The Way of Matilda of Canossa
The Way of Matilda of Canossa
Embark on your journey of discovery on the gentle slopes of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, National Park, between Europe and the Mediterranean, between towers and castles, parish churches and villages, chestnut groves and springs. Cross the valleys of this borderland, along the ancient itinerary that keeps the traces of wayfarers and pilgrims, hospitable and ancient roads, here the European woman is hidden: Matilda of Canossa.
Different means to find it, but only one way to understand it: to slowly travel its territory to seek and observe with the same eyes the small and large things it contains.
This itinerary has the city of Reggio Emilia as its ideal starting point, from the west leaving the Francigena at Fidenza crossing the royal Parma, from the north coming from the Canossian Mantua, from the east leaving the Romea in the territories of Ferrara and Ravenna.
Heart of the Canossa route, site of the historic meeting between Emperor and Pope, then the Castle of Sarzano, the impregnable Rocca delle Carpinete, the marvel of the 'Dantesque' Pietra di Bismantova, crossing the lands of the Abbey of Frassinoro up to the Hospitalis of San Pellegrino, a natural pass to descend to the city of the 'Volto Santo', Lucca.
The itinerary can also be followed backwards and/or with different thematic, naturalistic, historical and cultural itineraries.
The first stage, which can be done in about 4h30, starts from Ciano d'Enza, the capital of the Municipality of Canossa, and winds along a pleasant route through cultivated fields and downy oak woods along the valley of the Vico stream. With a short detour you can reach the Castle of Rossena or continue towards the Castle of Canossa surrounded by the suggestive gullies that give the landscape an almost lunar appearance. We then continue towards Borgo di Cavandola, with a stop in the small village of Votigno, home to the House and Museum of Tibet. Again from Cavandola you skirt the slopes of Mount Tesa, with beautiful views of the middle Apennines, up to Cerèdolo dei Coppi. Noteworthy, in addition to the numerous towers with dovecotes, masks and ashlars with superstitious meaning on the walls of the ancient houses of the village. From Cerédolo dei Coppi continue briefly along the paved road to Casina and almost immediately turn left down the valley towards Chessi, an isolated rural house. Descend to ford the Càmpola stream and then the Bérgogno stream and you are soon below the town of Bérgogno, a fine example of an Apennine village.
The second stage leads to Casina, in about 3 hours of walking. Shortly after leaving Bèrgogno, turn right onto a cart track that descends gently into the Faieto ditch. After crossing the small stream, an old mule track climbs up the chestnut grove to the town of Crocicchio. We recommend a digression to the nearby parish church of Paullo which has a beautiful Romanesque façade, and of which we have written records since 980 in a diploma from Emperor Otto II. From Crocicchio continue; up to the village of Monchio dei Ferri. The Corte dei Rossi dominates the valley, a fine example of a late medieval rural residence with two tower houses from the 16th century, and crossing the localities of Ponte and Carrobbio you go up to the castle of Sarzano. It was one of the most important seats of Matilda's power already mentioned in 958 in a deed of sale when Adalberto Atto di Canossa, Matilda's ancestor, bought the woods "in fundo et loco Serzana". Today the keep, a tower used as a bell tower, some parts of the walls and the remains of the entrance door remain. Go down a panoramic path to the underlying Casina, listed in a list of properties of the abbey of Sant' Apollonio di Canossa in 1116.
The third stage, from Casina to Carpineti and which can be covered in 4 hours, can be considered the stage of the “tower houses”. It is exciting to get to know these “minor” monuments of the Emilian mountains, buildings halfway between residences and castles that recall the small feudal lords, the gabelles and tax collectors and the daily struggles for life. Villages and natural landscapes follow one another between cultivated fields and oak and chestnut woods. Lago dei Pini, Giandeto, Mulino del Tasso, Paulli, the suggestive eighteenth-century Corte di Valcava and Croveglia are the places touched by the Path which in turn branches off towards Mandra, San Vitale and the castle of Carpineti taking the name of Sentiero Spallanzani. Resuming the Matilde path along the Carpineti valley, you cross the towns of Croce di Petrella, Giavello and Rio Minello up to the church of San Donnino di Tresinara mentioned in ancient documents since 1191, it seems to have been built at the behest of Matilde di Canossa. From Riana, continue along a path that reaches the outskirts of Carpineti. Here in 957 Litulfo, son of Emperor Otto I, died at the hands of Atto Adalbert, ancestor of Matilda of Canossa.
Fourth stage from Carpineti to Toano in 5 hours. The Carpinete castle stands astride one of the most suggestive ridges of the Reggio Apennines, the one that connects Mount Valestra with Mount Fòsola and the Pietra di Bismantova. It can be reached in half an hour from the center of Carpineti by going up the ancient Via Matilda. It was one of the pivots of the Canossa defense system and Matilde's favorite residence. A short 45-minute detour along the edge of the ridge to the north connects the castle with the isolated parish church of San Vitale. The Sentiero Matilde continues south along the slopes of Mount Banzola, passes Cà Serra, descends to the left at the church of San Pietro, crosses Savognatica, Cà Bazzani, Cogliolla and after passing the provincial road at the bottom of the valley, the ascent begins on the right bank, along the ancient "municipal road" which cuts open field crops up to Cavola known for its truffles. Worth visiting are the parish church which has remarkable stone decorations in the portal and in the side elevations and the oratory of the Madonna della Neve, with inside the seventeenth-century altar in inlaid wood, the work of Francesco Ceccati. In half an hour you reach Stiano, a rural nucleus on the slopes of Monte Croce with the ancient house known as the Ceccati from the 15th and 16th centuries and the 17th-century Casino dei Manfredi. Continue on an ancient mule track until you reach the municipal road for Corneto and then through fields and woods up to the charming village of Manno. A cart track through woods and cultivated fields indicates the direction towards the panoramic ridge which, following the traces of an ancient mule track, leads directly to the millenary parish church of Santa Maria di Toano, one of the most important monuments of Romanesque architecture in the Emilian Apennines. Matilda's father, Bonifacio, in 1070. The façade is simple, gabled, while inside there are some extraordinary sandstone capitals with anthropomorphic, geometric and floral figures. Next to the church, in the direction of the current center of Toano, stands the village of the Castle, the original nucleus of the settlement with the tower used as a bell tower.
Fifth stage from Toano to Gazzano in 6 hours immersed in nature. From the Pieve di Santa Maria di Toano, continue along a cart track heading south to reach the isolated oratory of Prevedelli, a fine example of a rural church, in a panoramic position. The Sentiero Matilde continues steeply downhill towards Frale and then towards the thermal springs of Quara to the left of the Dolo. Then one of the most spectacular paths in the Reggio Apennines runs high above the Dolo gorges as far as Cadignano, in the municipality of Villa Minozzo. The nearby town of Gova, like the centers of Costabona and Morsiano, is famous for the “maggi”, dramatic representations of chivalrous epic origins typical of the upper basin of the Secchia and Dolo as well as the Garfagnana. From Cadignano the Sentiero Matilde splits continuing in the direction of the Modena side and the various variants in the Reggio Apennines.
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