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Bianello Castle, home of Matilda of Canossa

Bianello Castle – the Medieval Home Matilda

By Francesca Cuoghi

Where should I start a narrative about a majestic manor that stands proud and intact in the land of Matilda of Canossa? Matilda was perhaps the most powerful woman of the Middle Ages, who has left a deep groove in this Emilian territory that extends from Reggio-Emilia to Parma.

The Matildic lands are shouldered by a mysterious charm where time seems to be suspended between past and present.

Bianello Castle was part of Matilda’s possessions and her ancestral home. It is a place I visited on Easter a few years ago. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in spring; the sky teased with turquoise blue kept me company for the entire day. It accompanied me as I approached the fortress that dominates the landscape of Val d’Enza and is situated at the entrance of the village Quattro Castella, about twelve miles from Reggio-Emilia.

Matilda of Canossa, the great Countess and interlocutor of popes and sovereigns, truly loved this manor. Today it has been modified by the extensions ordered by her descendants who lived here until the 18th century, turning it into a comfortable home, embellished by scenographic illustrations and fine paintings.

Once I parked my car at the foot of the hill, the climb to the castle began. It is a white road that curls through the vegetation and in some spots opens like a curtain onto the surrounding valley. Once you reach the top there is a small courtyard that leads to the internal part of the residence.

Some of the rooms are truly beautiful, while others, unfortunately, have suffered the effects of humidity which has wrought havoc on the sumptuous frescoed walls and wooden inlays. The tour through Bianello Castle lasted for about an hour and included a visit to the large kitchens, the prison, bedrooms and sumptuous halls decorated with marvelous paintings.

On the top of that hill, like a privileged observatory over the surrounding plains, a sighting tower has existed since the first half of the 10th century. Its history is linked to the vicissitudes of Countess Matilda of Canossa, who hosted Emperors Henry IV and Henry V at the residence.

Matilda of Canossa may have had the world and Bianello Castle in 1115, but she has gone down in history as one of the most formidable and respected women of the medieval period and there are countless re-enactments in this region of Italy that keep the name of the great Duchess alive.

Francesca Cuoghi, a frequent contributor to the Italian Tribune, is the author of www.ciaoemilia.com, a blog dedicated to local storytelling from the area in and around the Emilia Romagna.