The first settlements of this place are dating back to the Iron Age. During the Roman time, all the land belonged to the municipium – municipality – of Velleia Romana; the castle was built in the place of the castrum – campsite – in order to defend the way to Velleia.
I heard many stories about the origin of the name “Gropparello”: some says it comes from the Celtic word grop that means the “natural barrier” made by the cliff on the Vezzeno Creek, others says the word comes from the Longobard word groppo, that means “round mountains”. Actually, they are trying to demonstrate the existence of a Celtic settlement, because of an artifact located on the cliff that has all chances to be a stone altar. However, the name “Gropparello” had always been linked with the name of Latin origins “Cagnano” which is not used anymore since the 1800s.
The first foundation of the castle is dating back to the 8th century, has they found information about a transition has gift into the ownership of Carlo Magno, and from him to Seufredo II, bishop of Piacenza.
In 1200, the Ghibellines destroyed the castle; it was re-built and then occupied again. Later, the castle changed owner many times: it was transferred to the Fulgosio, then the Campofregnoso and eventually the Anguissola, who kept the dominion for two centuries, named “Counts of Gropparello” by the Duke Ranuccio I Farnese. In 1869, the count Ludovico Marazzani Visconti renewed it, and with further passages of ownership, it ended up belonging to the Gibelli Family, that still be the actual owner.
Due to its trubled history, the castle, as we see it today, is made of parts dating back to different ages, nevertheless, its aspect still compact and leave a significant example of Guelf castle perfectly maintained. It has double walls with battlements, of irregular shape, following the precipitous crag. The most ancient part of it is surely the squared-based tower built on the top of the cliff, probably dating back to the 11th century. Its positions was ideal: the line of sight from the tower could reach all the valley up to Piacenza, so it was used as guard post and was monitoring possible enemies attacks coming from the Padana Plane. At the base of the tower, it was dig a tank of water, essential for the long lasting sieges. The guard point is dating back to the 1300s and the residential part are dating back to the 1500s. The castle entrance is made of a tower with double drawbridge, the pedestrian one and the one for vehicles. This last one was lowered only for knights, carriage or military cart, and it still working today. On the main door there is a relief representing Saint George hitting the Dragon that is about to eat the princes.
This is probably one of the castle that better saved the aspect of the medieval fortification, also thanks to its special position that makes it look like nestled in the volcanic rock. The foundations are dig in the rock and in some parts of the basement you can still see the rock coming up through the floor. The castle donate lovely scenic glimpse, different from each other and of big geological and environmental interest.
Inside it has a sober medieval elegance, with his wide rooms and pastel colours. The biggest room is the Arms’ Room, which historically was designate to parties and to the administration of justice. The light, the colours that goes from the dove-grey to the raw Sienna, the monumental fireplace, and the pure gold of the coffered ceiling give it a fairy-tales atmosphere and the feeling of travelling back in time!
This castle was the first in Italy to open an Emotion Park. The Gibelli Family, actually, quickly realized the great commercial opportunity it represented so they decided to invest on it, enhance it and open it to the public. Beyond the guided tour to the castle and the chances of renting rooms for events and historical re-enactments, it has been created the Fairy-Tale Park in the wood around the castle, were you can walk those magnificent path that once upon a time were the soldier walkways. Here are organized activities for kids with dressed up entertainers, visits to the Vezzano River cliffs and much more.
In the 1800s, they planted trees and bushes that, together with the existing ones, created a rich botanical wood. It born this way the “Museo della Rosa Nascente” – Museum of the Spring Rose – made of seventeen gardens of roses and the Magical Labyrinth, made of natural plant that found there their perfect climate environment. In the Fairy-Tales Park, connected to the castle with gravel paths, there are two buildings with rentable rooms: the Masseria and the Court of Olives.