The Castle of Rivalta

The territory around Rivalta (from the Latin ripa alta meaning high cliff) was colonised since ancient times. The Romans built a road to improve the accessibility to the Val Trebbia, which witnessed a great battle between the Romans and the Carthagenense in the year 218 BC. In this area, on the banks of the River Trebbia, the Romans were defeated by the army of Hannibal, who had come all the way from North Africa via Spain and the Alps. Given the strategic location of Rivalta, there might have been a tower or some sort of fortification to spot the enemies.

The Castle of Rivalta
The Castle of Rivalta
The coat of arms of the Zanardi-Landi Family

Origins

After the end of the Roman Empire, Italy was invaded by various populations amongst who were the Lombards and the Franks. The castle of Rivalta is first mentioned in 1025 and 1048, as the emperor Henry III donated the castle to a Benedictine monastery situated in Piacenza. Afterwards, the castle became propriety of the powerful House of Malaspina, who held various castles in Val Trebbia and adjacent valleys. In the thirteenth century, the castle was contended between papacy and empire, and in 1255, the Ghibelline Lord Oberto Pallavicino (Lord of Piacenza, Milan, and Cremona) ordered its destruction. In the early fourteenth century, the castle was appropriated by Obizzo Landi. Following a series of wars between Piacenza and Milan, the castle was first lost, and then conquered again. Throughout the centuries, the castle was at the centre of many battles, besieges, and treasons. The castle was attacked (it is still possible to see the signs left by the many battles fought here throughout history!) by the Milanese first, by the Spanish, by the Germans, and finally by the Napoleonic army in 1799. The original branch of the House of Landi who owned the castle died out in 1808, and after a few passages of propriety, the castle was bought by Earl Carlo Zanardi Landi of Veano, whose descendants still live in the castle today.

The inner courtyard with the characteristic tower
The inner courtyard with the characteristic tower

Architecture

The castle was thoroughly renovated in the 1400s by Early Manfredo Landi. Since the first fire weapons appeared on European battlefields in this period, the castle was fortified with thicker walls and stronger towers, as for example the round tower still visible (and possible to visit) today. This tower was probably designed by Pietro Solari, the same architect who designed the Kremlin in Moscow. Although defended by thick walls and strong towers, once inside, the castle shows that its renaissance-era owners did not want to leave behind the comforts of urban lifestyle. The castle is indeed characterised by an inner courtyard decorated by marble columns, precious brickwork, and terracotta medallions. In the late 1700s, the castle was then transformed into an elegant country residence, as the façade and some of the inner rooms were renovated.

Today, thanks to the valorisation and constant care with which the owners look after their home, the castle is a sumptuous residence which has hosted the Royal Families of Britain and Holland. The castle is open to the public.

The facade of the castle
The facade of the castle
Castello di Rivalta - terracotta courtyard medallions
One of the numerous terracotta portraits which adorn the porch
Staircase of the Castle of Rivalta
The internal staircase leading to the upper floors

Curiosities and Important Guests

The castle is frequently visited by celebrities when they visit Italy, such as the Royal Families of Britain, Sweden, and Holland. In the past, Princess Margaret of England spent her Summers in the castle for over ten years as a guest of the House of Landi. The castle contains various bedrooms decorated by vintage furniture. The ‘green chamber’ for example contains a precious seventeenth-century four-poster bed and cabinets, plus other contemporary furniture and paintings. The sixteenth-century ‘red chamber’, characterised by a renaissance-era vault and cotto floor, displays a contemporary bed covered by red damask. Various paintings hang on the walls of the red chamber, among which is one depicting the Battle of Lepanto of 1571, which saw the participation of local noble families related to the Landi.