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From Ciano to Casina: the heart of Countess Matilda's lands

Contacts:

Place:

42026 Canossa

Periods of Activity:

All year round.

The conduct:

By car or bike.

Route:

How should we describe this itinerary? That's easily answered: it is a classic itinerary through the former lands of Countess Matilda. There are several alternatives you can choose from, from actually getting to the starting point, the roads you opt for and in which order but, all in all, the main ingredients are the same. And what ingredients they are, with a topping of world-famous merit! The expression "to go to Canossa" is common to many European languages (it means to eat humble pie and ask for forgiveness). So it is safe to assume the castle at Canossa is a yardstick for many learned tourists all over the world. The episode in question is the well-documented papal pardon that Gregory VII granted to Emperor Henry IV in January 1077. Grand Countess Matilda helped to mediate the event and offered hospitality to the parties; she was an important person in her day who still has a devoted following in the area today, as can be seen in the many top-notch historical pageants held locally.

Tourist Area:

Tra Ciano e Casina

Details of tour:

Detailed Itinerary:
Length of the route: 68 km If you are coming from Reggio Emilia, the first stop is at Quattro Castella. Easily the most famous and colourful historical pageant, involving hundreds of extras, is held every year here on the last Sunday in May, and has been going strong for the last thirty years. Don't miss it if you are anywhere nearby at this time of year. Instead of taking the main road that gets you to San Polo fairly quickly, we suggest turning off left, up towards the hills, for a view of the four hills that give the town its name. The hill that stands out in particular is crowned by a castle: Bianello (the other hills also had a stronghold standing guard on top, but these have long since fallen down and now little trace remains of them). The view is magnificent, with the plain stretching out in front of you. At night, you can see a vast expanse of sparkling lights; on a clear winter's day, you can see as far as the Alps.
Before you arrive at Canossa, you drive past the little Madonna della Battaglia Church, originally built by Matilda to mark her victory over the Emperor's army in 1092 (although the building you can see now is much more recent). The view of the white sandstone crag supporting what remains of the castle is quite spectacular and lovely views await you as you approach: the road crosses ravines with a backdrop of the Enza valley and Rossena castle, one of the Canossa family's military strongholds defending the river.
 Canossa Castle has suffered the ravages of time and you need a vivid imagination to picture it in its former splendour. Thankfully, the small recently renovated museum has a large plastic model that gives you a good idea of what the castle looked like in Countess Matilda's day. Unless it's a Monday, when the museum is closed, you really should make time for a visit.
Before you get back on the road, you could also take a short detour and visit the nearby hamlet of Votigno and the Casa del Tibet, once visited by the Dalai Lama himself. The hamlet has been beautifully renovated, or should we say rebuilt, with turrets and charming porticoes, sandstone crenellations and embellishments that may not actually be in keeping with the original appearance. But does it matter? This is a magical place, centred around a little square that looks straight out of fairytale. Some would say a spiritual place, where your dreams of olden times seem to come true in the stone walls and wooden beams of the old villages (as we like to imagine them, not like they really were). Back at Canossa, you make another detour and visit Rossena if you want to follow the itinerary in the original order (there will be lots of other detours: alas, the places worth visiting are not always in a straight line for the benefit of tourists). Unlike the castle at Canossa,Rossena castleis still standing, mainly because it was built on a bed of harder rock, called "rosso serpentino" giving the village and the castle their name. If you want to extend your visit, you can even stay overnight at the hostel. A cost-effective way to stay in a castle with more than a thousand years of history under its belt. An opportunity you don't get every day.
Back on the road to Canossa again, you continue past some lovely villages in terms of the history of their architecture, on your approach to Casina. The first and most important is Cerredolo dei Coppi with its characteristic buildings, such as the 16th century manor house at the entrance of the old town. There is a worthwhile detour at Faieto, though it is not a particularly short one, to visit the oratory at Pianzo, one of the most important in this area, originally dating back to the time of the Canossa family. The small church has elements dating back to various stages in history: the earliest from the 13th century and the more recent added during the renovation of the 18th century. It lies in an extremely attractive setting.
Back on the main road, go past Cortogno, Sarzano and Casina. When you reach Cortogno, you might decide to drive a couple of hundred metres down to the Tassobio Brook to have a look at the old Leguigno Mill, which is actually a lot closer to Cortogno than to Leguigno. It was recently renovated and has been turned into a museum with a country hotel and restaurant(Agriturismo Mulino in Pietra).
Once you reach Sarzano, there is a partially renovated castle from Matilda's day and a renovated Baroque church, now used for exhibitions and special events. The hamlet itself has also been renovated by the Town Council of Casina. Tourists and visitors are catered for by the lovely and inexpensive (Locanda in Sarzano) with top quality food. Definitely worth stopping for!
Casina is a modern town with a wide range of facilities for tourists that acts as a hub for anyone intending to explore the area. One idea would be to take a trip (pastMigliara) to Leguigno to see a good example of a tower house, the pretty parish church and the castle (sadly not open to visitors) that was once home to the Fogliani family. After visiting Leguigno, drive back towards Migliara and then to the Romanesque oratory at Beleo, known for its well-preserved apsidal area.
Before you go back to Casina, leave some time for one last detour: the road up to theabbey at Marola that was built around the time of Countess Matilda and a beacon of culture in the Apennines because of the seminary founded here in 1824. The church was recently renovated but it still makes for a worthwhile visit, along with the house nearby and its immediate surroundings.
The drive back to Reggio from Casina is not on the main SP63 (with a recently built series of tunnels, making this a fast drive back), but opts for the original road past Monchio dei Ferri, Costaferrata, Sordiglio and Pecorile: villages from days gone by that still have a hint of their past. The most interesting village is Bergogno, just off the main road at Costaferrata. The village was carefully renovated recently and has many old buildings telling a tale of the past. Today, Bergogno is a hub for walkers and attracts hoards of visitors in summer who come to admire the village and enjoy the entertainment organised by the locals.
Yet another detour at Costaferrata on the way back will take you to another old church: Paullo, which has been standing here since 980. The Romanesque capitals are the most important sign of its past. Before you return to Reggio, just ahead of the hamlet of Rivalta (past the Le Forche road signs), cast an eye across at the ducal villas: the first thing to come into view is the large man-made lake at vasca di Corbelli with the villa built on the island (you can actually go and have a look at the lake because a fishing enthusiasts' club is based here). Next, as you drive towards the town, you should see a large villa on the right: this is currently the head office of the Ferrarini ham and cured meat plant. On the right, after the primary school in the centre of Rivalta, you will see the "Palazzone" or the "Ducal Palace" once the servants' quarters in a magnificent palace that was abandoned as Napoleon approached and was subsequently destroyed. You really need a copy of the old print showing the villa in all its 18th century glory to make out the remaining buildings. Ask for a copy by sending an e-mail toturismo@mbox.provincia.re.it.
Last update: March 8, 2021

Municipality:

Canossa
Piazza Matteotti, 28 - loc. Ciano d'Enza
42026 Canossa (RE)
0522 248411
0522 248450

A cura della redazione IAT Informazione e Accoglienza Turistica dell'Unione Montana dei Comuni dell’Appennino Reggiano
Via Franceschini 1/a - 42035 Castelnovo ne’ Monti (R.E.) | Tel. 0522 810430 Fax 0522 812313 | E-mail: iat@appenninoreggiano.it