Castell'Arquato (224 m. asl)
We now descend towards Lugagnano Val d'Arda (229 m. asl) by a road that has several switchbacks and therefore must be driven with caution. Every summer this road is used for a popular car and motorcycle race, called "Vernasca Silver Flag" , which starts from Castell'Arquato.
In Lugagnano there is the parish church originally built in 1219 which was rebuilt in the XVIth c. and is dedicated to St. Zenone. Inside, some chapels are in the Baroque style with paintings in the style of Caravaggio.
From Lugagnano we can take a drive up to the Provincial Park just 15 Km. South by taking the panoramic road overlooking the Chiavenna Valley on the West side and the Arda Valley on the East side. The park extends for about 10 square kilometres and includes beech groves, chestnuts groves, conifers and vast pastures; in addition, one can hike up to the Mt. Croce dei Segni (1072 m. asl) where the view from the top offers a very rewarding panorama.
Northward, on the left just outside Lugagnano, overlooking the road, we notice the Calanques or cliffs, where back in 1934 the fossil remains of a whale more than 20 meters long were found; these remains are now in the Geological Museum of Parma.
Continuing on the same road, on the left bank of the Arda torrent, we arrive, in 5 Km., in the famous town of Castell'Arquato.
With its historic centre proudly situated on top of the hill and with the rest of the old medieval dwellings built on the slopes almost all the way down to the river bank, Castell' Arquato is without any doubt one of the major attractions of the region.
It is recommended to visit the old town on foot in order to appreciate its medieval flavour.
We start by passing under an arch which takes us into the Monteguzzo quarters with its low dwellings attached to each other and built with bricks and tufo in narrow streets paved with pebble-stones.
On the left we notice the Farnese castle-keep built in bricks at the end of the XVIth century. Further on we pass under the archway of the romantic Stradivari castle, built in Neo-Gothic style; along this itinerary we walk by three or four old churches and the ex hospital of St. Spirit, built at the end of the XVI c., and presently housing the Geological Museum in which are displayed many fossils found in the area and belonging to the Piacenzian stratus .
We then arrive in the beautiful piazza (described by some as one of the most beautiful medieval piazzas of Italy) crowned by the Pretorio Palace, built in 1293 and now housing the town Hall offices; at the opposite end we find the castle or Rocca, a stronghold built in 1343 with the wall and the main keep-gate still standing, and in between stands the apses of the Romanesque parish church rebuilt in 1122, after the earthquake of 1117, and renovated in 1911. In the interior, divided in three aisles, we find paintings dated 1170, a wooden cross over the main altar dated to the end of the 1300's , and a baptismal font from the VIIIth c. (some experts believe to be from the VI-VIIth c.); in the nearby presbytery we can visit the museum of the Collegiata .
On the West side of the church we can admire the XIVth century addition of a raised prostyle portico.
The apses, portico and bell tower of the Collegiate church
Luigi Illica , "librettista", wrote the lyrics of
many operas such as Puccinis' Madame Butterfly, was born in Castell' Arquato.
An interesting detour is to
Vigolo Marchese , 8 Km. West of Castell'Arquato, in order to visit two important Medieval monuments: the rather unusual circular Battistero, by some thought to have been originally built as temple dedicated to pagan deities at the Roman Time. It subsequently became a chapel dedicated to St. Stephen and
finally a baptistry; the baptistry present structure and the adjacent parish church were built in bricks in the XI c. as part of a monastic centre.
Check note no. 1 in "Brick in the Middle Ages".