Bianello Castle

Of the mighty set of castles that once straddled the Four Hills of Quattro Castella, only Bianello Castle remains visible today. The other three strongholds, called respectively Monte Vetro, Monte Lucio and Monte Zane, are reduced to piles of rubble surmounted by the damaged towers of their former massive keeps.

The Quattro Castella system of fortified hills is one of the most important examples of mediaeval defensive works in Italy: this mighty series of fortresses features in many written testimonies, a particularly significant example being the one from 1285 by Fra Salimbene of Parma, which provides essential information for us to reconstruct its original design. Though it has survived the general decay, Bianello could not escape changes which profoundly altered it over the centuries turning it into a prestigious noble residence. Entry is via a 15-minute walk up an impressive long avenue through the dense forest that covers the hill the fortress stands on. The entrance gate is in mediaeval style, past which, after skirting the buildings of the village, a panoramic terrace appears dominated by the ancient keep; the latter is the oldest element of the architectural complex, as can be seen from the particular construction technique using blocks of squared-off stone arranged in parallel courses.

The current castle structure developed over the centuries as various buildings were added around the tower: at the top of the northern façade, some filled-in mullioned windows probably belong to the old feudal palace, while the remainder of the castle has taken the form of a prestigious noble residence after the numerous alterations carried out between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Among these, the most significant were made in 1881 after the Castle was bought by an important Genoese family, the Bacigalupo.In 2002, the Bianello complex and the Quattro Castella were purchased by the Municipality of Quattro Castella, which embarked on a major restoration programme that is still ongoing.  Upon entering the castle, on the right we encounter a great monumental staircase leading to the first floor, which features a large ballroom with elegant paintings from the late nineteenth century, and from here a remarkable series of rooms follows, filled with frescoes from the second half of the seventeenth century and fine period furnishings. On the ground floor, in addition to the apartments once inhabited by Cavalier Carlo Bacigalupo, with its precious floors dating from the late nineteenth century and many antiques, other richly decorated rooms may be visited, including one containing the oldest known portrait of Matilda of Canossa, a wall painting from the early fifteenth century.

Of particular interest are the kitchens, with original furniture brought to the castle by Carlo Bacigalupo at the end of the nineteenth century. Behind the castle, towards the mountain, and near a recently restored farmhouse, stretches one of the finest olive groves in the Reggio Emilia area, which has been readily preserved by a sheer rock wall that shelters it from the cold north winds. In the woods surrounding the castle are dense clumps of trees dominated by tall oaks that rise from a landscape of rare beauty.

In addition to Bianello, the fortified structure that shows the greatest construction complexity in the Four Hills territory – albeit reduced to ruins – is the one on Monte Vetro, with a succession of complex wall structures including earthworks, the foundations of buildings, and other artefacts that demonstrate the importance of this ancient fortification. Entry is via a path which, starting from the Parish Church of Sant'Antonino below, climbs the northern slope of the hill through a splendid chestnut wood characterized by tall trees, an unusual sight in the Reggio Emilia foothills. An extensive system of trails links the Four Hills in a series of fascinating itineraries that illustrate the area’s great natural beauty combined with its exceptional historical heritage. Because of these important characteristics, the Four Hills complex was recently nominated a Site of Community Importance (SCI).