Virtuous Reality - Teaching Religion 800 Years Ago.

Chiaravalle Abbey, Fidenza Duomo, Vigoleno Castle & Lunch!

Visit the Attractions In & Around Fidenza - Fidenza Cathedral, Chiaravalle, Vigoleno Castle.


Column Capital on Central Portal to Fidenza Cathedral Duomo.
A Fidenza Duomo Capital: Elizabeth, Two Virgins of the Temple, the High Priest. 
We really had no good reason to leave Lunigiana - just sheer wanderlust. But one clear October day, we found ourselves driving over the Apennine Alps from Tuscany into Parma Province hoping to perpetuate our masquerade as travel writers.  You can help our cause by reading along as we see some wonderful buildings, some jaw-dropping art, and enjoy a great lunch. This article visits:

Chiaravalle della Colomba   A Cistercian Monastery founded by St. Bernard himself in 1135 AD. The large church is Romanesque-Gothic with a notable cloister.

Fidenza  Historic town on the Roman Via Emilia and the medieval Via Francigena. The best attraction is an  important formative Cathedral with narrative statuary from the 1100's.



Chiaravalle della Colomba Abbey 14th century cloister.
Chiaravalle della Colomba Abbey      14th century cloister.
Vigoleno  A small fortified castle town from the 10th century with panoramic views of the Parma & Piacenza hills. It is wonderfully preserved and fully accessible.
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Chiaravalle della Colomba.  The large basilica of this monastery complex is the first appearance of Cistercian architecture in Italy and conforms to St. Bernard's desire for minimal decoration. There are few statues and simple column capitals. Despite a 15th century renovation, and centuries of neglect, the restored church preserves its original character with both Romanesque and Gothic elements. The Abbey is organized around the fabulous 14th century cloister which shows an early return of decorative elements. There are modest animal motifs, Paduan architectural elements, and monkish corner statues, but that wonderful peaceful cloister feeling has not been diminished. Also visitable is the sacristry, the chapter room, a little museum, and a 'liquoreria' where visitors can buy traditional monk products: liqueur, tea, perfume, honey. See the Chiaravalle Website for hours and more information.
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Fidenza Cathedral              Fidenza Duomo

Fidenza is at the edge of the fertile Po plain in the center of Italy, and it has been there just about forever - long before 41 BC when it was made an official Roman municipium. Of course it went through all the vicissitudes of the times; it was destroyed by Constantine, then became the royal seat of King Conrad II of Italy for a while before Emperor Barbarossa gave it to a family named Pallavicino from Piacenza, then destroyed by Parma, rebuilt by Milan, and so on, until finally the Allies bombed the heck out of it in the course of WWII.

King David by Benedetto Antelami in Fidenza Cathedral Facade
King David by Benedetto Antelami and the Facade of Fidenza Cathedral
As a result, many of the pleasant pedestrian streets are clearly of recent provenance, but the Fidenza Duomo fortunately escaped the bombing and is still a magnificent 12th century cathedral. It's a fine and important example of a Lombard-Romanesque church of the era.

While the church is Romanesque it also displays the beginning of Gothic influence. This Cathedral allows the viewer insight into the educational role of a church in medieval society. After an earthquake in 1117, the church was reconstructed. The rebuild left the upper levels in the original style, but the lower levels of the facade were reconfigured to illustrate stories from the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, as well as religiously significant current or local events, for the edification of local believers and pilgrims heading to Rome on the Via Francigena.

Presentation of Jesus at the Temple  Fidenza Duomo Cathedral Facade
Presentation of Baby Jesus at the Temple            Fidenza Cathedral Facade 
This facciata, with its three portals and many carvings, is harmonious and striking, and includes a sculpted band sub-divided into five scenes representing the life of the patron saint of the cathedral, St. Domninus.

The sculptures are attributed to the school of Benedetto Antelami, and the largest two - David and Ezekial - to the master himself. Little is known about Maestro Antelami, but he and his school brought realism and humanism to sculpture as Giotto did to painting in the next century. In Parma, you can see more of his work in the Cathedral and Baptistry.
King Herod on his Throne Fidenza Cathedral Facade Duomo Facciata
King Herod on his Throne    Fidenza Cathedral Facade    Duomo Facciata

The Three Magi Fidenza Cathedral Facade Duomo Facciata
The Three Magi       Fidenza Cathedral Facade     Fidenza Duomo Facciata
Almost casually incorporated in to the fa├žade are little devils torturing people, a line of pilgrims walking on the Francigena pilgrimage trail, a nice depiction of Charlemagne. The more you look, the more you see. The best descriptions of the statuary we found: Medioevo.org.

