It is time to move to the border between the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia. In between the creeks Parma and Enza there is a polycentric municipality divided in five towns: Monticelli Terme, Basicianova, Basilicagoiano, Tortiano and Montechiarugolo. This last one gives the name to the municipality and its first foundation dates back to the 10th century. Did I make you curious? Come on! Let us discover its history together…
Montechiarugolo became a municipality in 1106. One century later the bishop of Parma gave the feud to Guido Anselmo Sanvitale, who built a military fort on a natural terrace, by a drop off on the creek Enza: from here comes the place-name Monticulus Rivoli.
In 1313, Giovannino Sanvitale decided to turn against the Guelfs, but the Podest of Parma sieged the castle forcing the Sanvitale to surrender and destroying, later, the village and the fortress.
In the beginning of the 14th century, the Visconti conquered the territory, making it part of the Land of Milan. The castle was re-built, but it was attacked again. Ottobono de’ Terzi, Lord of Parma, returned the fortress to the Visconti, recommending leader Guido Torelli as custodian. So, in 1406 Torelli received the feud of Montechiarugolo; he gave the castle the aspect we can appreciate today, creating also the city walls. The castle has an irregular plan around two internal yards: the honorary one is central and bigger, the well one is much smaller. Back in time, it was possible to cross the ditch using two drawbridges corresponding to two ravelins that still visible. Ghibelline’s battlements crown all the façades, and between the two yards, it rises the big castle. The side on the valley presents a lodge with a wooded ceiling, underpinned by thin columns of sandstone, decorated with frescos of the 15th century that represent the crests of the Torelli and Visconti, to highlight the strong link between the two families. A recent renovation showed some interesting inscriptions that can be considered as an historical diary of the events happened at the castle. On a side of the honorary yard there is a porch supported by polygonal pillars made of bricks. From this yard, you can access the Castellazzo, an ancient castle that became part of an elegant garden.
For more than a century, the fortress was subject to many attacks, but the Torelli Family always made it to have it back. In that time the land had a big urban development and trade increase; among the important characters of the dynasty there was Pomponio Torelli, who transformed the castle in an elegant residence and created in Montechiarugolo a real court, welcoming many artists and eminent characters, among who Pope Paolo III and the King of France, Francis I.
The Feud stayed property of the Torelli Family up to the 1612, year when Pio Torelli, son of Pomponio, was beheaded after a presumed conspiracy against Ranuccio I Farnese, who seized all his goods that were moved to the Ducal Chamber. The castle became a warehouse for food, slowly slipping to decadence.
The 4th of October 1796 there was the Battle of Montechiarugolo that saw the army of the Reggio Republic together with the French soldier fighting against the Austrian, who sought shelter in the castle of Montechiarugolo, but they were forced to surrender: the battle had a big importance because it was the first between an Italian and a foreign army. Napoleon himself commended the event and memorialized the two volunteers from Reggio who died in the battle. In 1806 it was instituted the municipality of Montechiarugolo, based on the French council law and in 1867 the Italian State sold the castle to the Marchi’s family that still its owner today. The castle today is listed in the circuit of the Castles of the Parma and Piacenza Land (Castelli del Ducato di Parma e Piacenza) and it was opened to the public in the first years 2000.
In the interior, the castle is furnished with ancient decors and paintings. In the Ceremony room, there are frescos of the 16th century representing grottesche and realized by the school of Cesare Baglioni, while in the middle of the vault there is the Visconti crest. In the Middle room, there is the fresco of the “Annunciation”, dating back around the second part of the 15th century and painted with a Lombard-Gothic style by a pupil of Michelino da Besozzo. In the Four Elements room or Mermaid room remains only few traces of the 1400s’ frescos that decorated it; it is possible, moreover, to admire a part of a 1500s cycle that represent the episode of the song of the mermaids of the Odyssey. In the same room, there are four canvas of the 18th century painted by Domenico Muzzi and representing the four elements (water, air, earth and fire). Among the many room of the castle, in a small and dark one, there is an ancient Egyptian mummy stored in a crate, found in the 18th century inside the fortress. The tradition says that this mummy is the body of Bema (did you read her story yet?), the ghost that seems living in the castle since ages.
What about the other towns?
Monticelli Terme is the biggest town of the municipality. In 1925, the Borrini discovered the thermal waters of this place creating the Thermal Baths of Monticelli that gave new fame to the locality. In Basilicagoiano, there are some artworks of the engraver Cornelio Ghiretti and three private villas of the 1700s: Villa Borri, Villa Candian and Villa Roncoroni-Bianchi. The name Basilicanova comes from a chuch – basilica nova means “new church” – that was built in 921 and it completely disappeared today. The town was feud of the Rossi from Parma that built a castle, destroyed in the 16th century. Its ruins were found in the actual Villa Giovanardi. Subsequently the ownership was transferred to the Sforza until the 1832. Tortiano as well used to have a castle, built in the 10th century, which defending function lost importance soon, considering the proximity of the castle of Montechiarugolo. Worthy of note is the neoclassic Villa Meli Lupi, surrounded by a wonderful park.