The sculpture of a grand master from Medieval times, the tomb of a mysterious Templar Cavalier, and the tomb of a duke (who was probably assassinated), are three good reasons to visit Fontevivo and discover its mysterious air. Historically it was marshland, hence its name (from the Latin Fons-Vivus) coming from the numerous springs that were once found in the area.
The historical importance of the area is linked to the presence of the Cistercian abbey that was founded in 1142 by 12 monks who came from the nearby Chiaravalle della Colomba Abbey. The Abbey of Santa Maria di Vivofonte (the name of the complex) was founded thanks to the desire of the Bishop of Parma Lanfranco and the marquess Delfino Pallavicino. It was built on rather swampy land which was reclaimed and rendered usable thanks to the zeal of the monks who, led by the Abbot Vivano, built the complex. It hosts not only the church but also a library, kitchen, canteen, storage areas and numerous dormitories. In 1546 the abbey passed into the hands of the Benedictine monks who held the spiritual jurisdiction until 1892.
The church, which still conserves its original Romanesque aspect, was built entirely of bricks with a characteristic rose colour, and presents a Latin cross plan. Inside, it presents three cross vaults with columns. It hosts a Madonna and Child, known as “The Madonna of the Roses” for the flower held in her hand, sculpted in red marble from Verona, attributed to the sculptor Benedetto Atelami, one of the most important artists from the Middle Ages. He also authored the Baptistry in Parma and part of the Cathedral in Fidenza. Inside the Abbey, we see the tomb of a Templar Cavalier, which is rather rare considering the Templars were persecuted by the Church. This is the tomb of Guido Pallavicino, who died in 1301, and is covered by a slab depicting the Cavalier himself dressed in his armour.
The Templars were closely linked to figures of mathematicians, astronomers and architects, and, not coincidently, the abbey as ordered by the Pallavicino family follows a particular geometric structure. In fact, every year on the 15th of August, the light that penetrates the rose window hits a particular lunette dedicated to the Virgin. Furthermore, the church is linked to the parameters of Charavalle della Colomba Abbey, a further demonstration of the link Bernardo of Chiaravalle had with the Templar Cavaliers, who were not only defended but esteemed by him.
Next to Guido Pallavicino is the tomb of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma who died in Fontevivo on the 9th of October 1802 who is entombed in a marble sarcophagus, while his heart is conserved in the crypt of the Steccata Church in Parma. His death is surrounded in mystery It seems that at the end of a visit to Colorno he felt ill after having drunk some lemonade. After several days of agony, he died, which confirmed the Farnese’s suspicion that he had been poisoned, given that he had previously tried to capture Colorno. The autopsy did not find traces of poison, but that did not completely exonerate his enemies, who instead considered the events “unfortunate”.
Next to the church we find the Convent, which hosted the monks and the numerous activities they depended on. In the 18th century, the building was restructured and enlarged by the Dukes of Parma to turn it into a college, destined to host young descendants from noble families across Europe, who spent time in Fontevivo as a sort of “summer village”. Today the consecrated church remains, and the park in the convent has been restored and reopened to the public. Recently the images of the Madonna on the counter-façade have been restored, as well as the frescoes attributed to the painter Cesare Baglione.
Another place worthy of a visit, also in the historical centre of Fontevivo, is the Convent Church of the Capuccin Friars, built at the beginningof the 17th century following the desire of Duke Ranuccio I Farnese. It is enriched with a wide variety of decoration and works, including some canvases of Bartolomeo Schedoni and frescoes on the topic of the Passion of Christ. With the Napoleonic suppression of convents and monasteries, the complex was stripped and closed to worshippers. Part of the complex was later destroyed.
Just outside Fontevivo we find the small area of Castelguelfo, which owes its name to the way it stands out on the area’s main road, the Via Emilia. Here there is the church of Saint Mary Magdalene,built in Romanesque style probably at the beginning of the 13th century by Benedictine monks from France, who came from the Abbey of Saint Mary Magdalene in Vézelay, Bourgogne; it was subsequently modified in the following centuries, though was partly brought back to its original condition in 1935, while the apse conserves some frescos dating back to the 15th century.
10 kilometres away, we find Fontanellato with its splendid Rocca Sanvitale, which hosts a series of frescoes from the famous painter Parmigianino, while in the countryside between Fontevivo and Fontanellato we find the Laberinto della Masone: a cultural centre and the largest labyrinth in the world, created entirely using bamboo plants thanks to the genius and creativity of Franco Maria Ricci. Inside the buildings, there is a museum, cultural centre, bar, exhibition spaces and open spaces for events.