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The well preserved medieval town of Castell'Arquato is situated on a hilltop among the hills of the Val d'Arda about 15 kilometres west of Fidenza and to the west of Parma, in the western Emilia-Romagna region of north-central Italy. Piacenza is north-west of here.
Set on a hilltop with views over the Arda valley, Castell'Arquato is a very lovely and carefully restored town, with its roots in Roman times. the town was very prosperous between the 10th and 13th centuries and much of what you see dates from this period. It is also listed as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy.
The highlights of the town are best explored starting by walking along Via Dante that climbs through the village to Piazza del Municipio and Piazza Matteotti in the old town.
Piazza del Municipio in particular is surrounded by a very impressive ensemble of medieval buildings, while Piazza Mattoetti has an excellent selection of restaurants. Individual highlights in Castell'Arquato include:
Palazzo del Podesta
The 13th century Palazzo del Podesta is one of the most beautiful medieval buildings in this region of Italy. Made from red brick it was an important local government building for several hundred years, and includes arches, an external staircase* and battlements (in part added in the 15th century). The building now also holds the Castell'Arquato Tourist Office.
* The raised area above the stairs was the place from which important announcements were originally made to the town population.
Collegiale church of Castell'Arquato
Visit the beautiful roman style Basilica of Castell'Arquato and inside you can see a very early baptism font that dates from the original 8th century church in the same location, although the church we see today dates from the 13th century.
You can also see the original entrance, some carved capital stones, frescoes, and the cloisters (the buildings were once part of a collegiale church). There is now a Museum of Sacred Art in the church.
The imposing square towers of the Visconti castle dominate the Piazza del Municipio, and the castle now holds a museum of medieval life.
Be sure to climb the 14th century tower in the castle (Rocca Viscontea - small entry charge payable) for the impressive views across the centre of the village and the patchwork of fields and trees in the region around the town
Other notable sights in the historic centre of Castell'Arquato include the Porta di Sasso, one of the original entry gates into the town; the defensive watchtower called 'Il Torrione Farnese'; the 12th century hospital called the Ospedale di San Spirito and now home to a Museum of Geology; and the 13th century Duke's Palace with its fountain.
Apart from these highlights, there are many beautiful buildings lining the squares, and plenty of cafes and restaurants where you will enjoy people watching.
The surrounding area has a great deal of natural beauty, including the chance to explore the protected geological area of the Parco del Piacenziano and the forests called the Bosco di Santa Franca. In the heart of these woods is a small 13th century chapel called the Oratory of Santa Franca (near San Lorenzo, a short distance north-east of Castell'Arquato along a path signposted 'Termes di Bacedasco').
You can find more local travel ideas in the Emilia-Romagna guide.