Castles, fortress and towers of Terre di Castelli, province of Modena
What would Terre di Castelli be without its beautiful castles?
An overview of the castles, fortresses and towers that give Terre di Castelli its name: bulwarks of a turbulent past, made up of disputes and power-struggles between families, but also of art and beauty. With a pretty good view of the Modena hills.
If we think of suggestive places, dotted with castles immersed in green landscapes, our thoughts immediately turn to distant places: Scotland, Bavaria, the Loire. But also in Italy there are some fine examples. The hills around Modena, eight municipalities that stretch to the heart of the Apennines: Castelnuovo Rangone, Spilamberto, Vignola, Savignano sul Panaro, Castelvetro di Modena, Guiglia, Marano, Zocca are one such example. Not by chance these territories are known as the Terre di Castelli.
When the past leaves its mark
Often the places full of fortresses and castles have troubled histories, family disputes, tribal wars, borders to defend and constant threats. The Terre di Castelli around Modena are no exception. The fortresses built here, well-preserved to this today, were initially fortifications for military use. Erected in strategic positions to maintain control of the territory in the medieval period and resist the continual struggle for power between local seigniories. What was once a strategic military location today offers us breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
The territory then became part of the Este domain, which chose Ferrara for its first captial city and, from the end of the 1500s, Modena. The Estensi, like many other rulers, entrust the direct rule over lands far from the capital to less noble loyal families who settle in the existant medieval fortresses in the territory south of Modena, between the hills and the river Panaro - often not without difficulty! The families change the fortresses and make them elegant, though mighty, residences.
Rangoni, Montecuccoli, Savignani, Contrari, Boncompagni, Malatigni are all names of families who for centuries have ruled over the Este lands, the area now included in the Terre di Castelli. These are the noble families that occupied the fortresses and castles that we still see in the heart of the historical centers, or in commanding positions over their respective communities. Sometimes castles and forts have been transformed from top to bottom (as can be seen in the Castello di Guiglia (Castle of Guiglia), other times they have been enriched with elegant frescoes, turning them into stately homes and precious monuments (the happy fate of the Rocca di Vignola). In any case, communities left their mark, not only on buildings, but also on the culture and toponymy.
The large number of fortified buildings, castles and fortresses that we still see should not surprise us. The territory of the Terre di Castelli were the borderlands with Bologna, part of the State of the Church, and therefore a delicate area, where tensions were riot.
Among all the territories, Zocca has the most towers, small fortresses and castles, given that for centuries it was disputed between Modena and Bologna. Over the centuries, small and large fortifications have sprung up on the ridges like mushrooms in the woods. Some have become ruins, others have been incorporated into charming villages overlooking the mountains and chestnut groves.
The Spada dei Contrari (The Battle for the Contrari Sword)
Would you like to live a day from 1409? In Savignano we can, during the commemoration of captain Uguccione dei Contrari winning power over Savignano. You will find the complete court of Este, medieval markets, duels, shows and, above all, the Palio (a contest) disputed every year among the six districts of the area to win the "Spada dei Contrari" .
Imagine the most bizarre art forms coming to life in a charming village dotted with medieval towers. In odd-number years, this fantasy becomes reality in Castelvetro di Modena thanks to Mercurdo, the Festival of the Absurd. And you'll see that all the shows, works and installations that await you can go far beyond your own imagination!
Sogno o son d'Este
Have you ever thought about what certain ancient buildings might have originally looked like? Among the buildings there is also the Rocca of Vignola. Discover the days when you can see the original painted decorations projected on the Rocca, and thereby rediscover the monument in a new look ... or would it be better to say ancient?
In the centuries in which castles, fortresses and towers became stately homes, the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar was already a reality. Every October, in Spilamberto, the masters of the community celebrate “l’oro nero” the black gold of the Modena territory with Mast Cot, the cooking of the must in the open air under the curious eyes of citizens and visitors.
Towers, keeps and fortresses still intact
In the area of Modena there are very well-preserved castles which are completely open to visitors. Among them, the Rocca di Vignola (Fortress of Vignola) is perhaps the most well-known historical building of the Terre di Castelli. Outside it’s a grim, military building, inside it’s a stately building with colored frescoes that offer an explosion of medieval and Renaissance imaginary. The large Torrione di Spilamberto (Castle of Spilamberto), instead, marks the entrance to the town, its features - in some ways - still threatening. Especially to the poor Messer Filippo, a nobleman imprisoned inside it in the 16th century, who left some writings engraved on the walls of his cell: messages from another time that still frighten and excite the imagination. In Spilamberto, however, the greatest protagonist is Rocca Rangoni, a fascinating building with more than 650 years of history, built to control the course of the Panaro river, which for centuries marked the border with the Bolognese territories, and became the prestigious residence of the Marchesi Rangoni, one of the most influential noble families in the history of the territory.
The Castello di Levizzano (Castle of Levizzano) together with its keep and robust Torre Matildica (Matildica Tower) still stands tall over the village of Levizzano Rangone and surrounding Lambrusco Grasparossa vineyards. Towards the Apennines, however, the Castello di Guiglia (Castle of Guiglia) has become an elegant baroque residence, quite different from what it must have been when it was a defensive stronghold. During one of the many sieges that plagued the castle, according to stories handed down over the centuries the ‘borlengo’ was born, a food requiring very few ingredients and could still feed the besieged.
Many fortified castles have only partly survived the test of time. The village of Campiglio and the ancient village of Savignano sul Panaro, which dominate the surrounding hilly landscape are examples. The villages of Montetortore and Montecorone, in the mountains of Zocca. The Castellaro and the Castellino delle Formiche, two of the residences of the Malatigni nobles near what is now the Regional Park of the Sassi di Roccamalatina, a place that owes its name to this family.
And finally the towers, which once held the role of the watchtowers of the fortifications. The Torre mozzata di Rosola,(Severed Tower of Rosola), where in the 19th Century a real treasure of coins and precious objects was discovered, dating back to the period between the ninth and eleventh century. The Torre Civica di Castelnuovo (Civic Tower of Castelnuovo), under which today runs a statue depicting a nice bronze piglet. The many towers of the old village of Castelvetro, including the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) overlooking the beautiful chessboard of the square and the Lambrusco Grasparossa vineyards.
Over the merlons, an amazing view
Whether they are well-preserved fortresses or surviving towers of collapsed fortifications, the castles of the Terre di Castelli territory tell its story. And they all have something in common. Unless they have undergone considerable architectural upheavals of more recent times, they are buildings with very similar shapes that make them visibly recognizable.
They are built in brick or stone, they have a powerful, squared structure, complete with square base corner towers that rise up towards the sky. Just like the imposing appearance of the Scottish castles, the opulent ones of the Loire or the fairytale ones of Bavaria, even the appearance of the castles of Modena have there own unique character. But above all, once you arrive at your destination, they offer a breathtaking view that, depending on the place, can extend to the Via Emilia and beyond to the Po Valley, or stretch up to the ridges of the Apennines.
If the lords of the past took the opportunity to check that in their territory everything was in order, we can do better: abandon ourselves to that special pleasure that only the beauty of certain landscapes can give.