Fontanellato

Fontanellato, a historical jewel in Emilia-Romagna

July 27, 2021 | By

Fontanellato is an Italian town of 7.056 inhabitants in the province of Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

The territory corresponding to today’s Fontanellato was already inhabited during the Bronze Age, as demonstrated by the studies carried out by Luigi Pigorini at the end of the 19th century.

Subsequently the Fontanellatese territory was colonized by the Romans.

The toponym Fontanellato probably derives from the medieval “Fontana Lata” (extended source), with reference to the fountains, natural springs of the plain that can still be observed today in the Lower Parma area; the same water moat, still present around the Rocca Sanvitale, is to be associated with these spring phenomena.

A massive reclamation took place shortly after the year 1000 by the Cistercian monks of the nearby abbey of Fontevivo. Starting from 1100, Fontanellato found itself at the center of the struggles between the nascent Municipalities, along the Via Emilia; the first nucleus of the castle dates back to that time:  in 1124 the first defensive tower of the village was built by the Pallavicinos.

The origins of Fontanellato can already be found in prehistoric times, and are linked to the terraced settlement of Castellazzo, which emerged between 1888 and 1895 from the excavations of Luigi Pigorini. He discovered several settlements from the Middle and Late Bronze Age (1600-900 BC) founded on stilts and surrounded by a regular valley; they were inhabited by indigenous peoples dedicated to hunting and raising livestock. In the 10th century, a first fortification of Lombard origin was built which was later divided into a real castrum belonging to the Pallavicino family from 1124 and probably with a purely military purpose.

Only around the end of 1300, with the transfer of the property to the Sanvitale family, did the process of creating the urban center now known as Fontanellato begin.

The country bases its economy on agricultural production, specialized in cereals, fodder, tomatoes; the cultivation is favored by particularly fertile and irrigated soils, as well as by a high mechanization of work. Similarly, the production of milk feeds the food industry sector, especially dairy with Parmigiano Reggiano and cured meat factories.

In 2006, Fontanellato was awarded the “Orange Flag” award by the Italian Touring Club and the titles of “City of Art and Culture” and “Cittaslow – City of good living and good food”.

Let’s begin our virtual tour of this lovely medieval village in Emilia – Romagna!

Rocca di Fontanellato

The Rocca Sanvitale of Fontanellato stands enchanting in the center of the village, surrounded by a large moat filled with water: it contains one of the masterpieces of Italian mannerism, the room painted by Parmigianino in 1524 with the myth of Diana and Atteone.

Inside the Rocca, the noble apartment of the Sanvitale family is still intact.

In the Rocca Sanvitale of Fontanellato, the only Optical Chamber in operation in Italy can be visited, where a system of mirrors reflects the image of the square in front of it on a screen.

In a special wing of the Castle from March 2015 the Banner of the Blessed Virgin of Fontanellato is visible, the large red damask cloth 5 meters long and 4 meters high dated between 1654 and 1656. Its shape and the years of its execution they also made us think of its use as a ship flag – a Galera – captained by a noble Sanvitale, as some documents attest, who sailed the Mediterranean Sea during the war of Candia.

The theater of Maria Luigia of Austria’s grandchildren on the first floor will make you feel like a child again. The armillary sphere in the Reception Room marks ancient coordinates. The weapons on display narrate a time of war, the ceramics and paintings a time of peace.

Legend has it that the ghost of little Maria Costanza Sanvitale, granddaughter of the Duchess Maria Luigia of Austria, appears in the Castle. The girl, with a vocation for fine arts, singing and dancing, died at the age of 5, 7 months and 7 days, leaving her parents, the young Conti Albertina and Luigi desperate. Some guides of the manor and some tourists have heard footsteps, a child’s voice calling them and have seen shadows, in two rooms in particular: the Billiard Room and the Reception Room.