The Cathedral interior is simple and well-proportioned. The crypt preserves ancient pavement, and interesting relics of Saint Domninus, as well as a statue of him holding his head.

Domninus aka Saint Donnino, has an interesting story. He was Chamberlain to Emperor Maximian, no small job, but when he converted to Christianity and showed up parading a cross through Piacenza, he was pursued and beheaded on the banks of the River Stirone.  Not one to take that lying down, he picked up his head and crossed the river to where he wanted the Duomo dedicated to him to be built.
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Prophet Elijah Rising to Heaven  Fidenza Duomo Cathedral Facade
Prophet Elijah Rising to Heaven w. traces of original color, Fidenza Facade.
After you’ve explored the Duomo, you can visit the one surviving city gate nearby and look over the 14th C. town hall, both of which have interesting stories.  And it’s also a lot of fun to check out a few food stores. We went to Latteria '55 Formaggi & Salumi, via Cavour 16, and were knocked out by the delicious smells there. This is the authentic Emilia-Romagna - all the cheeses you dream of, a whole wall of hanging hams, fresh pasta, artisanal polenta, a whole range of balsamic vinegars…set your budget before you go in.
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Lunch. Finally it’s time for lunch, and you’re in for a treat. Just outside the pedestrian zone at 33 Via Mentana, a modest little restaurant named Trattoria Al Canton 33  serves some terrific local dishes. We were lucky – we hadn’t reserved, but it was a quiet week day in November, so all was well.  The staff were welcoming and cordial, and the waitress explained a couple of appetizers to us and told us which dishes were house specialties.  We decided to split an appetizer called La Rosa di Eva, because she gave us that look and said “This is very delicate, you’ll like it”.  Okay, why not.  While we waited, she brought us a little gift from the kitchen, a slice of vegetable quiche for each of us.  This bodes well, it was delicious. The Rosa di Eva was a little Parmigiano souffle on a savory bed of mushrooms, beautifully plated (1/2 for each of us) and just great, light, smooth and tasty.

Agnolini in brodo at Trattoria Al Canton 33, Fidenza
Agnolini in brodo at Trattoria Al Canton 33, Fidenza.
For the first primo piatto, we had a tagliatelle with mushrooms and culatello, which was perfect, with the culatello served on the side of the plate to be added as you wish. The second primi was fascinating: agnolini in brodo.  I know you’ve seen it before, but wait – these little pastas were stuffed not with the usual heavy meat, but with ethereal cheese, and they were floating in a broth that was the most round, satisfying broth imaginable, made with chicken, pork and beef.  Luckily we’d been unable to prevent ourselves from ordering a secondo, since the house special was an intriguing dish of faraona (guinea fowl) cooked in a clay pot.  But what a faraona!  It was totally transformed in taste and substance into a new creation. It was now a semi-solid, but it was not a stew and the taste no longer seemed like poultry! Was it the clay pot, or the milk and sage, or the hours long simmer that made it so fantastic? Taste conquered our words, so see if your vocabulary will fare better.

Fidenza Village Outlet. After such a Duomo and such a lunch, it’s hard to return willingly to daily life, but if you’re still looking for an afternoon excursion, it would be remiss of us not to mention Fidenza Village, one of the larger outlets in Italy. It's a huge shopping experience that runs the gamut from Armani to Versace, and includes Coach, Camper, Levi’s, Timberland and about 100 more stores of American and European goods. It's located right at the Fidenza intersection on the A1 autostrada. Fidenza Village Website

Vigolino Castle & Town  Piacenza Province Italy
Vigolino Castle & Town                               Piacenza Province
Vigolino Castle.  Just 20 km. west of Fidenza near the Parma Piacenza provincial border is Vigolino. We toured the small roads leading there in late October when the hilly vineyards were all gold and red and perfect. This tiny but complete castle town is one of the Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia, and it's simple enough for a child's storybook. There's a Manor house, a church, protective walls and tower with a jail, a dozen or so homes for the castle's service staff, a restaurant, and several stores. The origins of the town go back to the 10th century, and the present configuration is from 1393. You can freely wander and enjoy the town and the views. For a modest admission fee, you can also tour the tower, the dungeon, and a small museum.  Vigoleno Website.

You Also Might Like:   The Perfect Italian Saturday A Castle and a Lunch  We visit Torrechiara Castle outside Parma and also enjoy - what else - Lunch!

Written by Martha / Photos by Mike

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