A magical itinerary to take you to discover fairy-tale medieval castles in Emilia Romagna: here is our 15-step tour 

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Italian history can be traced in the countless beautiful monuments and buildings that punctuate it, and the Middle Ages, in particular, have left us with important charming evidences, the castles.

Nowadays, these magnificent and massive structures have become key centers of our tourism and at a mere glance transport us to a time that no longer exists, made up of kings, noblemen, ladies and knights. Today we travel through time to discover the most beautiful medieval castles in Emilia Romagna. 

Apart from villages and civil buildings, among the scenic beauties of our country we cannot omit the medieval castles and fortresses, vestiges of a time when defense from external attacks and strategy were crucial.

The evidence of a complex yet far from obscure era reflects a desire for representation, power and sumptuousness by the great noble families; Romagna, for example, boasts evocative fortifications on its hilltops, most created by the Malatestas (1200-1500), while in Emilia, especially between Parma and Piacenza, we find fortifications wanted by the Visconti, Farnese and Contrari families.

Nowadays, castles represent must-see stops for tourists who wish to admire in their own eyes the evolution of our beautiful country from the Middle Ages to the present. But also for those who, experiencing the unquestioned charm of these buildings, wish to relive a fairy-tale scenario, full of heroism and magic. 

Here are, in our opinion, the 15 medieval castles in Emilia Romagna you should absolutely visit for an adventurous immersion in the ancient pas

15. Rocca Sforzesca di Bagnara

Rocca Sforzesca in Bagnara among the medieval castles in Emilia Romagna

The Rocca Sforzesca of Bagnara, in the province of Ravenna, is the ideal destination for those who want to discovery the history of this area. It houses the Museum of the Territory of Bagnara and Lower Romagna, in which you can choose between a route from the Bronze Age to the 12th century or from the Renaissance to the Unification of Italy.

The fortress is a place of interest for history buffs: built, probably, thanks to Uguccione della Faggiola at the turn of the 13th century, the structure has seen many transformations over the centuries. But it was at the time of Caterina Sforza, Riario's wife, that the fortress underwent major restoration and expansion: between 1487 and 1494 the city walls, the lordly palace and the keep were built, and we can still admire them today. 

Explore Ravenna and its treasures

14. Rocca of Forlimpopoli

Rocca di Forlimpopoli among the medieval castles of Emilia Romagna

The Rocca of Forlimpopoli rises in all its majesty in the historic centre of the town: an ideal opportunity for those wishing to combine a cultural visit with a shopping tour under the arcades.

Built between 1361 and 1363 at the behest of Cardinal Egidio d'Albornoz, the fortress has reflected the many changes that have characterised the life of the town that hosts it over the centuries. Today, the fortress itself hosts some of the town's most important activities: it is the home of the Municipality of Forlimpopoli, the Archaeological Museum, the Multipurpose Cultural Centre and the Giuseppe Verdi Theatre.
The beauty of the fortress has been perfectly maintained over time: today it is recognised as one of the best preserved medieval castles in Emilia Romagna. 

13. Rocca Malatestiana inCesena

Rocca Malatestiana in Cesena among the medieval castles in Emilia Romagna

The Rocca Malatestiana in Cesena can certainly be described with the word "majestic." Although it is located in the center of the city, a very short distance from Piazza del Popolo, the fortress imposes itself from above: born under Galeotto I Malatesta (1380), it is actually located on top of the Garampo Hill. From here it is possible to enjoy a beautiful view, perhaps tasting a glass of wine offered at the refreshment point.

As well as many of the medieval castles in Emilia Romagna, the Rocca Malatestiana is actually the third fortress in Cesena: the structure was built very close to the two buildings that preceded it, which were destroyed around the year 1000 and 1377, respectively.

12. Rocca delle Caminate di Meldola

Rocca delle Caminate among the best medieval castles in Emilia Romagna

Those who love to make their out-of-town trips an opportunity to learn will be thrilled by the possibilities offered by the Rocca delle Caminate in Meldola, in province of Forlì-Cesena. Here, in fact, there is a didactic trail made up of 23 information points, which can be accessed easily through an app: a simple and fun way to learn something about this jewel of Romagna.

The medieval castle stands on a hill at an altitude of 356 m and it was built in this strategic position around the year 1000 as a military outpost. Its purpose was not only to protect the town, but also to collect duties on the transit of goods and guard the road. The ridge was in fact frequently used by merchants and pilgrims on their way to the Rocca di San Casciano, Florence.