Inside the Rocca Sanvitale, the extraordinary Magical Sundays for families and children come to life, the creative-educational workshops, while outside the Natural Shopping Center with 140 markets and flea markets and the shops open even on weekends invite you to the Court!

The Rocca Sanvitale Museum of Fontanellato, among the first in Italy, gives the unique opportunity – outside the normal visiting hours of the castle – to admire “in solitude” the famous Camera Picta, the Parmigianino fresco (with reservation compulsory rocca@fontanellato.org) alone, or as a couple, sitting inside the room.

You will relive on your own that sensation that perhaps the client Paola Gonzaga, Galeazzo Sanvitale’s wife, felt when she entered that special place where she meditated and reflected on the meaning of life through the questions that the frescoed walls pose.

The idea is perfect for those who love to spend a lot of time in front of a work of art alone, to spend time with themselves or for those who want to give a person a special, unique, exclusive experience.

Labirinto della Masone

The Labirinto della Masone by Franco Maria Ricci – an extraordinary cultural park with the largest bamboo labyrinth in the world – officially became part of the prestigious circuit of the Castles of the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Pontremoli on 1 January 2015.

The Labirinto della Masone is a cultural park designed by Franco Maria Ricci with the architects Pier Carlo Bontempi and Davide Dutto. It houses cultural spaces for more than 5,000 square meters, intended for the art collection of Franco Maria Ricci (about 500 works from the sixteenth to the twentieth century) and a library dedicated to the most illustrious examples of typography and graphics, including many works by Giambattista Bodoni ( on which Ricci recently edited a splendid monographic volume) and the entire production of Alberto Tallone.

All the books edited by Franco Maria Ricci in fifty years of activity complete this historical collection.

The Labirinto della Masone with a star plant covers 7 hectares of land and is made entirely with bamboo plants of different species.

At the center of the Labirinto della Masone, you will find a square of two thousand square meters surrounded by arcades and large halls: it hosts concerts, parties, exhibitions and other cultural events. Overlooking the square, a pyramid-shaped chapel recalls the labyrinth as a symbol of faith. There are, for visitors, a café, a restaurant, a Parmesan gastronomic space and a bookshop where you can also find many now rare editions of Franco Maria Ricci.

There will be news awaiting visitors. Among these, the most important concerns the path in the labyrinth: walking in the bamboo maze, visitors will be able to discover, step by step, through new panels placed between the avenues, the history of the labyrinths, starting from the myth of Crete, passing through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, right up to it to the present day.

And a similar journey in stages will also tell the story of the Masone Labyrinth and the dream of its creator, Franco Maria Ricci, of its inspirations – from the labyrinths of mirrors discovered in childhood to the encounter with the “labyrinth” Jorge Luis Borges – and of the realization of the project.

And again, through this network of suggestions made up of texts and images, the visitor will be able to learn about the various aspects of Ricci’s career, from the “love at first sight” with the Bodoni Typographic Manual to his debut as a designer in the 1960s, up to the decision to become an editor, highlighting the moments, collaborations and important friendships (Calvino, Eco, Barthes, Paz, and many other great protagonists of art, culture and fashion …) and exploring the links between his publishing production and his eclectic art collection.

Other small but interesting temporary installations will instead be included in the rooms of the Franco Maria Ricci collection: in particular, an in-depth study on the art and creativity of the early twentieth century, around some original testimonies by Galileo Chini – the tiles from Salsomaggiore – and “The paper flowers of Mao Tse Tung”, the exhibition of monochrome portraits of the Chinese dictator which were the subject of a famous art publication by Franco Maria Ricci.

Abbey of San Bernardo

The Abbey of San Bernardo, better known as the abbey of Fontevivo, is a Cistercian abbey located in piazza Repubblica 1 in Fontevivo, in the province of Parma.

The abbey is part of the Association of Castles of the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Pontremoli.

