Fontanellato and the Sanvitale Fortress

Fontanellato, a town in the Parma lowlands, is known for the Rocca Sanvitale, where Parmigianino's famous frescoes are preserved.

Fontanellato is a small town in the lower Parma area. It was surrounded by a moat, and at its center stands a castle, also surrounded by a moat, a sort of concentric circles of water, denoting the richness of the river basin of these lands purely for agricultural use.

Today the town is mainly visited for its beautiful medieval fortress, erected by the Pallavicino family in 1124, enlarged and inhabited for nearly six centuries by the Sanvitale counts (1386-1948), from whom it still takes its name. If the outer moat, like the city walls, no longer exists, the one around the fortress is still there with its emerald green water. Crossing the small bridge, one enters the square courtyard of the small manor house, from which it is possible to embark on a tour of the interiors.

Fontanellato, la Rocca Sanvitale
Fontanellato, the Sanvitale Fortress

Il fossato attorno alla Rocca Sanvitale
The moat around the Rocca Sanvitale

The most curious thing that can be seen is the optical chamber set up in a corner torroncino: it is a system of mirrors that allows the image of the square in front to be projected onto three panels inside this room, so that the counts could see everything that was happening outside their castle without being observed. Can we consider this a forerunner of a big brother? Well certainly curious these Sanvitale counts were, but also art lovers, so much so that in 1523 they called the young Parmigianino to paint one of the rooms in the castle.

The small room of Diana and Actaeon is in fact painted, in Mannerist taste, by a cycle that retells the story of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, considered one of the masterpieces of Parmigianino’s youthful age. Other rooms that can be visited on the ground floor are the hall of the Sanvitale family (from which you enter), then the hall of the Farnese family, then the hall of the religious paintings, the hall of the puppet theater and the hall of the balancing women, named after the frescoes on the walls, as well as the hall of the Amorini and the hall of the grotesques. The Hall of the Standard was used as the seat of the city council between 1945 and 1980 when the castle passed to municipal ownership.

Particolare degli affreschi del Parmigianino nella saletta di Diana e Atteone
Detail of Parmigianino’s frescoes in the Diana and Actaeon room

Vista della Rocca Sanvitale
View of the Rocca Sanvitale

La piazza di Fontanellato vista dalla Rocca Sanvitale
The square of Fontanellato as seen from the Rocca Sanvitale

Going up to the second floor, the visit can continue with the weapons room, which houses daggers, swords, spears, crossbows and guns dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as shields, flags and numerous walking sticks. Then there are the dining room, the billiard room, the Maria Luigia (Duchess of Parma) memorabilia room, the oriental costume room, the reception room, the bridal chamber and the ancestors’ gallery.

Like many castles, the fortress of Fontanellato would seem to harbor some ghosts: according to some legends, the spirit of Barbara Sanseverino, who was executed following her alleged conspiracy against Duke Ranuccio I Farnese, would roam among the rooms on the main floor. The chapel of San Carlo, on the other hand, would be the eternal home of the specter of Maria Sanvitale, daughter of Luigi Sanvitale and Albertina di Montenuovo who died at the age of 5.

Intrigued? You just have to discover this and other castles that are part of the circuit of the Castles of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, perhaps starting right from some of the cues I have captured in this video. Enjoy your viewing!

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