Castelfranco Emilia lies on the border between the Provinces of Modena and Bologna along the ancient Roman road known as the Via Emilia. Its strategic position made it the subject of disputes between the two rival cities for centuries.
The Castelfranco Emilia area was inhabited as early as pre-Roman times, when the Ligurians and later the Etruscans settled there. With the arrival of the Gauls in the 4th century BCE, a populated area known as the Forum Gallorum arose, which the Romans converted into a place for their armies to rest. Castelfranco’s name comes from the establishment of Borgo Franco (also known as Castello Franco) in 1226 by the Bolognese, who built a fortified settlement to defend themselves against the Modenese. The village continued to belong to Bologna even after Bologna passed into the Papal State. In 1929, the government officially transferred the town of Castelfranco into the Province of Modena.
Castelfranco Emilia is a small, well-tended, and welcoming town located along the Via Emilia, famous as the birthplace of tortellini and as the home of “sfogline,” the expert “rezdore” (cooks) who prepare homemade egg pasta. Nearby stands Villa Sorra, a splendid historical residence with a “romantic” garden.
The Church of Saint James (Chiesa di San Giacomo) and the archaeological museum in Palazzo Piella are located in the center of Castelfranco Emilia. Visitors can also enjoy a relaxing walk under the town’s porticos.
The Simonini Archaeological Museum conserves important prehistoric, Roman, and Medieval finds from the area.
In addition to products representative of the Modena area, including Modena’s traditional PDO (protected designation of origin) balsamic vinegar, its PGI (protected geographical indication) balsamic vinegar, its PDO Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, varieties of sparkling red lambrusco wine, and zampone and cotechino (dishes made from a mixture of ground pork flavored with herbs and spices and stuffed into the hollowed-out lower-leg of a hog), visitors shouldn’t overlook Castelfranco Emilia’s classic tortellini.
Tortellini are the most famous pasta variety in the Emilia area. Castelfranco claims the honor of being their birthplace and, each September, hosts a festival in which costumed revelers reenact the invention of tortellini.
According to legend, during the Middle Ages, an innkeeper peeked through a keyhole to spy on a beautiful guest as she undressed. He was so struck by the contours of her navel that he rushed to the kitchen to reproduce what he’d seen in the medium of pasta.
Cars and Cuisine
Events in March celebrate two of the greatest passions of this part of Italy.
The Tortellini Festival in Castelfranco Emilia
Castelfranco Emilia’s annual Tortellini Festival, held on the second Sunday of September, features costumed historical reenactments that tell the legend of the invention of tortellini. During the festival, the role of “innkeeper” is bestowed upon a citizen who, for a year, is the official custodian of the tortellini tradition.
The Panzano Castle and the Righini Collection of Vintage Automobiles
Near Castelfranco Emilia in “Motor Valley” stands Panzano Castle and its comprehensive privately owned museum of vintage automobiles, the Righini Collection.
Beginning in his youth, when he witnessed the demolition of government-requisitioned vehicles, Mario Righini began to develop a grand passion for saving and restoring vintage cars. The demonstration of his dedication now lies within the castle’s ancient walls.
The collection contains about 350 models, including the Auto Avio Costruzioni 815 from 1940, the first automobile designed by Enzo Ferrari, even before his own factory existed; and an Alfa Romeo 2300 8C that once belonged to legendary Italian racing driver, Tazio Nuvolari. The museum’s other treasures represent the very best in motor vehicle manufacturing from such firms as Ferrari, Mercedes Benz, Isotta Fraschini, and Rolls Royce.
The splendid Villa Sorra Park is only a few minutes away in Gaggio. Villa Sorra is one of the most important historic villas in the Modena area, and its grounds include what is considered the most representative example of a "romantic" garden of the 19th century. Many believe it to be the most important informal garden in Emilia Romagna.
Piumazzo Castle was built by Bolognese armies in 1202 as an outpost for the defense of Bologna’s territory against the City of Modena, and is known for its Rocca Magna fort and for the fort’s imposing tower, the Torrazzo, which encloses the town gates.
Pagani Automobile Factory and Museum in San Cesario sul Panaro
The Pagani Factory and Museum are open to visitors, but reservations are required.