The complex was founded as a direct dependence of the nearby abbey of Chiaravalle della Colomba on 5 May 1142, by a group of twelve Cistercian monks; the friars, led by Abbot Viviano, promoted the construction of a set of buildings consisting of a church, a library, a refectory, a kitchen, a pantry and the numerous dormitories for the monks, arranged, as is the custom of Cistercian abbeys, around a large square cloister;  the land of about 8.5 Parmesan biolches,  at the time uninhabited and marshy due to the numerous fountains in the area, hence the name of “Fons vivus” ( Fontevivo), was given to them by the bishop of Parma Lanfranco  and by the Marquis Delfino, son of Oberto I Pelavicino. The friars also undertook an important reclamation work in the area, between the Taro river and the Stirone stream and also washed by the waters of the dead Taro.

Towards the end of the 13th century the original church, at the time dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was rebuilt on the imposing current basilica.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the complex began a slow decline, due to the institute of the commenda, which led to a drastic reduction in the income on which it was based. However, this did not stop the construction of the church facade, which was completed at the time.

In 1497 the abbey was aggregated to the Italian Congregation of San Bernardo, with the consequent re-titling of the church to the Cistercian saint. In 1518 Pope Leo X decreed its union with the Cassinese Congregation of the Benedictine Abbey of San Paolo fuori le mura, causing the removal of the last Cistercian monks in 1546.

In 1614 the spiritual jurisdiction over the monastery was transferred to the Abbey of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma, maintaining autonomy from the city bishop.

In 1728, the Duke Antonio Farnese, in order to regain possession of the Sanvitale fortress of Sala Baganza, decided to grant the monastery in use to the college of the Nobles as a summer residence; he therefore undertook to renovate the structure at his own expense and immediately started the works, which, however, although in an advanced state, were abruptly interrupted in 1731 following his death.

In 1780 the new Duke Ferdinando di Borbone, deeply attached to the abbey, commissioned the painter Antonio Maria Ferrari to decorate the hall of the Academies; in 1791, moreover, he built some rooms overlooking the cloister and a theater on the ground floor, in place of the chapel for boarders, which was moved to the first floor. In the following years the Duke financed new works to expand the college, but on 9 October 1802 he died suddenly in Fontevivo after having attended a performance in the theater of the abbey and the construction sites, although already started, were abruptly interrupted.

Following the annexation of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza to the French Empire, the Jesuits were expelled and, in 1806, the college of the Nobles was laicized; the families withdrew their children in protest from the school, which was closed.

With the Restoration, in 1815 the Duchess Maria Luigia reopened the college, entrusting it to the Benedictine fathers of the abbey of San Giovanni Evangelista; however, the following years were marked by a progressive decline.


Rocca dei Rossi

La Rocca rises to the west of the village of Fontanellato. The architectural complex, which originates from the fifteenth-century nucleus wanted by Pier Maria Rossi, during the sixteenth century, was transformed into a stately monumental residence by Troilo I, Pier Maria III, Troilo II.

Artists such as Bertoja, Samacchini, Procaccini, Baglione, organized in the rooms on the main floor, an imposing pictorial cycle of a profane model for fairy tales, myths and history of the family.

The courtyard and the grand staircase emerge, the superb hall of the Gesta Rossiane, the refined stucco decorations of the rooms of the Caesars and the Golden Donkey.

Of the ancient entrance to the castle, located south of the keep, only the arch is preserved with the first of the three arches that originally opened onto the bridge that spanned the moat.

Once incorporated into the structure by the block of salt that surrounded it, demolished in the nineteenth century, the ancient keep stands alone, connected to the structure by a simple entrance gate. Equipped with a tower with a clock, secret passages that led to the outside of the manor departed from the undergrounds, now walled up.

The Rocca was built on a hill around 1413 at the behest of Pier Maria I de ‘Rossi, father of Pier Maria II, to defend the fortified village of San Secondo over which the Rossi had rights since the 12th century and exercised lordship as counts from 1365.

