Montebello Park is set within the “Matildic Estates”, which were protected by a network of castles that can still be seen and are a key feature of the area, lending it great cultural and historical importance, as well as making it a notable tourist destination. Indeed, the whole area is inevitably associated with Matilda of Canossa, a pivotal figure in Italian history between the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
The best preserved of these defensive works that were designed to give protection against attacks from the plain are the castles of Canossa, Bianello and Rossena. An important feature of the landscape are the four prominent hills, each of which used to be crowned by a castle, hence the name of the nearby village of Quattro Castella.
Montebello Park is crossed by one of the paths that linked this network of Matildic castles. It also marks the watershed and ran from Reggio Emilia to Canossa, taking in Quattro Castella and continuing across Val d’Ensa and reaching the villages in the foothills of the Apennines. It is still commonly used as a hiking, riding and mountain bike trail.
Canossa Castle is the most famous fortification in the province of Reggio. All that remains of it now are a few walls still left standing at the top of the hill, but it was once the residence of Matilda of Canossa, a patron of the Renaissance poet Ludovico Ariosto. It was at Canossa that Emperor Henry IV made peace with Pope Gregory VII in January 1077, a key episode in the struggle for control of the investiture that pitted the Holy Roman Empire against the Papacy. Canossa is 15-minute drive from Montebello Park.
Further information on www.castellodicanossa.it
Montebello Park lies within the municipality of Quattro Castella, which takes its name from four nearby castles, each on its hill. Arriving from Montecavolo to the east one comes first to Monte Vetro, which is followed by Bianello, Monte Lucio and Monte Zane. These were all part of the northern defences of the Canossa estates. The castles are now no more than romantic ruins, except for Bianello Castle, which has survived virtually intact.
Further information: www.comune.quattro-castella.re.it
Castles of Reggio
The circuit that takes in the Matildic castles and the courts of Reggio includes the ancient manor houses that were part of the feudal defensive system of the Canossa family and the more recent Renaissance buildings that underpinned the power of the Este family.
For opening times and visiting options, visit the website: www.castellireggiani.it
Castles of Parma
The extraordinary and numerous fortresses and manor houses to have survived in the provinces of Parma and Piacenza led in 1999 to the creation of the “Cestelli del Ducato di Parma e Piacenza” (Castles of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza) association. The aims matched those of the new “Club di Prodotto” philosophy for the promotion of tourist destinations. It united private and public property owners in a single body as charter members, supporting members and ordinary members.
At present twenty-two castles have joined the scheme.
Further information: www.castellidelducato.it
The city of Reggio Emilia was founded by the Romans. In the Middle Ages, it was a free commune and then was annexed to the dominion of the House of Este and the Duchy of Modena until the unification of Italy. It then became the capitol of the province with the same name. The Valli Theatre, the Cathedral, the Basilica of San Prospero and the Temple of the Blessed Virgin of Ghiara are well worth a visit, as is the “Sala del Tricolore” (Room of the Tricolor, Italy’s flag) in the town hall: Italy’s flag was first presented in Reggio Emilia on 7th January 1797.
For further information: www.municipio.re.it
The nearby city of Parma is of ancient Roman origins. After the Middle Ages, it became the capitol of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, under the dominion of the House of Farnese. The city was then ruled by the House of Bourbon and the Duchy played an important role in Europe under Marie Louise of Austria, Napoleon’s wife. The Romanesque Cathedral and Baptistery, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata, the National Gallery, the “Palazzo della Pilotta” and the Ducal Palace are well worth a visit.
For further information: www.turismo.parma.it
The town once ruled by the Gonzagas, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, lies one hour’s drive from Montebello Park. Beautifully situated between three lakes, it contains some of the most important monuments of the Italian Renaissance, such as the Ducal Palace, Palazzo Te, the Duomo, the Castle of San Giorgio, Palazzo della Ragione and Mantegna’s house.
For information: www.turismo.mantova.it
The valley of the river Ensa separates the provinces of Reggio and Parma. But for centuries it marked the border between the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza and the Duchy of Modena. This is why it boasts a whole string of little forts that face each other on either side of the river, at times amounting to full-fledged castles and at others simply being a house with a tower. The natural environment is very well preserved and international canoeing competitions are held on the river. Some of the most charming villages are Montecchio, Montechairugolo, San Polo, Vetto and Scurano.
For further information: reggioemiliaturismo.provincia.re.it