This itinerary touches on some of the most important churches and cathedrals of Emilia-Romagna, giving visitors the chance to fully enjoy what this region has to offer.
Moving from north to south, this itinerary begins with the Piacenza Cathedral. Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and to Saint Justina, the Cathedral was built starting from 1122 on the ruins of a former church that had been destroyed by a terrible earthquake in 1117. Built in the era of the great medieval churches like those of Parma and Modena, the Cathedral of Piacenza is one of the most valuable examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy and boasts a magnificent frescoed dome by Guercino, a masterpiece of Baroque art.
Halfway between Piacenza and Parma, you’ll find the Diocese of Fidenza with its beautiful Cathedral of San Donnino, famous for its facade (attributed to Benedetto Antelami) and its three finely carved portals.
Further south is Parma with its magnificent baptistery and cathedral, which for centuries have been one of the most important Medieval monuments in Italy. Besides being a prime example of Romanesque architecture and sculpture, the cathedral incorporates different architectural styles, merging the plain austerity of the work by Benedetto Antelami with the wonderful dome frescoed by Correggio.
The next stop is the Reggio Emilia Cathedral (Mother Church of the Diocese of Reggio Emilia), which is situated in piazza Prampolini in the old city centre. Even though the construction of the church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, began long before 1000, the current facade is still unfinished and its original Romanesque plan has been largely modified over the centuries.
Once in Reggio Emilia, you can have a fleeting visit to the Cathedral of Carpi, which is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Since its foundation in the 16th century, every year on August 15 a procession is held in honour of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Next are Modena and its Cathedral, which is designated as a World Heritage Site along with the Piazza Grande nearby and its bell tower, the so-called Torre della Ghirlandina. Built in 1099, it is one of the most significant examples of Romanesque art and culture in the world, also due to the majestic sculptures and refined works of art housed within it.
From Modena you can easily reach Bologna and its Cathedral, which is not the church of San Petronio as many mistakenly believe. The Bologna Cathedral is dedicated to St Peter and is situated on Via Indipendenza. Founded way before 1000, after 1600 it underwent extensive reconstruction works that completely destroyed the original Romanesque church, of which only the lion-shaped base of a Solomonic column now remains.
On the other hand, the Ferrara Cathedral still retains its original façade in the Romanesque-Gothic style. Dedicated to Saint George, the Cathedral overlooking the lovely Piazza delle Erbe, just a stone’s throw away from the Este Castle, serves as the Mother Church of the Diocese of Ferrara-Comacchio and is the main place of worship of the city of Ferrara. In 2015-2016, the Cathedral had a Holy Door for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, as requested by Pope Francis.
The next stop is Ravenna, renowned for its world-famous Byzantine mosaics and its wonderful Cathedral, Cattedrale metropolitana della Risurrezione di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. Besides being the main Catholic church of Ravenna, it is also the seat of the archbishops of Ravenna-Cervia. The present 18th-century Baroque building followed the demolition of the ancient cathedral. What is more, despite being completely rebuilt in the Baroque period, it still preserves a baptistery and a bell tower from the early Christian era.
Going back to the Via Emilia, you are now headed for the dioceses of Imola and Faenza.
The Cathedral of the diocese of Imola (now located in the old city centre) is dedicated to St Cassianus and has quite a fascinating history. The original seat of the bishops was located outside the city walls, in a pagus called Castrum Sancti Cassiani. In the 12th century the village and the seat of the bishops were destroyed by the people of Imola. Only ten years later did the bishop reach an agreement with the city of Imola to rebuild the cathedral within the city walls, where it still stands today.
Moving on to Faenza and its diocese you reach the Faenza Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle. Despite being built in 1474 and consecrated in 1581, the façade is still incomplete. The Cathedral, one of the most significant examples of Renaissance art in Romagna, is the third seat of the bishop from the creation of the diocese.
The next stop is the Cathedral of Santa Croce (city of Forlì), i.e. the main place of worship of the Diocese of Forlì-Bertinoro. The Cathedral was built over an existing 12th-century Romanesque building, which was completely renovated in neoclassical style.
Then comes Cesena, whose Cathedral (dedicated to St John the Baptist) has quite the back story. Its construction began in 1385 at the behest of Andrea Malatesta, who wanted to “move” it from its previous location to a new one. Whilst initially built in the traditional Romanesque-Gothic style, over the centuries it has undergone considerable renovations: it was only in the twentieth century that the Cathedral was restored to its original Romanesque style.
After Cesena comes Rimini with its beautiful 15th-century Cathedral dedicated to Saint Columba. It is best known as the Malatesta Temple – and with good reason: walking into the Cathedral is like entering an ancient temple. It was designed and built to reflect the ambitions of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, lord of the city, who hired some of the greatest artists of the time, such as architect Leon Battista Alberti, sculptor Agostino di Duccio and painter Piero della Francesca, to work on it. Today, the Malatesta Temple is the main place of worship of the Diocese of Rimini.
Finally, this incredible journey ends in the Marecchia Valley, most specifically in Pennabilli. Its wonderful square is dominated by the majestic Baroque Cathedral of the Diocese of San Marino-Montefeltro. Pennabilli is a treasure trove of surprises, environmental art and poetry thanks to poet Tonino Guerra, who lived his final years in this town.