In the 16th century the castle, from a defensive fortress, was transformed into a sumptuous residence. The house reached its peak in the middle of the century. In 1817, the last Count of the Rossi, Gian Girolamo, left the usufruct of the fortress to his brother Guido and indicated Count Ferdinando Vaini as the only heir.

In 1825, on Guido’s death, the whole property passed to the Vaini family who, unable to cover the operating costs, sold the furnishings and demolished a large area of ​​the manor. Despite this loss, the most beautiful part of the castle can still be visited today.

The hall of the Rossian deeds is the most important and majestic of the castle. A masterpiece of 1200 square meters of frescoes painted by some of the most important artists of the time (Cesare Baglione, Orazio Samacchini, Ercole Pio, Bertoja). A succession of grotesques and allegories, interrupted by 13 large tapestry-paintings depicting as many fundamental episodes for the Rossi family, starting from 1199 to get to 1542.

The Sala dell’Asino d’Oro, one of the oldest in the castle (dated between 1528 and 1532), is an undisputed jewel in excellent condition. It was the bridal chamber and the ceiling is dominated by 17 paintings taken from the work “The metamorphoses” by Apuleius, with particular attention to the story of “Lucio-the donkey”, without any reference to “Cupid and Psyche”, a fable in general very dear to Renaissance artists. This choice makes the fresco unique of its kind.

The Aesop Gallery, with its set of fables inspired by the ancient Greek writer, is one of the richest dedicated to this genre. Among the most famous stories represented: The wolf and the lamb, The fox and the lion, The fox and the mask.

Castle of Castelguelfo

The Castle of Castelguelfo is a medieval manor that rises along the Via Emilia in Castelguelfo, a small hamlet in the municipality of Noceto, in the province of Parma.

The first fortification, probably consisting of a single defensive tower, was built before the 12th century to guard the strategic ford of the Via Emilia on the Taro river, which in the Middle Ages flowed near the building. The exact time of construction is still unknown, just as the first owner of the building is unknown.

In 1312, during the clashes between Guelphs and Ghibellines, the Rossians conquered the fort and entrusted it to Gherardo da San Michele, using it as a prison for about fifty Guelphs,  partly relatives and friends of Giberto III da Correggio ; the latter attempted to redeem their release, but several prisoners were left to die of hardship; the following year Gherardo, fearing Giberto’s reaction and perhaps moved with pity, ceded the castle to Correggese, who had it completely razed to the ground in 1314.

In 1397, Guido da Correggio, after seven years of imprisonment for plotting against Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti, was released by him in exchange for the promise of loyalty, but as soon as he was free he allied himself with the Milanese’s enemies; Visconti, in revenge, took the fortress which had been rebuilt in the meantime from his relative Antonio da Correggio and assigned it to the Marquis Niccolò Pallavicino. The latter was assassinated in 1401 in the castle of Bargone and was succeeded by his natural son Rolando the Magnificent, who had the manor rebuilt and considerably reinforced, then renamed “Torre Orlando” or “Torre dei Marchesi”.

However, already in 1407 the Guelph Ottobuono de ‘Terzi attacked the fort, taking it; to further underline the defeat of the adverse Ghibellines, he renamed the castle Castrum Guelphum, that is Castelguelfo, restructured the walls and replaced the eagles painted on the battlements with lilies.  In 1409, following the assassination of Ottobuono and the capture of Giovanni, his brother Giacomo Terzi, who had found refuge in the manor, fled to Borgo San Donnino and then to Fiorenzuola, where he was captured and killed; the castle of Castelguelfo was then besieged and occupied by Alberto Scotti.

The following year Orlando Pallavicino kidnapped the bishop of Piacenza Branda Castiglioni and freed him upon payment of a ransom in money, which he intended to use to attack the manor; however, in April the captain Ferro da San Felice, who had already attempted an assault the previous year,  captured the castle on behalf of the Marquis of Ferrara Niccolò III d’Este, who in 1416 commissioned Uguccione dei Contrari to deliver it to Gian Martino Sanvitale, as reward for the loss of the fortress of Noceto.