11. Malatesta Castle in Longiano

Castello Malatestiano in Longiano among the medieval castles in Emilia Romagna

Due to its advantageous position on a hillock 179 m above sea level, the Malatesta Castle in Longiano, in province of Forlì-Cesena, has a history closely linked to military strategy. In fact, the Romagna fortress was born as a stronghold to oppose raids by the Lombards. The first documents attesting to its existence date back to 1059.

The castle, given its role as a defensive structure, has suffered much devastation over the centuries, until it earned the nickname of Burnt Village. However, all this is now a thing of the past: today the ancient fortress houses the Tito Balestra Onlus Foundation Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

10. Castel Sismondo a Rimini

Castel Sismondo among the most charming medieval castles in Emilia Romagna

The magnificent Castel Sismondo is located in the heart of the old town of Rimini, where it was built in 1437 by order of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, to employ it as a palace and a fortress. Even though very little is left of it today, it is still possible to see traces of the ancient fortifications: the structure is the core of the actual medieval castle, which was once surrounded by a moat.

Those who like to take every opportunity to get a glimpse of culture will love Malatesta Square in Rimini: in addition to the ancient stronghold it is possible to visit other places of interest, gathered within just 11,000 square meters. Moreovere, since 2021, the square has housed the Fellini Museum, dedicated to the work of the famous director from Rimini Federico Fellini.

Discover Rimini

9. Rocca del Sasso a Verucchio

Rocca del Sasso, Verucchio, among the best preserved medieval castles in Emilia Romagna

The Rocca Malatestiana in Verucchio, or Rocca del Sasso, stands on the top of a rocky spur from which it dominates the surrounding area. Its distinctive feature is the guardhouse, crowned by a large clock. It is one of the largest Malatesta fortresses and one of the best preserved medieval castles in Emilia Romagna. 

Built in 1449 on the initiative of Sigismondo Malatesta, the fortress offers its visitors a breathtaking view: from here you can admire a territory stretching from the Adriatic sea to the ridge of the Apennines. In addition to the magnificent view, which can be enjoyed from the Mastio Tower, the castle offers the Malatesta family tree and two vast courtyards.

8. Castello di Montebello

Montebello Castle is among the most beautiful medieval castles in Emilia Romagna

Legend and ghost story lovers won't miss the chance to visit this famous example among the medieval castles in Emilia Romagna: the Montebello Castle in Poggio Torriana, in the province of Rimini, also known as the Azzurrina Castle, which is also one of the most haunted places in Italy.

The name is due to the nickname given to the most famous guest of the fortress, the spirit of Guendalina, daughter of Uguccione Malatesta, known as Azzurrina because of her "sky-colored eyes and fair hair with azure highlights". The girl, who was albino, disappeared on June 21, 1375, in the snowfield of the fortress, and she was never found again – a story that, over the centuries, has fascinated many visitors and continues to do so today, as many claim to have spotted her ghost with its distinctive turquoise color.

Besides the paranormal appeal, the castle is an important place of historical interest, as can be explored in depth through a guided tour.

The magnificent Fortress of St. Leo dominates the small village of the same name in the province of Rimini, a must-see among medieval castles in Emilia Romagna for history buffs.

In addition to the charm that only an impregnable stronghold can have, the building houses interesting exhibits and collections, from 16th-century weapons expositions to ancient torture instruments, from World Wars artifacts to Vasari's reproductions.

And speaking of guests, San Leo also had a notable one: the wizard and alchemist Giuseppe Balsamo, Count of Cagliostro. This mysterious figure ended his existence here as a prisoner, pardoned from the death penalty for heresy in 1790 by Pope Pius VI. A special cell, the pozzetto cell, also known as the "cagliostrina," was built especially for him.

6. Rocca Fregoso di Sant'Agata Feltria

Rocca Fregoso or Fortress of Fairy Tales: splendid example of a medieval castle in Emilia Romagna

The last stop on this journey combines history and magic: Rocca Fregoso in Sant'Agata Feltria, also known as Rocca delle Fiabe, Fortress of Fairy-tales. A castle with a spectacular appearance, it dominates the Savio valley from the natural cliff on which it stands. It was built around the year 1000 by the Cavalca dei Conti family from Bertinoro.

The name Rocca delle Fiabe (Fortress of Fairy Tales) is due to the museum housed today in the mediaeval fortress and conceived by Professor Antonio Faeti, a lecturer in history and children's literature, a well-known pedagogue and expert in the grammar of fantasy. Here, guests can explore four rooms dedicated to fairy-tales, divided by theme: "Shoes, Little Shoes", "The Lonely Castellan", "The Enchanted Traveller" and "Children in the Forest".

