact, who steals the keys from her father and runs away with them. Of the three, discovered and captured by the rejected lover of the young and murderer of his father, only Spadone will be able to get away and subsequently avenge the unhappy couple, however, ending his days in the prisons of the Rocca.
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