UNIONE TERRE DI CASTELLI
Located in the lowlands just outside Modena, Castelnuovo Rangone has been a municipality since 1025. This ancient castle was owned by the Pico della Mirandola family until 1391 when it passed to the Rangoni family, who held it for almost four centuries. The original layout of medieval fortified village with towers, moats and walls evolved during 19th century and in recent decades Castelnuovo has undergone intense demographic growth, reaching almost 15.000 inhabitants in the municipal territory as a whole. Even today visitors can read the town's history in its monuments, created long ago but altered over the centuries. The parish church, the square tower that was once part of the Rocca dei Rangoni, and the town hall all stand as symbols of the town, along with the famous pig statue in the main square. As a matter of fact, pork products are Castelnuovo's main output and true genius loci, so much so that the town holds a place in the Guinness Book of World records for its popular Super Zampone festival, a local fixture taking place the first Sunday in December every year. In fact, Castelnuovo is home to the MuSa–Museo della Salumeria Italy's first–ever museum dedicated to charcuterie and a site for local, national and international communication and training activities.
The municipal tower, the town's main monument, dates to the 15th century and bears witness to the ancient castle built there in the 10th century: having been incorporated into the buildings of the original downtown over time, in the 14th century the castle was fortified by the Rangoni family with the addition of this imposing Torrione (tower). Recently rediscovered, Castelnuovo's medieval defensive walls date back to the 13th century; so far, restoration work has uncovered only a part of them, in front of the Torrione proudly stands a bronze statue of a free–range pig, a tribute to the engine driving Castelnuovo's economy that has come to represent one of the most famous images of the town.
Terramara di Montale Archaeological Park one of the few open–air archaeological museums in Italy, this park offers visitors a life–size reconstruction of a part of the Terramare village dating to 1650–1150 BC that was uncovered by excavations carried out at Montale. Successive studies made it possible to deduce the layout of the village. The remains of this village are presented in a museum area set up as if the site were still being excavated, while another part of the village has been rebuilt, featuring massive fortifications, two houses perfectly furnished with faithful reproductions of the 3500 year–old original items, and workshops for firing pottery and producing bronze objects. And lastly, the extensive botanical findings allowed archaeologists to reconstruct the Bronze Age environment by selecting tree species present in that period. What is a Terramara? Terramare were villages built in Emilia and the Po Valley around the middle of the second millennium BC, in the Middle–Late Bronze Age. The settlements, surrounded by impressive embankments and large ditches, involved houses, arranged in an orthogonal layout and often built on above– ground platforms like pile–dwellings even though, unlike these latter, Terramare were not situated in lake or river areas.
Spilamberto made its first appearance in 776 when historical documents mention a hospice for pilgrims located in this area and owned by the Abbazia di Nonantola. Indeed, Spilamberto grew up near the Via Romea, one of the ancient routes running through Europe bound for Rome. It was precisely on this road, near Spilamberto, that the illustrious Pope Hadrian III met his death in 885 while traveling to Worms to visit the Emperor. The Castle of Spilamberto was built and expanded during the Middle Ages when the municipality of Modena choose it to host a garrison overlooking the Panaro river. The castle walls, dating to 1210, were constructed in this period. Afterwards, the fief of Spilamberto was ruled by the aristocratic Rangoni family until the Napoleonic era. Today, the town has about 12.000 inhabitants and is home to the Consorteria dell'Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, representing one of the area's main products alongside nocino liqueur and amaretti cookies. Spilamberto has also established the Museo dell'Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena dedicated to this precious condiment, where visitors can learn about its history, culture and production.
The Torrione is the town's most emblematic landmark: this ancient medieval fortress serving as both entrance to the town centre and stronghold for defending it overlooks the entire valley from its lofty balconies, all the way to Modena, Bologna and the southern hills. Here visitors can explore the prison cell of Messer Filippo, a unique and mysterious, secret cell rediscovered in 1947. The walls, completely covered in inscriptions, drawings and graffiti, served as diary for this highly cultured 16th century prisoner. Further down Corso Umberto I, the main downtown street, we come to the antique Palazzo Rangoni, the luxurious medieval residence housing in Spilamberto's feudal lords before they relocated to the fortress. Continuing down the street, we find the Palace of the governor – Guido II of the Rangoni family – also known as Comune Vecchia, built in 1525.
Rocca Rangoni owned by the Rangoni marquises for over 650 years, was purchased by the Municipality of Spilamberto in 2005. The Rocca was constructed over top the garrison originally built to guard the border with Bologna and Panaro riverway. Initial renovations focused on the Cortile d'Onore, restoring it to its original beauty and making it accessible. This courtyard now contains the Corte del Gusto, a space showcasing and celebrating the crown jewels of local food and wine production. The Rocca currently houses exhibitions and cultural initiatives, particularly featuring food and wine.
