San Polo

The town of San Polo is located in the foothills of the province of Reggio Emilia, where the Enza stream valley opens into the Emilian plain. Its particular geographical location, at the crossing between a river valley that penetrated the Apennines and the Apennine margin, created favourable conditions for human settlement in ancient times. In fact, the first evidence we have dates back to "prehistory", consisting of chipped stone artefacts from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

Of particular importance are archaeological finds dating to the Etruscan period, from the Servirola area, with many valuable bronze and pottery artefacts, which may have had a ritual function, since they were found in deep wells. In Roman times, following the establishment of the major road that linked the settlement of Brescello with Taneto and the Val d'Enza, there was a mushrooming of scattered settlements, consisting mainly of farms but also small towns such as the Gallo-Roman Luceria, lying a short distance to the south of San Polo. This same "directrix" continued to be important during the Early Middle Ages, a period when the territory was inhabited by barbarians. Between the 10th-11th centuries, so-called "Canossan feudalism" became established locally, giving rise to the imposing strategic defensive system under Countess Matilda of Tuscany, of which San Polo constituted an important outpost in the Val d'Enza.

The fact that San Polo was located where the mountains opened into the Po valley plain made it a key strategic point along the route linking the nearby castle of Canossa with Parma and the vast territories of the plains, and, as a result, in the ninth century an important castle was erected here to guard the ford over the Enza stream. In 1092, Emperor Henry IV quartered at San Polo, before continuing upwards towards Canossa. Despite the numerous destructions and reconstructions that have taken place over the centuries, the area of the castle of San Polo still retains considerable cultural interest, and is now the most important historical nucleus of the entire municipality.

Of the ancient castle, still partially surrounded by the remains of its walls, the fine drawbridge of the east gate remains visible, with its two separate archways, reserved respectively for wagons and people. Heavily damaged during the war of the Spanish Succession, it was rebuilt at the end of the eighteenth century, converting it into a prestigious noble residence. Built in 1494, the parish church, which stands a short distance from the palace, was once the castle's chapel: it has no façade and the entrance door is in the wall overlooking the fortress square. Inside, on the left wall, is a striking fresco by Nicolò dell'Abate depicting the Adoration of the Magi. To the east, the castle area is bounded by the route of the ancient ducal canal, an important late-medieval hydraulic work that conveyed the waters of the Enza to Montecchio and Cavriago, powering many mills along its length. North of San Polo, on the side of the road for Montecchio, stands isolated in the countryside the remarkable ancient parish church of Cavillano which was consecrated in the middle of the eleventh century and in 1070 was given in perpetual lease to the Marquis Boniface of Canossa. The present building retains the basilica layout of the original Romanesque church, despite having undergone considerable change in alterations that took place during the eighteenth century. Recent excavations have unearthed the ancient crypt bringing to light the remains of medieval frescoes that make it an important document of art. At present (2012) it is not open for worship.
Along the road that leads to Quattro Castella, about six kilometres from the municipal capital, sits the monastery of Montefalcone, which, according to tradition, was erected by Franciscan friars on land donated by Guido Canossa in the early thirteenth century.

In 1652, the monastery was suppressed and subsequently sold in the early nineteenth century to the College of Nobles directed by the Jesuits. The whole complex is characterized by a U-shaped layout, with a church located in the south wing and a huge central courtyard, in part porticoed. In the foothills of San Polo there are many ancient medieval villages, most of which are located along the ancient route that climbed up from the Parish Church of Caviliano to reach Canossa. The importance of this route saw it at the centre of disputes between Matilda's troops and those of Emperor Henry IV, who, according to tradition, joined battle here near the Oratory of the Madonna della Battaglia in October 1092. Among the villages in the area, of particular note is Sedignano, whose buildings show testimony of medieval construction techniques on their façades.

For excursion lovers, the area is criss-crossed by a well-developed network of trails that connect the main town of San Polo to principal areas of interest, allowing easy access to major historical-cultural and landscape features dotted along the old road that still leads to Canossa, crossing through the "towered" village of Grassano. The main trails begin near San Polo, where they are indicated by red and white painted marks. This network of paths was further enriched in 2012 by a new route that leads to Ciano di Canossa and Cerezzola from the castle of San Polo, following the banks of the "ducal" canal all the way up the Enza valley.