Exploring Monselice

I was on a train between Venice and Bologna and I was looking out the window of the train as we pulled into the station at Monselice. This small city with a surviving medieval centre was a couple of stops before Bologna. The thing that I noticed most was a substantial mountain overlooking the town with clearly the remnat sof a castle on top. I immediately thought what a great walk that would be to climb the mountain and explore what were clearly early Middle Age ruins. All I needed was a spare day in my time in the region. This opened up when I realized my plan to visit Ravenna involved up to 6 hours return on the train that I decided to change destinations that only involved around an hour each way of a train ride.

I have to admit that on alighting at Monselice, there was no town map at the station and no indications for finding the centre of the town below the mountain. I decided to take a right hand turn outside the station and this led me to a very old church (above left) that had probably seen its better days in the 15th century. The air of neglect to this structure was a little sad and didn’t boost my confidence in what I would find further on in Monselice. I continued walking and found my way to a junction that gave me a view across the town river to what was clearly the original centre of town. Things were looking up as I could now see that this section of town was still surrounded by its medieval walls. As I came to the corner of this street and was about to cross the road, I looked left and was surprised to see a medium size tower in a field next door to a mural painted on the wall of building running long the fence…it seemed ready to welcome me to Monselice.

The photo below shows the river flowing through Monselice and the town walls of the centre of the old town running along the outskirts about 30 metres from the river bank. In the distance can be seen the town’s major cathedral.

I crossed the bridge (see below left) and started to walk towards the tower that that I assumed was an entry way into the town beyond the walls. The road along the river was unsurprisingly called Via Garibaldi. The names of roads and town statues in Northern Italy all seemed to be named after the heroes of the 19th century Italian independence wars such as Garibaldi, Cavour, Mazzini etc. It seemed that the local housewives like a change from the local shops so food vans were parked along this street selling fruit and vegetable, fish and chips and so on. Up near the wall tower there was a gate which led to the town’s major square, Piazza Mazzini.

I realised the tower was a clock tower as on the side facing the square, it revealed a large clock that had been triggering the chimes since the 19th century. On the opposite side of the square there is a large building that was once the Church of St Paul, it was originally built in the 7th or 8th centuries. Parts of the building such as the nave and the crypt were added in the 13th century. The building was secularised in the 1960s and today houses the town’s San Paulo Museum. I took the photo below from the other side of the square and it still reveals my destination at the top of the mountain. The closer I got to the castle ruins, the less I could see of them.

As I was passing out of Piazza Mazzini I noticed that the town’s tourist bureau was located just over the road from the San Paulo Museum. Like most of the tourist bureaus I entered on this trip to Northern Italy, I found the folk running these places were always very helpful. They gave me a great map of the old town and plenty of advice about the walk ahead of me. Outside the Tourist bureau, I admired the statues on the gate leading to the Museum’s car park before I headed up the road on my trip up the mountain. (Note photo right below).

While my main goal for the morning was to make it to the top of the mountain and inspect the castle ruins up there, there was another castle built into this mountain and its entry point was not far up Via Santuario, the road that led all the way up the hill. It was a much younger Castello . It was an impressive building and still in very good condition. It was a castello rebuilt on a previous fortress in the 13th century by the De Carrara family of Padua who conquered Monselice in that century. The photos below show the entry way into the front yard of the Castello (right below) and the area inside the gate that led to the main entrance. I decided to stick to my goal of getting to the ruins on to of the mountain so continued my upward stroll.

Not far up the hill I came to the first of a number of villas that lined this mountain road. This villa belonged to the Nana family and had a spectacular stairway running up the hill from the locked main gate. There was little of the actual building to see behind the high stone walls but along the top of this wall was a series of small statues of dwarves. There were male and female dwarves lining the top of the wall in various outfits and in various conditions depending on how they had weathered the environment over the centuries since the 1600’s. The reason for the dwarves is difficult to determine as there are various stories around as to whether it was the first owner or a child of the first family that generated all the dwarves on the villa’s walls. This villa is particularly famous due to it housing a cycle of frescoes painted by Tiepolo, a very famous 18th century painter. The villa was bombed during WW2 and a lot of work had to be done both to preserve the frescoes and reposition them on the walls of the villa.

Further up this ‘well-appointed’ road was a church named ‘Pieve di Santa’. I had come across a huge Duomo in Padua dedicated to St Giustina (or St Justina). She was a first century Italian martyr who was killed because she refused to break her perpetual vow of virginity during the persecutions against Christians. This church is understandably not as big as the duomo in Padua but it was a very impressive Romanesque Church consecrated in 1256. Apparently the renowned Italian poet Petrarch was a rector here at some stage of his career.

I was interested in the very worn carving of a man in a marble slab that was directly in front of the door to this church. I am not sure who it was meant to represent but a lot of feet have passed over his carving over the last 8 centuries.

The image on the left below was taken further up the hill as I looked back on St Giustina’s church. On the right can be seen a gateway with two lions on the pillars to guard entry to the next section of the road. The gate in the image on the right below is the next gate I passed on my journey up hill. It marks the entry into a funerary area. The next stage of the walk is through the “Jubilee Sanctuary of the Seven Churches”. Pope Paul V granted the city of Monselice a Papal Bull in 1605 which granted folk buried here the same indulgences as a visit to the seven major Basilicas of Rome. For those interested in such obscure areas of Italian Church History, the link below is to a blog about visiting the famous 7 Pilgrim Churches in Rome.

Touring Rome via the Seven Pilgrim Churches…Part 1

Below is an image of the sanctuary you enter at this point of the hill climb; these are mausoleums of families who have taken up the promises of Pope Paul V’s indulgences.

The next stage of the climb up the mountain of Monselice leads to another very impressive villa, the Villa  Duodo. There didn’t appear to be any activity in this villa or day to day functions but it was still a very impressive piece of architecture.

Next door to the amphitheatre is the gate to the steps that should have led me to my ultimate goal of inspecting the castle ruins on top of this mountain. Surprisingly that gate was locked and it had a notice on it in Italian that I presumed explained why folk like me that have spent their morning climbing this steep hill can’t visit the ancient site here.

Apart from climbing over the gate, my only alternative was to turn around and walk back down the hill to the station back to my accommodation in Venice. I was very disappointed.

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