SAVIGNANO SUL PANARO
On the slopes of the final Apennine foothills, where the Panaro leaves its valley and the plains unfold, sits the ancient village of Savignano, one of the most picturesque medieval towns in Emilia–Romagna. The original hamlet located above the modern town is framed by a charming landscape of rolling hills, vineyards and oak groves. This is also a key farming area, as reflected by the fact that Savignano belongs the most important consortium safeguarding Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto di Modena and Vignola's local cherries and plums. And let us not forget its equally important wine production, as Savignano hosts eleven wines classified as DOC, in particular Pignoletto, designated Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOCG. Savignano's land is not only generous with its agricultural products, it has also offered up archaeological finds of unquestionable value. In addition to ancient evidence of human settlements, the two most dating to the Paleolithic period, and an elephant skeleton from the Pliocene. The first written records of human settlement in Savignano date to 898. Like many buildings in the area, the castle of Savignano passed from one aristocratic family to another, including the Contrari family and Matilde di Canossa, before it met the same fate as Vignola and ended up in the hands of the Boncompagni family in 1577.
The Venere and Elephant Museums both display archaeological finds from the local area, which has been populated since ancient times. The statuette known as Venere di Savignano is an ancient depiction of the female farm from the Upper Paleolithic that is quite steatopygic, that is, generously rounded. The piece in Savignano is a copy (the original is at the Museo Preistorico Etnografico Pigorini in Rome), displayed alongside reproductions of similar subjects found in Italy and Europe to offer a veritable into the prehistoric art of female figurines. The other local star is the skeleton of an elephant that lived approximately 2 million years ago, a female of the Mammuthus genus which gave rise to the meridionalis species living in Europe at the end of the Pliocene.
Vignola is the main headquarters of the Unione Terre di Castelli and, with over 25.000 inhabitants, its largest municipality. The etymology of the town's name is linked to wine production: in fact, Vignola derives from the Latin vineola or small vineyard. Only later was the cultivation of grapes replaced by cherries orchards, with a number of local and highly sought–after varieties such as the mora cherry. The first written record of settlement dates to 826 AD Vignola developed as a castle in the Middle Ages, built to watch over Via Claudia and the Panaro river. The fief remained under the rule of the bishop of Modena until 1227, when it passed to the municipality of Modena. In 1401 Nicolò III d'Este gave the fief to the Contrari family, who held it for two centuries before finally selling it to the Boncompagni family in 1577. The fortress' present–day appearance is the product of the changes ordered by the Contrari in the 15th century, transforming what was originally a military structure into a sumptuous mansion. Various famous people were born in Vignola, including the architect Jacopo Barozzi (in 1507) and historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori (in 1672).
At the centre of Vignola's oldest area we find the square named after the family that contributed the most between the 15th and 16th centuries to granting the town its present shape. Today, Piazza dei Contrari is landmark for locals and visitors alike, a venue for events and shows, and a focal point for exploring local culture and nature.
Vignola's Rocca or fortress is the symbol of the city. Over the centuries it has been a stronghold, a meeting point for inhabitants, an elegant residence, and a hub attracting artists, musicians, writers and politicians. Thought to have been built between the 9th and 10th centuries to defend the inhabited areas, it continued to play a military role until the beginning of the 15th century when the Contrary family, having been given the fief by the Estensi, transformed it into a sumptuous residence rich in decorations and frescoes, ideal for housing an important family and serving as a key political centre. Recently acquired by the Fondazione di Vignola and carefully restored over time so that every part of it is open to visitors, the Rocca is also a prestigious site of events, conferences and high–profile cultural initiatives.
Palazzo Boncompagni built on the square in front of the fortress as a new residence, this mansion is also known as Palazzo Barozzi because it was designed by the great architect Jacopo Barozzi, known as il Vignola. The four floors are vertically connected by one of the building's main attractions: its famous spiral staircase. With its extraordinary helical shape and single pillar supporting all 106 floating steps, the staircase is a highly impressive architectural masterpiece.