In 1421, the Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti, new Lord of Parma, ordered the mayor of Parma to take possession in his name of the castle, disputed by Rolando the Magnificent, Niccolò Terzi and the Municipality of Parma;  the year following the Visconti had the fortress supplied with ammunition and in 1427 he reassigned the fiefdom to Pallavicino, which was reconfirmed in 1432.

In 1441, Niccolò Piccinino convinced Duke Filippo Maria of the betrayal by the Marquis Orlando and had the task of conquering the Pallavicino State; attacked on several fronts, Pallavicino was forced to flee and all its fiefs were forfeited by the Duke. In 1445 the Marquis gave proof of loyalty to the Visconti, who agreed to the restitution of almost all the confiscated lands, with the exception of Monticelli d’Ongina and some other fiefs donated to Piccinino. In 1448, during a clash, Rolando and his son Oberto were captured for some time by Francesco Piccinino and the Municipality of Parma tried in vain to claim possession of the castle of Castelguelfo. On the death of Rolando in 1457, the castle was inherited by his eldest son Nicolò.

Around 1472, the fortress was confiscated by the Municipality of Parma and the Duke of Milan Galeazzo Maria Sforza appointed it as castellan Scariotto da Imola; in 1474 Sforza invested the fiefdom of the marquis Alessandro Pallavicino, son of Nicolò, but kept the castle; in 1481, the duke Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza officially assigned Castelguelfo to the Marquis.

Later alienated to various other owners, today the castle belongs to the Rovagnati family.

Church of Santa Croce

The Church of Santa Croce is a Gothic-style Catholic place of worship located in via Luigi Sanvitale 1 in Fontanellato, in the province of Parma.

The original chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross was built starting from 1437 at the behest of Count Giberto II Sanvitale; the works were completed in 1447 by Count Stefano, who took over from his father following his death;  the first rector was Nicolò Sanvitale.

Next to it, on the current via Luigi Sanvitale, the chapel of the Consortium of the Living and the Dead, based on a project by Giovanni de Trichianis, was built in 1451.

In 1503, on the initiative of Count Giacomo Antonio Sanvitale, the church was enlarged and renovated in the Gothic style; a first draft of a bell tower was also erected. In 1509, it was transformed into a parish church, but complete independence from the church of San Benedetto di Priorato was sanctioned only in 1916 on the initiative of Bishop Guido Maria Conforti.

In 1518, the nearby chapel of the Consortium of the Living and the Dead, until then communicating with the temple, was demolished and rebuilt in larger forms with the consent of Count Luigi Sanvitale, who ceded the land.

In 1693, the countess Paola Simonetta Sanvitale, in execution of the will of her uncle Federico Sanvitale, commissioned Giovanni Battista Biazzi to manufacture the furnishings of the sacristy.

In the first half of the 18th century the Consortium chapel was rebuilt again.

In 1874, the bell tower was completed by the architect Giacomo Sartori. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, on the site of the ancient burial ground of Santa Croce which originally stood next to the chapel of the Consorzio dei Vivi e dei Morti, a portico connecting with the sacristy was erected.

Between 1912 and 1916, the temple was again subjected to renovations in the neo-Gothic style on a project by the architect Lamberto Cusani, in order to bring back its original forms; inside the nineteenth-century frames were eliminated, the terracotta floors were redone and the bases and capitals of the columns and the cross vaults with ribs were rebuilt; on the outside the decorations with hanging arches at the top were made and the access portal and the rose window on the facade were opened and the single-lancet windows with pointed arches on the sides.

In 1919, the connection between the church and the chapel of the Consortium was definitively closed, which was used as a parish hall.

