A visit to the Castello della Manta has been on my wishlist for ages.
In February 2020, with incredible timing, I have subscribed to FAI, the National Trust for Italy, a non-profit organization whose main goal is to protect Italian places promoting their knowledge, care, and conservation.
By subscribing, you support their activities and also get a card that allows discounted access to the many properties they own around Italy. Those properties include castles, villas, and different types of buildings, some of which are really unique, and my goal was to be able to see a few of them – the nearest ones at least – over spring and summer.
But Covid happened and I have managed to visit only the enchanting Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan before everything closed down. Sites reopened in the summer but I was still a bit disoriented and couldn’t find the time to plan some proper day trips.
Castello della Manta and its garden
Thank God, earlier this autumn (just before another lockdown), on a warm and beautiful sunny Sunday, I managed to visit another great place: the Castello della Manta, a Medieval castle in the small town of Manta, just one hour away from Turin, Piedmont.
Manta is more or less an hour from where I live too, so we left late in the morning, with the plan of eating something in town before visiting the castle. When we got there, we realized that all restaurants were closed and had to arrange an aperitivo-turned-into-lunch at a local bar – which wasn’t bad because the wine was good and sitting in the sun was warm and cozy!
a fireplace in the kitchen
Our visit was scheduled at 2 pm and so, right after lunch, we hiked the narrow road that leads to the castle, located on a hill overlooking the village and the valley around: when we got there we were immediately impressed by the magnificence of the castle and the tranquility of the large garden right in front of it.
The fact that the castle is up on a hill gives you the opportunity to enjoy amazing views of the area and especially that of the sharp outline of the Monviso massif, whose iconic shape can be seen everywhere in the area and is dear to many locals.
The peculiar location of the castle is due to the fact that it was originally a fortress, built in the 13th century as a military outpost. In the 15th century, the fortress underwent a major overhaul thanks to Valerano, the enlightened ruler of the Marquisate of Saluzzo, who transformed it into a lavish family home at the time of the establishment of the fiefdom of La Manta.
the Hall of Grotesques
It was Valerano who wanted to enrich the Baronial Hall with the beautiful frescoes that today stand as unique testaments to the knightly culture of the time. On the southern wall, the myth of eternal youth, inspired by the chivalrous tale of the “Roman de Fauvel”, is depicted by the fountain of youth, surmounted by the god of Love.
On the opposite side of the room, the nine worthies and the nine worthy women of classical antiquity watch over us. In their 15th-century garb, they embody the chivalrous ideals of the military and moral virtues.
In the mid-16th century, the 15th-century complex was once again renovated, and it is from this time that the Hall of Grotesques dates. This space features a wonderful ceiling decorated with paintings and stuccoes that bear a clear Mannerist imprint, taking their cue from those in Raphael’s loggias at the Vatican.
a hall in a newer part of the castle
(My knowledge of English isn’t good enough to describe the magnificence of the castle so I have to admit that I quoted the sentences above from the Fai website. I think they are way better than me at telling about the history of the place and its importance).
The Hall of Grotesques is definitely the highlight of the castle and of the tour itself but there are many other interesting things inside the building. I especially loved the service spaces and the huge kitchen with its vaulted ceiling and the enormous fireplace in particular. I also loved taking a look outside the windows from every room, imagining what it was like to live in such a powerful place.
The visit included a tour of the private rose garden and it was enchanting to see the castle from a different point of view and to really feel part of the place, as if we were really living there. The castle and the garden have been restored by the FAI, which owns the site since 1984 and keeps maintaining the beauty and spreading knowledge about such a magical place.
the Abbazia di Staffarda seen from a distance
Manta is very close to Staffarda, the location of a very famous Medieval abbey, and so we thought it was a good opportunity to visit that place too. The Abbazia di Santa Maria di Staffarda is a Cistercian monastery founded in 1135 by Manfred I, Marquis of Saluzzo. Over the years, it flourished as a place of gathering, processing, and trading of the products of the surrounding countryside.
What makes it special is the fact that it is one of the most complete medieval monastic complexes in Italy. As a matter of fact, most of the buildings, including the church, cloister, and covered market, are still intact, even if they have been slightly modified over the years.
a view of the courtyard of the Abbazia di Staffarda
One thing that I loved about the abbey is the fact that it hosts a very important population of bats, that are protected and monitored. There is also a community of cats that always make the place super special and charming! We got there late in the afternoon and it was really fascinating to stroll around the cloisters while the light was slowly fading with cats appearing here and there.
By the way, what is your favorite Medieval monument in Italy?
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If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.