  Let's move to Emilia, precisely to the province of Parma, to Langhirano. 

Langhirano is a charming and picturesque village, surrounded by vineyards and dominated by the splendid Torrechiara Castle, in the ancient suburb of the same name, which is part of the Castelli del Ducato circuit.

The castle was built in the 15th century at the behest of Count Pier Maria Rossi of Berceto, not only for defensive purposes but also to honor his beloved Bianca Pellegrini d'Arluno. The uniqueness of this imposing edifice lies in its structure: the design, supervised by the count, represents an ideal bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance styles, and requires the ramparts and walls to have proportions relatable to musical consonances, recalling an exquisitely Renaissance tendency, inspired by Pythagorean-Platonic geometry.

The overwhelming fairy-tale beauty of the castle also captured Hollywood, for in 1985 it was one of the locations for the movie Ladyhawke.

Not forget to visit Parma

Let's stay in Parma, in Montechiarugolo, to admire the beautiful castle of the Torelli family.
Located on the banks of the Enza River between Parma and Reggio Emilia, it was born as a symbol of the power of Guido Torelli, a commander of the Visconti family, who was entrusted with the Montechiarugolo Feud in 1406.
Fortress of the Torelli family domain, this splendid architectural gem features imposing well-preserved walls and an inner courtyard with beautiful gardens, while inside you can see beautiful rooms with frescoed ceilings recounting the exploits of its ancient tenants.
But even this impressive example among the medieval castles in Emilia Romagna has its dark side: it is said that the ghost of the charming Fata Bema, a fortune teller who seduced the Duke of Parma, Ranuccio Farnese, and the young Pio Torelli, still haunts it and that she still appears to future brides in order to provide advice on their marriage. And perhaps because of this beneficial influence many couples decide to solemnize their love in this magic and romantic place.

A symbol of the Visconti family's power, the Rocca Viscontea awaits you in Castell'Arquato, one of Italy's most beautiful villages, located in the province of Piacenza.

Built in 1342 on a hilltop, in a perfectly dominating position, the fortress was formerly a Roman military settlement; it was completed a few years later by Luchino Visconti, lord of Milan, who wanted a place to watch over the valley and effectively protect himself from enemy attacks. In the lower band of the walls, the soldiers were located and the castellans took refuge, while the higher band housed the garrison headquarters.

Moreover, this castle was a part of the set for the movie Ladyhawke as well.

The Rocca di Vignola (Vignola Fortress), a town in the province of Modena, is the oldest example of a medieval castle in Emilia Romagna among those mentioned so far, since according to the surviving evidences it seems to date back to the 8th century, at the time of the barbarian invasions and probably after the end of the Carolingian dynasty.

Thus designed for defensive purposes, the fortress stands on a hill and overlooks the Panaro River. It is on two floors, with walkways and towers on the surface and underground, all available for visits; each section of the castle is the result of a series of different phases of construction, witnessing the presence of its inhabitants, particularly the noble Grassoni and Contrari families. The two splendid halls are dedicated to them, inside which you can easily imagine banquets and balls in courtly style. Finally, you cannot miss the Uguccione Chapel on the second floor, the beautiful little private church commissioned by the Lord of the Contrari, which has magnificent frescoes on the ceiling. 

The last stop on our tour of medieval castles in Emilia Romagna could only be in Grazzano Visconti, in the province of Piacenza, a place that seems to be crystallized in the mists of time.

In this picturesque ancient village - home to many events, festivals and historical reconstructions - there are numerous buildings of great architectural charm and, of course, the splendid and imposing castle, whose construction dates back to 1395 at the behest of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who gave it to his sister Beatrice for her marriage to a nobleman from Piacenza, Giovanni Anguissola.

The splendor we enjoy today, however, is due to the numerous restorations ordered by one of the family's descendants, Giuseppe, who in the early twentieth century brought it back to the ancient splendor of the Middle Ages, making it a revivalist-style city, far away from progress and metropolitan chaos.

And here, again, we could not miss the ever-present ghost! It seems that in the castle of Grazzano Visconti still hovers the young Aloisa, wife of a captain who had died in grief at the abandonment of her husband, who apparently told her sad story to Giuseppe himself (who was said to be a medium).  

These are just some of the stunning medieval castles in Emilia Romagna, which has a very high number of examples spread throughout the territory.

These 15 stages, however, can be a crucial starting point if you want to begin your discovery of the region from a historical perspective and learn more about its architectural repertoire belonging to a mythical era, that enriched our country with charm and wonder. 

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