Five Storybook Castles to Visit When You’re in Modena
For travelers who loved fairytales and stories of princes and princesses when they were children, these five storybook castles in Modena Province are a special treat. Castles always have a bit of magic about them—just enough to take us back to our childhoods.
Modena and the surrounding area is extremely rich in historic and cultural treasures like these. In their unparalleled beauty, within each castle’s walls lies a special story.
The castles of the Modena area date to a range of historical periods but together make up an invaluable legacy. They remain today—just as they were when they were built—important cultural landmarks for local community residents.
Here they are, then, awaiting your discovery: five storybook castles that we’ve chosen for you in Modena Province.
Calcagnini Fortress, Formigine
The ravishing Rocca Calcagnini Fortress stands in the heart of Formigine, a symbol of the local community and a center for collective historical memories.
Built in 1201 by the city of Modena as a defense against attacks by the rival city of Reggio Emilia and to secure its control of the territory, beginning in 1300 the Rocca Calcagnini Fortress was passed among various local noble families until it became property of the Pio family of Carpi, the Estes, and finally the Calcagninis.
Around 1400, when the fortress was under the control of the Pios, it was turned into a castle-residence that appears today much as it did then, with a marquis’s palazzo and grounds encircled by a wall with four corner towers and a guardhouse.
During the Second World War, the fortress was irreparably damaged in a ferocious bombardment in which virtually the entire Calcagnini family was lost. In 1946, it became the property of the town government and was rebuilt and transformed for use as the city hall.
Today the castle houses municipal offices on its ground floor (the city council chambers and a venue for wedding ceremonies) with reception halls located in the northeast tower.
To make your visit to the Rocca Calcagnini Fortress extra special, don’t miss the Multimedia Museum of Archaeology. Beautiful and innovative multimedia displays tell the story of the fortress and of the Calcagnini nobility.
The Calcagnini Fortress is Formigine’s sparkling “living room.” In addition to housing a restaurant and a wine cellar, each year the castle hosts events of all kinds—music, theater, and much more. Be sure to take advantage of them.
Vignola Fortress, Vignola
The Vignola Fortress has also become a symbol—in this case, of Italy’s cherry capital. Its towers, drawbridge, and moat provide one of the most fascinating examples of defensive architecture in the entire Emilia-Romagna Region.
The Vignola Fortress was built in the eighth century by the abbot of Nonantola to defend the abbey’s lands. After passing through the hands of several noble families, in 1401 it was ceded by the Este family of Ferrara to Uguccione Contrari who transformed it into a sumptuous noble home and filled the residence with frescoes and precious objets d’art.
Vignola’s picturesque city center provides the perfect setting for the imposing and well-preserved Vignola Fortress. The four-sided structure contains five floors and has three square towers.
The internal courtyard is magnificent and, on the left side, the “Rocchetta” (the “little fortress”) and the Contrari and Grassoni halls are located. One of the most beautiful structures is the frescoed chapel, a rare gem of “International Gothic” style.
A visit to the Vignola Fortress is especially striking because of its perfect evocation of the past. Visitors can see the soldiers’ quarters as well as the trenches once used by watchmen charged with providing early warning of any danger to the castle. All in all, the experience of the fortress is unique.
Palazzo Pio, Carpi
Palazzo Pio in Carpi is an imposing and complex structure that comprises fortifications, towers, courtyards, and buildings constructed between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Palazzo looks out onto Piazza dei Martiri, one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas, to breathtaking effect.
Starting in 1300 and for most of the following two centuries, Palazzo Pio was the residence of the Pio family. The Pio Prince Alberto III, nephew of the famous Pico della Mirandola, transformed the fortress into a splendid Renaissance palace whose rooms were decorated with frescoes by court painters.
Today, the town of Carpi has adapted the palazzo for use as a world-class cultural center that houses the Palazzo Pio Museum; the Municipal Museum; the Castello dei Ragazzi, a children’s art and recreation center; and the fascinating Museum and Monument to Political and Racial Deportees.
Passing through historical eras as you walk through the museums’ exhibition rooms and explore the palace are sure to stimulate both reflection and wonder.
Spezzano Castle in Fiorano Modenese
The origins of Spezzano Castle date to the Middle Ages. The castle was transformed into a noble family residence by the Pios of Savoia in 1529.
Today, Spezzano Castle is an elegant country residence surrounded by grounds landscaped in the 19th-century—a lovely place to relax or perhaps have lunch in one of the designated picnic areas.
The splendid porticoed courtyard dates to the Renaissance, and the Sala delle Vedute, with its splendid frescoes of towns, towers, and castles of Sassuolo’s feudal period, is especially striking.
Its pentagonal tower, at one time a prison, today houses the Municipal Vinegar Cellar and the Fiorano Museum of Ceramics, dedicated to the local history of ceramics, one of the area’s most admired products. Don’t miss this one.
Montecuccoli Castle in Pavullo
Montecuccoli Castle is perched on a spur of rock that overlooks the Scoltenna-Panaro River Valley, three kilometers from the center of Pavullo in the heart of the Frignano area.
After briefly being governed by Modena, the surrounding area was ruled by the Montecuccoli family, the powerful lords of Frignano, until the arrival of the House of Este in the mid-fourteenth century. In these ancient times, the Montecuccoli Castle was the residence and military center of the Montecuccoli family, who built dozens of attached towers and fortresses to keep watch over the roads to Tuscany.
At the highest point of this point of rock is the original castle keep, which is surrounded by other structures and three rings of walls, constructed over time.
Below the castle and through a Gothic portal lies a beautiful medieval village, where the Palazzo del Podestà and the fifteenth-century Church of San Lorenzo are especially noteworthy.
Starting in the 1960s, the castle became the property of the town, which restored it and built the Montecuccoli Museum Complex. The Complex contains the Frignano Botanical Museum; Raffaele Biolchini’s “Donazione,” a sculpture gallery featuring works in marble, wood, terracotta, and other materials by one of Modena’s preeminent modern sculptors; and Gino Covili’s “Paese Ritrovato,” a cycle of paintings and drawings dedicated to the work, lives, and history of the people of Frignagno.
This genuinely truly unique setting guarantees an unforgettable visit.
Castles are an integral part of the landscape of the Modena area. These beautiful structures have much to reveal about lives, history, and origins of the people and the places where we can visit them today.
Our suggestion for travelers is not to miss these five castles in Modena Province! For additional information or reservations, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll happily help organize your tour.
We can’t wait to see you here!