The origins of Carpi, an important and beautiful town of Romagna (central Italy) with about 70,000 inhabitants, date back to the 6th century AD.
It is very probable that the name Carpi derives from Carpinus, a type of tree, which suggests that in ancient times, the area was wooded with this type of tree.
Around the 10th century Carpi was an imposing castle which was the seat of the Counts of the Canossa dynasty - the same family as the Countess Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115) who defended herself here against the troops of the Emperor.
After the death of Matilda, Carpi Castle was incorporated in the Church State, but became the centre of fierce struggles among the feudal lords of Romagna until it was won by the family of the Pio.
Manfredo Pio appropriated Carpi around 1352, creating a Seignioiry that lasted until the end of the 15th century.
The Pio Seigniory was very important for Carpi because it began a building programme of extraordinary urban and artistic interest.
The city centre was inside the castle walls, where the most important civil and religious buildings were also located.
An overview of Carpi buildings
The main street in Carpi runs from north to south across the town, and is entered by two main gates; to the west was the Fortress of the Pio Family. Outside the walls, near the two gates, were several villages and monasteries while to the north was the 'Upper Village', while to the south stood the Lower Village, called Borgoforte.
Inside the Citadel the Pio built several palaces, such as Castelvecchio and the so-called Torrione (Big Tower) in 1450. The Pio family also contributed to the foundation of numerous monasteries such as the Convents of St. Augustine, St. Nicholas and Santa Clara.
Alberto III Pio (1475-1531), a lover of literature and arts, made a significant contribution to the development of the town in a pure Renaissance style with the palace of Alberto III, the Collegiate Church of the Assumption and the Loggia of the grain market.
Large construction work halted when the Pio lost the city to the Dukes of Ferrara.
The city had a new building momentum in the 19th century when the first industrial settlements were built, but this entailed substantial losses of the Renaissance artefacts, especially in the suburbs, where a part of the walls was knocked down.
The old town-centre, however, was not involved in this process of modernization, and it has preserved its medieval and Renaissance features.
Carpi: The City of the Pio Family
Your visit to Carpi can start in the old town-centre, with its medieval and Renaissance palaces. Start exploring in Piazza Re Astolfo where you can see the simultaneous presence of both styles.
Here you will see the Church of Santa Maria, called “La Sagra” ("The Feast"), an ancient church the construction of which dates back to the early 12th century, on the site of a pre-existing church of the 8th century.
It was completely rebuilt in the early 16th century by Alberto Pio, who gave the project for the façade to Baldassarre Peruzzi.
Inside, the church contains works of considerable artistic value, such as the cycle of frescoes by Antonio Alberti da Ferrara and the magnificent sarcophagus of Manfredo Pio by Sibillino from Caprara (1351).
Next to the church there is the slim and beautiful bell tower with mullioned windows with marble top.
Near the church stands the castle, and through the courtyard you reach the Piazza dei Martiri, which holds the most important artistic artefacts of Carpi.
Here we find Carpi Cathedral, built to a plan by Balsassarre Peruzzi with a mighty dome. The interior has three naves and retains many 17th century paintings.
In the square many beautiful Renaissance buildings stand out, especially the so-called “Long Portico”, with its succession of arches, and the Pio Palace, called “The Castle” and the Clock Tower. You can also see the Civic Museum, the Library and Historical Archives.
The suburbs of Carpi are also rich in artefacts and works of art worthy of a visit. Starting from the Piazza Garibaldi and heading along Via San Francesco you reach the Church of Saint Francis, which dates back to the 13th century, although it was rebuilt in the late 17th century.
The façade of the church is incomplete, but the outside is notable for the baroque style bell tower. Inside it has one nave and two beautiful sarcophagi of the Pio Family, of which one (of Marco Pio [died in 1494]) is attributed to the School of Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1438).
Next to the Church of Saint Francis in Carpi are the Church of Saint Bernardino from Siena (17th century, with gilded wooden altars), the Church of the Holy Crucifix (18th century, rococo-style) and the church of St. Nicholas (15th century, with work by Baldassarre Peruzzi and numerous paintings of the 17th-18th centuries).
After the convent of the Observant Monks, in the Corso Fanti, you can see some beautiful buildings constructed by the local nobility, then the Santa Chiara Church (XV century) and Church of St. Ignatius (17th century).
Continuing towards the Corso Cobassi, you see more interesting buildings from the medieval epoch to the 19th century, and the beautiful baroque style 16th century Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Carpi, however, is not just history, art and culture, but also a taste for good food and good wine. There are several restaurants in the city and surrounding areas where you can taste the typical dishes of the area.
Among the first courses we mention the puff pastry, the tortellini, tagliatelle, maltagliati and tortelloni. Among other typical products of the region we should mention the Quartirolo, a soft cheese, the Parmigiano Reggiana; and a draught of Nocino, an excellent digestive. Among wines, of course you enjoy the Lambrusco.
Photos taken in and near Carpi, Emilia-Romagna
Map of Carpi sightseeing & popular sights
Selected places to visit near Carpi, Italy
See the Emilia-Romagna guide for more travel ideas...