As the last lowland town and first to butt up against foothills, Marano sul Panaro has been described as the gateway to the Apennines and the gateway to the Cimone. This position represents an advantage for the town, allowing the community to achieve levels of economic and social development typical of the valley areas while also retaining, at the same time, the landscape and rural economy typical of the hillside areas. The natural environment is certainly its main attraction and it is home to the Museo Civico di Ecologia e Storia Naturale (City Museum of Ecology and Natural History), Parco Fluviale (River Park) and Modena–Casona Percorso Natura–Sole (Nature–Sun route), not to mention the Parco dei Sassi di Roccamalatina as well as numerous tracks and trails for hiking or mountain biking. Marano was mentioned for the first time in 887 and there are various accounts of how it was founded, the most credible of which describes it aa a garrison–type settlement established in the Lombard era. At any rate, the Marano area had already been inhabited beginning much earlier by the prehistoric Terramare civilizations.
From the Middle Ages onward, Marano's history was caught up with that of its castle, documented as dating to the 12th century. Modena and Bologna fought over the village between 1200 and 1300 until it passed to Guiglia and the Montecuccoli family. Its main sights include a number of naturalistic areas and some antique ecclesiastical buildings. Today, this area is primarily known for its orchards, including cherries, and hops farming, which is celebrated in an annual event.
The village of Denzano is located just 7 kilometres from town, on a scotch broom–covered hilltop. It was once home to a castle, of which only the square tower dating to 1100 AD is left. Nearby Villabianca is a little hamlet that has stood since 10th century and boasts a splendid view of the Panaro valley and its ravines.
The Antico Hospitale de Garamolis, Ospitaletto, was once a stopover for travellers and pilgrims. Nearby are examples of salse (sauces), a geological–vulcanic phenomenon widespread in the Modena foothills in which mud, salt water and various gases are released from the ground.
Overlooking Emilia's hills and lowlands, Guiglia is surrounded by the traces of its long history and a fascinating natural park. Guiglia looks out over the entire province of Modena from its perch atop a 490 metres high hill, offering a bird's eye view of the landscape below. It is no coincidence that the town is called the balcony of Emilia. The first document attesting to the town of Guiglia dates to 890. Its castle later came under the ownership of Matilde di Canossa, after which Bologna and Modena fought over it for many years.
The various lords who ruled over Guiglia also included the Pio da Carpi family, who obtained control in 1405 and the Montecuccoli, who held it from 1630 until the end of the 16th century Torre del Pubblico, an integral part of the castle, and the Pieve di Trebbio, a small Romanesque church. The surrounding area is instead remarkable for its landscape, including the Sassi di Roccamalatina regional park.
Like all fortresses, Guiglia's Ancient Castle was the scene of bloody battles between factions, fires and earthquakes, and alternating periods of rule that gradually changed its original layout. In 1630 the Marquis Francesco Montecuccoli began radical restoration work that transformed the old fortress into a sumptuous noble residence. The area before the original fortress entrance hosts the Torre del Pubblico, while nearby we find the oratory of the Madonnina, a miniature reproduction of a building which was particularly dear to the Montecuccoli family, Bologna's Santuario di San Luca.
Roccamalatina is a village halfway between Guiglia and Zocca that owes its fame to the Sassi di Roccamalatina, the majestic sandstone spires towering over the Panaro valley. As impregnable natural strongholds, they were home to fortified settlements since ancient times. Below the Sassi, the charming hamlet Rocca di Sopra features buildings with doorways from the 14th and 15th centuries as well as the Oratorio della Madonna dei Sassi with its 15th century bas reliefs. A niche on the oratory's altar holds a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who Roccamalatina locals consider the protector of their village.
Zocca is an Apennine town founded as a market place and now known for being rock star Vasco Rossi's birthplace. Zocca occupies the ridge dividing the Panaro valley from the Reno and Samoggia valleys, and this exceptional position ensures a uniquely refined air that makes this town a dependable respite from the city heat, especially in summer. Zocca serves as the country seat in multiple way: with the beautiful shop windows of its downtown, its many sports facilities and the busy program of events it offers in both summer and fall. At 759 metres above the sea level, Zocca is the highest municipality in the Unione Terre di Castelli and currently counts nearly 5.000 inhabitants.
Unlike other Unione towns, Zocca was not established in the early Middle Ages but rather in 1465, thanks to the Duke and Marquis Borso d'Este. The Duke opened a market here to promote trade. At the time, the area was known as Zoca after the varieties of chestnut, as this is one of the most common trees in the area. The settlement grew apace, fuelled by the increasing importance of commercial activities: it began as part of the town of Montalbano, which was dissolved in 1797, and was the united with Montecorone and later Guiglia until it was elevated to the status of country seat in 1859.
First mentioned in 1179, Montetortore Castle and its fortified village offer a breathtaking view. Near the beautiful Monte San Giacomo woods, where a path leads through chestnut groves to a birch forest containing an old former hospital, today home to the Museo del Castagno e del Borlengo (Chestnut and Borlengo Museum).
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