In 1971, the parish of the Priory was annexed to that of Santa Croce by decree of the bishop of Parma Amilcare Pasini, constituting the new parish of Santa Croce and San Benedetto.

Between 1999 and 2001, the former Consortium chapel and the sacristy underwent restoration work.

Church of San Benedetto

The Church of San Benedetto is a Baroque-style Catholic place of worship located in Priorato, a small hamlet of Fontanellato, in the province of Parma.

The first document that mentions the presence in Fontanellato of the Benedictine monks belonging to the abbey of Leno, who started the recovery of the abandoned territories following the barbarian invasions, dates back to 1013. Only six years later, Pope Benedict VIII confirmed their rights to some assets of the “cellam Fontanellatum”, which were later renewed by other popes as well.

The first evidence of the existence of the church of San Benedetto, still dependent on the Brescia abbey, dates back to 1230.

In the following century the importance of the monastery grew, so much so that the structure was elevated to a priory perhaps as early as the thirteenth century, although the first certain evidence of this dates back to 1332.

Subsequently, the decline of the abbey of Leno caused the partial abandonment of the building, until 1400, the year in which Pope Boniface IX sanctioned with a bull the authority of the Sanvitale counts over the priory and the removal of the Benedictines; in 1470 Nicolò Sanvitale was elected prior, but the family, despite the agreements with the pope, almost never resided in the structure or cared for its maintenance, so much so that they abandoned it in 1518.

In 1550, under the concession of Pope Julius III, the Dominicans from the destroyed convent of San Giuseppe di Fontanellato entered, but the friars left the monastery definitively already in 1552. In 1579, the place of worship was submitted to the bishopric of Parma and was elevated to the rank of parish, with jurisdiction over the churches of Toccalmatto, Casalbarbato, Ghiara and Santa Croce di Fontanellato.

However, the deterioration markedly increased in the following century, until the appointment of the new provost Paolo Aimi, who from 1716 started a series of works that completely transformed the decadent medieval complex. The construction site started from the church, where the hall was enlarged to the east, the presbytery area was lengthened, the side chapels and sacristies were built and the interiors were decorated and furnished in Baroque style; later the façade was rebuilt, completed in 1751 on a probable project by the architect Ottavio Bettoli.

The works then moved to the adjacent monastery which stood on the left of the temple; thanks to the funding received from Isabella di Borbone-Parma, wife of Emperor Joseph II of Habsburg-Lorraine, Monsignor Carlo Delfinoni, who succeeded Aimi in 1751 in the leadership of the priory, had the Benedictine abbey demolished and in its place he had an elegant rectory built; on the high side of the churchyard he had the annexed buildings rearranged symmetrically and later had the large U-shaped fish pond built around the apse of the place of worship, completed in 1784.

Later the structure fell into decline again, due to the distance from the center of Fontanellato, whose church of Santa Croce, at the time dependent on the priory, absorbed most of the common land revenues. The independence between the two structures was decreed in 1889 by the bishop of Parma Francesco Magani, but was only implemented in 1916 at the behest of the bishop Guido Maria Conforti. In the meantime, between 1889 and 1912, at the behest of the parish priest Giovanni Bignami, the buildings were subjected to a series of restoration works, mainly concerning the plaster deteriorated due to the high humidity of the area.

Other renovations were carried out between 1920 and 1930 on the initiative of the new parish priest Enrico Grassi, who frescoed the vaulted ceilings of the church, replaced the floors, opened the niches for the statues, built the balustrade of the presbytery and rearranged the roof.

In 2002, the temple was closed due to the fact that it was not used, the investigations aimed at its recovery started; in 2008, the construction site aimed at structural consolidation and restoration was started, involving the church, part of its furnishings and the interior of the rectory; during the works the foundations of the ancient medieval structure, smaller than the current one, were found. On April 24, 2010, the temple was reopened for worship.

Other interventions were carried out between 2015 and 2017.

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