Surrounded by a moat filled with water, and protected by ample crenelated walls, the exterior of the Sanvitale fortress reminds us of an antique, impregnable fort.
Our itinerary naturally starts from this point, a symbol of the town of Fontanellato. The town has conserved its original features, typical of the area, consisting of small, narrow houses with multicoloured facades, surrounding an ample square. The fortress, at the centre of the square, first belonged to the Pallavicino family, then the Count Sanvitale family.
It is a defensive construction that has existed since 1124, but the fortification that we can see today dates back to the 15th century, though partly modified in the subsequent years. The fortress is still entirely surrounded by a moat filled with water, though the old drawbridge has been replaced with a masonry bridge.
Fontanellato takes its name from “Fontana lata” meaning ‘great fountain’, referring to the natural springs seen throughout the lowlands in the province of Parma. The springs emerge on the surface bringing clean water to several canals, one of which being the moat surrounding the fortress. It now belongs to the municipality, with many of its rooms open to the public. The beautiful frescos in the noble rooms and the refined furnishings date back to the 16th century, when the fortress became an elegant home. The most precious jewel is the “Diana and Atteone” room, painted by Francesco Mazzola, a mannerist painter from Emilia better known as “Il Parmigianino”. It was painted between 1523 and 1524, and depicts puttos on a background of a dense pergola, which in the centre opens up to the sky, and a mirror depicting the words “respice finem”, a Latin phrase meaning “Look to the end”.
The fortress is the centrepiece of the historical centre of Fontanellato. Around it is an ample square which, on every third Sunday of the month, holds an antiques market offering high-quality products. Surrounding the square are historical buildings characterised by long porticos.Nearby we find the Oratorio dell’Asunta, built in the 16th century and then restored in the 18th century in Baroque style. The 18th century wash houses are worth looking at, now requalified as part of the urban landscape. Along the way you will also see the old theatre, also dating back to the 16th century.
Continuing, we come to the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary, a much-loved place of worship. The building we see today dates back to the 16th century, but it was built on the site of a building dating back to the 14th century. The imposing neo-baroque facade is from 1912. Inside we find the statue of the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary: it is said she performs miracles, and so because of this, behind the altar we see numerous votive offerings, a sign of devotion for the pardon received.
A few kilometres away from Fontanellato, in the hamlet of Priorato, we can find the church of San Benedetto. The large complex, built in the 11th century by Benedictine monks, was re-designed during the 18th century. Meanwhile, the hamlet of Toccalmatto, we can find the suggestive church of the Templar, built by the Knights Templar in 1160.
The countryside surrounding Fontanellato hides a surprise: The Laberinto della Masone. The large park, designed thanks to the vision and will of Franco Maria Ricci, hosts the largest labyrinth in the world, composed entirely of 20 different types of bamboo plants (around 200,000), whose height ranges from 30cm to 15 meters. It is a maze for losing oneself in, for fantasising and reflecting. The park also hosts numerous exposition spaces for exhibitions and cultural events.
Fontanellato is the departure point for numerous outdoor itineraries that take in places and curiosities in the lowlands of the province of Parma. For example, nearby Soragna, with its imposing yet elegant Meli Lupi fortress, which takes its name from the family that has lived there since 1385. The rooms of the fortress are said to be haunted by the ghost of Donna Cenerina, assassinated in 1573 by her brother-in-law.
In San Secondo the fortress was built for the noble Pier Maria Rossi in the first half of the 15th century; as well as the nearby town of Roccabianca built itself
around the large fortress also built by Rossi, though this time as a sign and pledge of his love for Bianca Pelligrini, from which the name ‘Roccabianca’ derives.
A few kilometres in the other direction, we find Fontevivo whose distinguishing feature is
the imposing abbey, founded in 1142 by Cistercian monks, which is still preserved today
showing its architecture, fascination and mystery.