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Matilde di Canossa

- Mantua 1046/Bondeno di Roncore 1115
- countess, duchess, marquise and queen in the Middle Ages
- a lady always at the forefront, powerful feudatory and ardent supporter of the Church in the Investiture Controversy

If Matilde di Canossa had never existed, the saying "andare a Canossa" (literally "going to Canossa") would simply mean going to a small village in the Appennines near Reggio Emilia. But Matilde did exist and the saying has a deeper meaning (in Italian "andare a Canossa" means to beg forgiveness and eat humble pie). Matilde was one of the leading female figures in Medieval Europe. The Grand Duchess was courageous, learned, cosmopolitan and enlightened. She mediated between the two great powers of the age: the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy. The Matilde dominations acted a buffer zone between the territories owned by the Emperor and the Church. Matilde played a role as a mediator, culminating in the legendary meeting between Emperor Henry IV and the Pope Gregory VII at Canossa Castle in january 1077.
Matilde was not overly impressed by Henry IV, a relative of hers. She recalled him as small, bare-foot, dressed in a habit and prostrating himself before her great friend Ildebrando (Hildebran) Pope Gregory VII. Matilde considered the Pope "a real man", a leader who came from Cluny and knew what had to be done for foster faith. To Matilde, he was a true guide, exactly what was needed - while Henry wanted to appoint bishops himself and would not understand that he could not win.
At the fateful meeting in january 1077, Matilde played her part well. After all, she was the undisputed quuen of the feudal domains stretching from the foothills of the Alps to Lazio, near Rome. She owned the largest estates in Italy. If viewed from the top of mountain ridge, her lands would have been adorned with castles, churches, towers and villages. Fittingly, a trail in Matilde's name now runs through her former lands.

Medieval mood
The region is renowned for its medieval heritage and is dotted with medieval fortress, castles and villages. Bobbio is just one of well-preserved site, with its Ponte Gobbo ad an abbey founded by San Colombano. Then there's Castell'Arquato, near Piacenza, or Bardi, which boasts the Ghibelline fortress linked to the Landi dinasty. In Parma provnce, Fontanellato is an intriguing castle, famous for its "optical illusion chamber" and frescoes attributed to Parmigianino. In Brisighella, there's Via degli Asini (Donkey Street), a charming arcaded street. Longiano is a princely residence that once belonged to the Malatesta, one of the region's most powerful dynasties.

Natural bastions
At times, nature creates its own impregnable fortresses. The sandstone peaks of the imposing sassi di Roccamalatina rise vertiginously, like a castle. Set in gentle landscape, this rugged natural formation looks every bit for fortress. In the Appennines, the Pietra di Bismantova is another awe-inspiring natural rock formation: just ask the rock climbers, hikers or dreamers who stand at the stop, contemplating a magnificent structure which lay under the ocean millions of years ago. equally impressive are the small volcano-like cones of Salse di Nirano, which fascinated Pliny the Elder, or the Gessi Bolognesi, an atmospheric rock formation studded with cliffs.

Via Francigena
The Via Francigena was the route travelled by pilgrims, merchants and wayfarers from Britain and France. the made for the Cisa Pass and crossed the mountains into Tuscany's Lunigiana area and route to Rome. In Emilia Romagna, a section of the Via Francigena thoroughfare runs from piacenza to Parma. This famous route was described in the year 990 by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, and is lined with Romanesque treasures in the Emilia stretch. The architectural wonders include the Romanesque Baptistery in Parma, a masterpiece by Benedetto Antelami, as well as the Duomo in Fidenza, decorated with bas-reliefs that even feature helpful route directions. To follow in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims, contemplate the Sentieri della Luce in the Modena area or the Via degli Dei in the valleys around Bologna.

San Leo: an impregnable fortress
if you wish to understand the meaning of word impregnable follow the Marecchia Valley up to San leo built high on a rock and accessible only along a road cut into the rock. The medieval village - always at the hear of battles between Byzanthines, Goths, francs and Longobards and capital of the Kingdom of Italy for two years under the rule of Berengario II - is dominated by the imposing fortress restored by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in the XV century and transformed into a practically unattackable work of military art. However, it was almost impossible to escape if you were so unfortunate to be imprisoned its dungeons. Count Cagliostro, alchemist and adventurer who fascinated Europe in the 18th century soon found out: the walls of this fortress were his last earthly prison.

Nonantola Abbey
When the Lombard Duke Anselmo became a monk, he received land as a gift from king Astolfo. In 752 he founded a Benedictine abbey here, which became a medieval power-house. the abbey, dedicated to Saint Sylvester, is just outside Modena. Over the centuries, the abbeybecame increasingly powerful thanks to its strategic position and to the patronage of kings, popes and emperors. To follow in the footsteps of the medieval pilgrims, visit the crypt: dozens of slender columns fill the crypt like trees bathed in light.

(source: "Emilia Romagna, Land with a Soul")

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