Pervaded by an atmosphere of days gone by, Castell’Arquato is a village of art of the most rare beauty.
With it’s small line of brick coloured houses and narrow cobbled streets that lead to the to hilltop and the ample monumental plaza that opens out before you, it seems almost unbelievable to find such a place in the Val d’Arda valley.
On one side the valley leads down to Via Emilia road and Padania and on the other towards the hills of Vernasca and the Apennines, where its prize jewel the village of Vigoleno is situated.
The monumental area is extremely rich.
The Fort of Viscontea (La Rocca Viscontea), ordered by the Borough of Piacenza and erected by Luchino Visconti between 1342 and 1349, is one of the most noteworthy military complexes in the North of Italy.
The plan is L shaped with the smaller surrounding wall overlooking the plaza.
Besides the external walls, there are four defensive towers of which only the eastern tower has remained intact until the present day.
The whole complex is dominated by the millstone of Dongione, that is well worth the climb for the splendid panoramic views and the medieval museum that awaits you.
In the plaza you will also become fascinated by the apses of the Collegiate, one of the oldest and antique churches in the whole area. The church already existent in 758 was a baptismal parish,
reconstructed after the 1117 earthquake and consecrated in 1122. The baptismal font in stone has been dated to the VII-VIII century, whilst the beautiful splayed doorway, the lintels and the sculpted moon are of the XII century.
On the left hand side of the church are the fourteenth-fifteenth century porches called “del Paradiso” (of Paradise) because it homes the tombs of a number of famous people.
The most fascinating part of the church are the four voluminous apses set against the pointed roof and the square shaped bell tower.
Year 1292 the Palazzo of Podestà was constructed on the north side of the monumental plaza.
The most ancient part of the plaza is the rectangular Keep to which other elements like the Loggetta of the Notari (The Notaries Lodge), were added in the fifteenth century.
A harmonious line is given to the facade of the millstone by its external stairway which was fitted with a hand rail in the XV century.
A very particular element is the pentagonal tower, already present in the original project. This mixture and layering of styles takes absolutely nothing away from the magical allure of the construction. Another sight to see in the Monteguzzo district is the Torrione Farnese, erected around 1530 and uncompleted, apparently due to the death of Duke Bosio Sforza II . Entirely constructed with bricks and tiles the whole construction has an evidently graceful appearance (even if it was constructed as part of the defence and military system of the village), making it incredibly appealing and mysterious, with the various secret passages that can be found within.
Secret passages that should have lead out into the open countryside or to Palazzo del Duca.
The Palace of Justice, built in 1292, took its name in the 17th century.
The Fontana del Duca (The Fountain of the Duke) is of the same period and still in function.
Up until the end of the last century it was still used as the public laundry.
The Hospital of Santo Spirito, built in the sixteenth century is now the home of the Geological Museum. With robust outer walls erected in 1342 by Duke Azzo Visconti, today only four of its primitive doorways remain.
One was modified in the XVII century and the other La Porta di Sasso (The Door of Stone), originates from the Viscontea era.
Now there is nothing left to do but to loose oneself in the streets and lanes that make it so pleasurable to take a walk around Castell’Arquato.
Finished these wanderings, you absolutely must spend some time in the district of Vigolo Marchese and admire this splendid, romantic complex with the church and baptistery of San Giovanni, whose construction was ordered in 1008 by the marquise Oberto d’Orta Sire of Val Nure.
The sheer walls and shape of the circular baptistery, the golden colours of the tiling and stones, set in the peace of the countryside are pure poetry to the eye.
Vine culture has extremely antique roots at Castell’Arquato, home to a communal wine shop and numerous cellars. The Monterosso Valdarda Doc Colli Piacentini wine is a local wine by definition, taking its name from a hill by the side of the village and only produced in the nearby valleys.
Straw-yellow in colour, delicate bouquet, dry, medium-sweet or sweet this wine is ideal with salumi and risottos.
Other great wines of this region are Ortrugo, Malvasia and Sauvignon and the red wines Gutturnio and Bonarda.
In the Vigolo Marchese district you can find a special kind of chocolate tart whose secret recipe is jealously guarded by the locals.
Anolini Soup (Anolini in brodo) called Anvein in local dialect: whilst in the rest of the Piacentino the stuffing is made with a thick stew, in this area the stuffing is made with Grana Padano cheese mixed with breadcrumbs and herbs.