Looking mighty from its panoramic position on the rolling hills of the Val Parma, 18 km south of the city of Parma, Torrechiara Castle is among the most significant and best preserved examples of Italian castle architecture.
Now listed as a national monument, Torrechiara Castle was built between 1448 and 1460 by Pier Maria Rossi, known as ‘the Magnificent’, a condottiere (captain) and count of nearby San Secondo who fought alongside the Sforza during local battles for power when the Parma area was under the Duchy of Milan. At age 15, he married the daughter of a local count with whom he had ten children.
But his true, lifelong love was Bianca Pellegrini, a noblewoman Rossi met in Milan and for whom he built the magnificent Torrechiara Castle.
History of Torrechiara Castle
The area’s original name, ‘Torchiara’, seems to derive from ‘torchio,’ the machine used to press grapes and olives. This area has in fact a longstanding winemaking tradition (Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc), and, in the Middle Ages, thanks to the presence of olive trees, it also produced olive oil.
Like all castles, Torrechiara had a defensive function attested by its position on top of a hill, 80 meters above the floor valley; and by three rings of walls, four massive corner towers, walkways, and a double moat with drawbridge. Its massive, fierce stance is clearly seen as you approach it from a distance.
At the same time, Torrechiara Castle was also conceived as the home of a noble court where women would be present. This shows through the presence of loggias (the loggia is a roofed open gallery with columns or arches on the open side) and the many frescoed spaces and rooms.
Visiting Torrechiara Castle: What to See
Start at the quadrangular Cortile d’Onore, decorated with loggias and arcades featuring sandstone and terracotta capitals, and get a first panoramic view of the beautiful surrounding hills. Continue to the court’s chapel, known as Cappella di San Nicomede, on the ground floor, then walk through a series of rooms frescoed in the ‘grotesque’ style, typical of the 16th century (grotesque is “decorative art characterized by fanciful or fantastic human and animal forms often interwoven with foliage or similar figures that may distort the natural into absurdity, ugliness, or caricature” – definition by Merriam-Webster dictionary). Each room takes its name from the most relevant decoration.
Continue on the first floor for more great views of the hills when you step outside onto the loggias. The highlight of the visit is the Camera d’Oro (translates as Golden Room), which was the bridal room, in other words, Rossi and Pellegrini’s love nest. Among cherubs playing music, symbolic animals, a blindfolded Cupid, emblems, hearts, the lover’s intertwined initials, the love story of Pier Maria and Bianca is recounted. As rivers, mountains, villages, streets, plots of land form the background to the story, the paintings also represent an extraordinary geographical map of the time.
When you’re done visiting the castle, take a walk in the annexed tiny village of the same name, where you can also stop for lunch, as I did, at the aptly-named Taverna del Castello.
While you’re in the area, you may also want to pay a visit to the Museo del Prosciutto di Parma in nearby Langhirano (10 minutes by car), where you can learn about this prized ham, a culinary pride of the area.
Torrechiara Castle is open year-round. Closed Mondays. For info on opening times, click here.
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