La Rocca di Vignola, Italy
The castle fortress pictured on this week’s postcard is every bit as impressive and beautiful in person as on the card. Vignola was one of the places our friend took us to see when we were visiting Italy in October. The photographer is not identified on the unused card but the distributor is listed as OK Spedisci Qualita, Garami. This was one of the places that had little or no English version booklets available. We purchased a book with Italian text for the interior photos since no pictures were allowed inside the structure. However, we did take a few photos of exterior views.
Aerial view of the complex and surrounding countryside
[From: La Rocca di Vignola, page 87, Fondazione di Vignola publication]
Vignola did not even rate a footnote in our Italian tourist guidebook and is somewhere we would never have visited or known to visit without our friend. It is located southeast of Modena not far from Bologna and near an ancient Etruscan road that connected Bologna and Parma. The fortress or castle was first mentioned in 826 to protect the lands of the nearby Abbey Nonantola. It would also have been a place of refuge for the townsfolk during times of medieval feudal struggles. Grapes are grown in this area, we saw several small vineyards, and the name Vignola is derived from the Latin “vineola,” which translates to tiny or small vineyard. It is not too far a stretch to think that the abbey was growing grapes.
The Dove Room
[From: La Rocca di Vignola, page 24, Fondazione di Vignola publication]
Detail of the design, Dove Room
[From: La Rocca di Vignola, page 25, Fondazione di Vignola publication]
Most of the castles and fortresses that we have seen were partial ruins or all ruins but this one is one of the best preserved and looks much as it did originally. Since the 15th century the fortress was used as a military structure. Careful restoration began in the mid-20th century and is continuing with modern historical research providing new insight regarding the frescoes that decorate the ground and first floor halls. The six named halls are: the Lion and Leopard Room, the Dove Room, Ring Room, Dame Room, Coat of Arms Room, and the Tree Trunk Room. The paintings cover not only every inch of the walls but the ceilings as well.
Entry into the courtyard
The Contrari family owned and lived in the castle from 1401 to 1577. Their family coat of arms can be found on the walls of the Coat of Arms Room and tell the family history. A bank purchased the property in 1965 and later transferred it in 1998 to the Foundation of Vignola that is authorized to keep it maintained and opens it to the public free of charge. The building is also available for cultural, social and educational activities in Vignola. When we visited we noticed posters advertising events to be held there.
There was a walkway all around the top of the tower. The floor was uneven and sloped, perhaps intentionally, since we noticed drainage pipes for rain water runoff. Nevertheless the uneven surface made it more difficult to walk without fear of tripping.
Looking out and down on the courtyard and toward one of the other towers
Looking straight down from the walkway around the top part of the tower
One of the window views from lower down in the tower
We climbed all the way up to the top of one of the taller towers. The stairs became steeper and narrower as we ascended but there was a railing on one side that helped some. As mentioned previously, I do not like heights and could not really bring myself to get that close to the open window holes to look out, just leaning forward enough to take a few photos. There was one connecting hall to a cell where prisoners were held that had a grated floor. My two companions crossed over and looked around but I did not. I also needed a bit of help getting down from the very top. Bob suggested going down backwards, like climbing on a ladder, but I wanted to be facing forward even though I could not really see the steps or my feet. My two strong male companions put me in the middle so that one could catch me if I fell or one could grab my hand if I slipped. Fortunately neither was needed but it was nice to have friendly hands guide me down those steep, narrow and dark steps.
Down on the ground looking up at where we had been
For additional information, see:
La Rocca di Vignola, Fondazione di Vignola [the foundation book in Italian with photographs of the exterior and interior of the fortress]