The Province of Reggio Emilia is one of the nine provinces of the Emilia-Romagna region. Named for its capital city where one-third of the province’s population resides, the province has a total area of 885 square miles. The province is shaped like a long rectangle, extending from the Po River in the north to the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines to the south.
The province certainly ranks as an off-the-beaten track location, but it has many sights to offer and is located in the heart of the region, where to the west it is short drive to the 2020 Italian Capital of Culture – Parma. Just to the east is Modena, famous for its exquisite restaurants and home to famed luxury carmaker, Maserati, while further east is Bologna, about a 90-minute drive to the city of Reggio Emilia. Following other points on the compass, to the north is beautiful Mantua, while to the south of the province visitors can delight in the coastlines of Liguria and Tuscany.
The city of Reggio Emilia was originally settled by the Romans and is filled with sites of cultural interest and historic heritage. A tour of the city should begin at Piazza del Monte, where visitors can examine Palazzo del Monte di Pietà which dates to the 12th century. This was the administrative center of the city until the 15th century. Its bell tower, completed in 1216, rises to a height of 155 feet; within the belfry are three ancient pear-shaped bells.
In nearby Piazza Camillo Prampolini you will have reached the heart of the city where the cathedral is found. Built originally in Romanesque style, the cathedral was significantly altered during the subsequent centuries. Its façade was originally decorated with frescoes from the 13th century and are now housed in the diocesan museum. The current façade dates from the 16th century, but after 500 years, still remains unfinished. In 2009, a mosaic floor filled with scenes depicting pagan rites and Roman gods was discovered underneath the cathedral. Measuring over 1,800 square feet, it dates to the 4th century AD and was unearthed at a depth of about 12 feet below the ground level during archaeological investigations in the crypt. The mosaic pavement has since become an important piece within the Museo Diocesano, which also contains fragments of ancient churches dating back to the times of Matilda of Canossa, as well as a medieval bas-relief originally located in the main altar of the cathedral.
Near the Baptistery of the cathedral is the City Hall, which contains one of the most historic rooms in the province. Sala del Tricolore (Room of the Tricolor) is part of the palace that was built from 1414 to 1417. The palazzo began to be used as a meeting place for the municipal council of Reggio Emilia in 1434. The origins of the salon itself date back to 1768, when the Duke of Modena and Reggio, Francesco III d’Este, decided to have a central state archive built to house the official documents of the Duchy. The impressive room is elliptical is shape and is surrounded by three rows of balconies. Illuminated by a large chandelier, the room’s architect, Lodovico Bolognini, used the neoclassical style for the 18th century ornamentation.
Shortly after completion of the room, it was decided that housing all of the paperwork of the Duchy in such a room would prove to be a fire hazard and it was decided by the Duke to maintain the space for council meetings instead.
On August 20, 1796, as Napoleon’s troops invaded this portion of Italy, Duke Ercole III, son of Francesco III, fled to Venice. Within a week, the independent Reggian Republic was proclaimed. One of its first acts was the creation of a small military guard for the city. On October 4th of the same year, the guard repelled advancing Austrians at nearby Montechiarugolo. So impressed was Napoleon that he suggested to the deputies of the provinces of Reggio, Modena, Bologna and Ferrara that they gather to form a new republic. On January 7, 1797, the congress formed Repubblica Cispadana in the ornate elliptical room and soon selected the familiar green, white and red banner for their flag. Unlike the present flag of Italy, the original was a horizontal tricolore, with red (top), white and green stripes. In the center was an emblem composed of a quiver with four arrows which symbolized the four provinces that formed the republic. This was the first time that the Italian flag officially became the national flag of a sovereign state. On the basis of this event, the congress hall of Reggio was later renamed Sala del Tricolore.
The republic was short-lived. On July 9, 1797, the Cispadane Republic united with the Transpadane Republic, comprising the area of Milan, to create the Cisalpine Republic, but this time the flag adopted was in the form that we still know today as the national flag of Italy.
Among the most ancient churches of the city is the Basilica of San Prospero. The Church of San Prospero di Castello was built on this site in the 10th century, but by the 16th century was in such poor shape that it was demolished and the present basilica was built, beginning in 1527. Six lions, carved from rose-colored marble sit in front of the church and date back to 1501. They were meant to be bases for columns of a portico that had been planned for the church front. The façade was only finished in 1753. Within the basilica, the Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine della Ghiara is decorated with numerous frescoes by artists Giovanni Giarola, Michelangelo Anselmi, Denis Calvaert, Ludovico Carracci and Tommaso Laureti.
In addition to palazzos and churches, there are numerous museums and historical galleries worth visiting in the city. For theatrical performances, the mid-19th century neoclassical Romolo Valli Municipal Theatre is at the center of the Reggio Emilia’s cultural life and is located adjacent to the city’s public gardens.
Just outside the city sits the village of Quattro Castella which takes its name from four castles rising on its hills. It is here that visitors will find the Castle of Bianello, one of the favorite and most historically significant castles of Countess Matilda of Canossa.
The Apennines of Reggio had its highest period of splendor in the 11th century, with the town of Canossa at the center of European politics. The Castle of Canossa was another of Countess Matilda’s properties. Only a few architectural structures remain today, but the landscape and history still mark this as a place haunted by memories of the turbulent times of centuries past.
In the north of the province is the town of Guastalla, wherein lies the 16th century ducal palazzo of the Conti Torelli family. It is now is a museum, containing an eclectic mix of antiquities from ancient Roman cemeteries, paintings from deconsecrated chapels and oratories, as well as an exhibit of modern watercolor paintings.
When visiting the Emilia Romagna, make sure to leave some time for the short drive to Reggio Emilia and discover the beauty and history of this fascinating province.