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The Culture of Emilia-Romagna

Towns and cities

Emilia-Romagna towns and cities

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
Roman towns, spa towns, fortified towns. In the plains, on the Po and by the sea, along the ridges of the Apennines. Facade of lombard-gothic cathedral, 12th and 13th cent., PiacenzaEvery piazza, palace and city centre in Emilia-Romagna is replete with history. But that’s not all. "Emilia-Romagna, top of the class for its civic sense - writes political scientist Robert Putnam - is far from being a traditional ´community´ in the generally accepted use of the word, that is the idyllic village fondly recollected by the old-folk".

Quite the opposite: it lives in the present and it is "one of the most modern, affluent, technologically advanced and entrepreneurial societies in the world". Bologna is the region’s capital but there are other small "capitals" of Emilia-Romagna. Imperial Ravenna, the restless Seigniories of Romagna, Faenza, "the little Athens among the untamed hill villages", Ferrara of the Este family, the cradle of culture and diplomacy, Bologna with its 900 year-old Alma Mater Studiorum, the dukedoms of Modena and Reggio, the Farnese and Bourbon courts in Parma and Piacenza. Faenza was also the town of neoclassicism and Piacenza, the city of palaces, invites us to look again at the way our cities are constructed. Indeed the forma urbis of the towns along Via Aemilia often conceals more than one heart: there is the time-honoured pride of the Dukedom, the Este castle, 14th and 15th cent., Ferraradignity of the Seigniories but also the custom of all pulling together, the bonhomie and a striking knack for cooperation.

If we talk about a region of cities we must also inevitably talk about metropolitan areas and small towns. And this also means talking about a “thoroughfare” region, a "conurbation as long as Via Aemilia, formerly the Consul’s highway", as urbanist Pierluigi Cervellati puts it, adding: "the town which spreads out into the Region is after all an expression of its architecture which, through centuries of stratification, gives the town its identity. And here in Emilia-Romagna the sense of architecture expresses itself in the demarcation of the fields with the same intensity as that which demarcates 3b.jpgthe urban landscape". The history of urban planning in Emilia-Romagna begins with the Romans who set up colonies (Rimini and Piacenza), with Via Aemilia and "forums" such as Forlimpopoli, Forlì, Imola and Reggio Emilia parcelling up the land in regular plots for distribution among the centurions (centuriation). Subsequently, minor towns such as Cesena, Faenza and Fidenza arose where the main valleys were located. The Middle Ages impose an urban structure tailored to the needs of a community life: the portico, lordly and devotional, useful for commerce and an extension of the home, becomes a constant element in all of Emilia’s towns from the period of the Comuni. Onwards, while fortifications, places of worship and centres of power predominate, especially in Romagna, in the development of settlements. From the real town we go to the ideal Renaissance town, of which only the Terra del Sole remains. The nineteenth century transforms the city walls into avenues which circle the town centre; industrialization brings with it an unbridled building spree; brick is replaced by concrete, and the differences between town and countryside grow more and more apparent, although in Emilia-Romagna this phenomenon has been less radical and irreversible than in other parts. And there you have it: a history of stones, the growth of towns up to the metropolitan areas of today.

Trips to large towns, castles, abbeys and Medieval villages. Off the beaten track in Emilia-Romagna.

Bas relief by Agostino di Duccio, 15th cent.We set out from Piacenza, visiting the Piazza dei Cavalli and the cathedral whose foundation stone was laid in 1122. Arriving in Rimini, we admire the church of the Malatesta family, built by Leon Battista Alberti. Ports of call in the most important towns: Parma, ducal town, Reggio-Emilia, founded in 175 B.C. by M. A. Lepidus, Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Forlì and Ravenna. Art towns, "capital" towns, but that’s not all.

Romagna is riddled with castles as are the foothills between Piacenza and Parma in Emilia. In the Po delta, where the river runs into the

Bas relief by Agostino di Duccio, 15th cent.; Imola castle, 13th cent
Imola castle, 13th cent
Adriatic, we come across land reclamation structures, while in the mountains, villages of rare beauty like Castel D´ Alfero (Forlí) and Scola di Vimignano (Bologna) suddenly come into view. There are various tours off the beaten track, following a particular theme: heritage and nature trails. There is the long trail of abbeys for instance: Bobbio, in the Trebbia Valley, founded in 612, in compliance with the wishes of the Lombard King Agilulfo; Nonantola (Modena), Pomposa, cut off between the Po in Goro and the Po in Volano and St. Ellero, near Forlí, are the most famous abbeys, nearly all of them, together with minor religious communities, part of the Benedictine order which furthered the monastic life in the region.

Miniatures representing Lanfranco and Mathilda of Canossa, A.D. 1200From Piacenza to Parma you can follow the castle trail, starting at Castel San Giovanni, Borgonuovo Val Tidone, on to San Giorgio Piacentino, via Rocca d´Olgisio, Castello di Lisignano, Rivalta Trebbia and Castello di Montechiaro. If it’s more medieval history you’re after visit the area in the Apennines above Reggio, between the Enza and the Secchia rivers, and be sure to take in the Canossa Fortress. It’s still possible to admire ancient noble towns in the plains, from Cortemaggiore, Busseto (birthplace of Verdi), Fontanellato, San Secondo, Colorno (the Farnese and Bourbon summer residence), stopping off at Sissa, Roccabianca and Zibello. Then there is the trail from Parma to the Liguria region:

Hump-back bridge over the river trebbia, 9th cent., Bobbio
Hump-back bridge over the river Trebbia, 9th cent., Bobbio
from Fornovo di Taro to Pieve di Berceto, from Borgo Val di Taro to Campiano, a splendid Medieval and Renaissance town, to Bedonia and Santa Maria del Taro. Or else backtrack via the eighteenth-century route from the castle in Bardi to Vernasca and Vigoleno, a noteworthy Medieval village, to the celebrated Cathedral in Fidenza. Towards the sea along the via Aemilia or the foothills the itinerary starts at Dozza and takes in the renowned fifteenth century castles in Imola, Forlí, Forlimpopoli and Cesena. En route we meet neoclassical Faenza, the Medieval centres of Brisighella and Bertinoro and the atmospheric villages of Longiano and Sant´Arcangelo. And more towns on the water: from Medieval and Renaissance Ferrara to picturesque Comacchio, taking in the archaeological site in Spina, Mesola Castle and Pomposa Abbey, then on to Ravenna and the Basilica of Sant´ Apollinare in Classe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pubblicato il 28/10/2011 — ultima modifica 05/10/2015
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