Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? And it’s even better when you hear it inside a castle, which ghosts seem to favor as their home 😉
Emilia-Romagna is a region dotted with historic castles; they make for fun side trips that can give you interesting insights into the history of the area.
In the spirit of Halloween coming up, here are two particularly spooky castles of Emilia-Romagna. The hunt is on!
Ghost-Friendly Castles of Emilia-Romagna
Fortezza di Bardi (Parma)
Among the greatest examples of military architecture in Italy, the Fortress of Bardi is located in the small town of Bardi, province of Parma, about two hours north-west of Bologna.
The original structure, built on top of a rocky outcrop, dates from the ninth century and offers beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
While today the geographical position of the village seems secluded and off the main tourist routes (which, in my opinion, is one of its appeals), this was a strategic location for control of the territory in the Middle Ages; in addition, Bardi was an important rest stop along the ‘Via degli Abati,’ a path that connected Bobbio with Pavia, capital of the Lombard Kingdom. The popular pilgrimage route ‘Via Francigena’ also passed nearby.
The ghost story of Bardi Castle:
Towards the end of the 1400s, two young people, the knight Moroello, commander of the local army, and the noble Soleste, the daughter of the castle’s owner, fell in love. Soleste’s father would not see to their love because she had been promised to a local powerful lord. The two lovers met in secret helped by the girl’s nanny. Then, Moroello had to leave to go to war. Every day Soleste looked from the castle’s windows hoping to see him return.
After a few weeks, Moroello returned, victorious, with the troops, wearing the enemies’s insignia as a sign of scorn. Soleste, who was looking from high up in the castle, mistook him for the enemy and thought he had been defeated and killed. Desperate, she threw herself from the tower. Upon hearing of the death of his beloved, Moroello could not stand the pain and committed suicide too. Since then, his ghost has wandered the castle, broken-hearted.
In 1995, after several reports of ghost sightings, two journalists decided to spend a night in the castle; they photographed an unstable and milky shape that materialized behind one of them. A few years later, a group of researchers armed with a series of tools including a thermal imaging camera, which captures temperature variations within a room, claimed to have photographed the silhouette of a kneeling knight. Controversies ensued over the reliability of the photos and studies have continued through the years without reaching any conclusive evidence.
You be the judge when you visit.
I have to say that my visit to Bardi was one I especially enjoyed, perhaps because the only people inside the castle were myself, my mom and a friend, so being alone in there added to the thrill and the mystery.
When I visited a few years ago, the tour was self-guided, but now guided visits and special events are organized. I suggest you do the guided visit at night, and obviously for Halloween they have special themed tours.
Visit the website for the latest information and opening times which vary according to the season (there doesn’t seem to be an English version).
Castello di Montebello (Rimini)
Located in Romagna, about one hour and 30 minutes south-east of Bologna, the Castello di Montebello was built around the 11th century on the remains of a third-century Roman tower. At 436 meters high, it overlooks the Marecchia valley inland from the seaside resort town of Rimini, which is 40 minutes away.
The fortress was once the scene of numerous battles, and even belonged to the powerful Malatesta family, rulers of Rimini and Romagna for centuries. Today, it offers peaceful and beautiful views of the Romagna countryside.
The castle is divided into two wings: one is in the shape of a military fortress, the other is the Renaissance wing, where furniture and objects have been preserved, including a large painted family tree.
The ghost story of Montebello Castle:
A visit to the Montebello castle is made even more fascinating thanks to the mysterious presence of the ghost Azzurrina, the little girl with “eyes the color of the sky and light-colored hair with blue reflections…”, who mysteriously disappeared in 1375.
Her real name was Guendalina, and she was the daughter of the feudal lord of Montebello; she was born an albino. She was nicknamed Azzurrina because of the color of her hair, which took on blue reflections after her parents dyed it to hide the fact she was an albino (back then popular superstition considered albinos to be diabolical, as anything or anyone that was ‘different’ was seen as suspicious). Indeed, her parents kept her secluded inside the castle, surveilled at all times by two guards. On June 21, 1375, while playing with a ball on a stormy night, she disappeared in the ice room of the fortress as she was trying to recover the ball, never to be found again.
Her ghost however is said to still roam the castle and that it is heard in the years ending with 0 or with 5 on the summer solstice, when sounds come from the basement.
I took the guided tour a few years ago at night (recommended! Much more fun obviously). During the guided tour, you visit several rooms of the castle and hear about the story of Azzurrina and the research carried out over time.
At the end of the visit, you can listen to the recordings made from 1990 onwards, when ‘ghost hunting’ at Montebello castle began. Some visitors say they hear a child’s cry, others a laugh, others nothing more than wind and rain from the storm that raged the night of the recording. Again, you’ll just have to judge for yourself!
Visit the website for opening times. Castello di Montebello also offers special visits for Halloween.
*If you’d like to visit more castles in Emilia-Romagna, here’s some inspiration: