Brisighella: Medieval Charm in the Heart of Romagna

Brisighella
View of Brisighella, a beautiful medieval village about an hour from Bologna.

Brisighella is a delightful medieval village about an hour south-east of Bologna, in the heart of the Tuscan-Romagnolo Apennines. It makes for a lovely day trip from Bologna (70 km), or even from Florence if that’s your base (90 km).

Classified as one of Italy’s most beautiful ‘borghi (historic hamlets), and boasting the Touring Club’s Bandiera Arancione (an eco-tourist award), Brisighella was founded toward the end of the 13th century, when the most gallant medieval condottiero of Romagna, Maghinardo Pagani (mentioned even by Dante in his Divine Comedy) built what would become the major fortified tower of the valley on top of a hill. The village developed at the foot of that and two nearby hills, rich in gypsum, a mineral that is abundant in the area.

Brisighella Romagna
The colorful buildings above Via del Borgo, a covered street with arcades that was built for defensive reasons (photo credit brisighella.org).

What to See in Brisighella

The highlight of Brisighella’s historic center is the ancient Via del Borgo, also known as Via degli Asini. Originally built as a defensive bulwark in the 14th century, it is a covered street above ground, opened by half arches. The name Via degli Asini is due to the fact that, when it stopped being used for defense, the local birocciai, those who transported the gypsum from the caves above the village using donkeys, used the street as the animals’ stables, which were positioned in front of the arches; their houses were on the upper floors.

Brisighella Emilia-Romagna
Via degli Asini in Brisighella (photo credit brisighella.org).

Take some time to stroll the maze of Brisighella’s cobbled alleys, then take the Via della Rocca trail to reach the Rocca and the Torre dell’Orologio.

The Rocca Manfrediana is a typical military fortress of the Middle Ages, erected in 1310 by the Manfredi, rulers of Faenza, who owned it until 1500, when, for three years, it became a property of Cesare Borgia. After that, it changed hands several times, until it went to the Papal States.

Brisighella
Walking toward the Torre dell’Orologio amid trees and beautiful views.

The Torre dell’Orologio, originally part of the fortress complex erected in 1290 by Maghinardo Pagani, constituted Brisighella’s defensive system until the 1500s. The tower was damaged and rebuilt several times, with the current structure dating to 1850, when the clock was added. Torre dell’Orologio is reached by way of a lovely trail among olive trees and beautiful views. From the tower, you can have a look at the spectacular ‘calanchi’ (sort of badlands), soil erosion produced by the effect of run-off water on clay terrain.

Brisighella
The Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) stands on a hill above Brisighella.

When to go

The best time to visit Brisighella is spring to late fall. Even better if you catch one of the many festivals and sagre (food events) held throughout the year, devoted to the many excellent local delicacies produced here, chief among them extra virgin olive oil, Brisighello DOP.

Brisighella olive oil
I visited Brisighella during the fun Sagra dell’Ulivo e dell’Olio, held in late November.

For foodies

Olive farming in the Lamone valley, where Brisighella is located, has been practiced for a very long time, possibly since the second century A.D. There are approximately 70,000 olive plants over an area of 300 hectares, producing an excellent olive oil made with the indigenous Nostrana di Brisighella. The olives are hand-picked between November and December and, every year at the end of November, Brisighella’s olive oil is celebrated at the Sagra dell’Ulivo e dell’Olio.

Another sagra dedicated to a local delicacy takes place in May to celebrate the Carciofo Moretto (a variety of artichoke), while the Carne di Mora Romagnola, meat used to make excellent salumi, takes center stage during several events, including the Sagra dei Salumi Stagionati di Mora in the spring, the Sagra della Porchetta di Mora Romagnola and Sagra del Porcello in the fall.

Brisighella is located in a wine-making area where the main vines are Sangiovese (red) and Albana (white).

Brisighella Emilia-Romagna
Gorgeous view of Brisighella and the Valley of Lamone, in Romagna.

Festivals & Events

Other events not to miss in Brisighella include the Feste Medievali, re-enactments of medieval times, with people in costumes and banquets set up in the taverns and in the streets, where you can taste medieval dishes (summer), and Brisighella Romantica, an event celebrating love through exhibitions, musical entertainment and candle-lit al fresco dinners in the streets of the illuminated borgo (June).

For nature lovers, the nearby Parco Regionale della Vena del Gesso Romagnola offers many opportunities for hiking, while discovering the unique calanchi and gypsus formations.

Getting there

From Bologna: Autostrada A14, exit Faenza, then SP 302. Or by regional train, with change in Faenza.

For more information, visit the useful Brisighella’s tourism website.

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