[Emilia Romagna Villages] Fiumalbo: a jewel of stones at the foot of Monte Cimone
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Just imagine a land marked by fresh torrential waters and unblemished landscapes, without woods nor meadows, a place where the hand of time seems to have stopped and decided to move backwards. The small village of Fiumalbo rises up in the middle of oaks and beech trees, in the shadows of ancient medieval traditions and it is considered one of the most beautiful hamlets of Italy (I Borghi più belli d’Italia), as well as Bandiera Arancione (Orange Flag in Italian) of the Touring Club Italiano since 2001.
Around the village is the Frignano park, sprawling across more than 15 thousand hectares, dominating and characterising the surrounding territory. Modena is not far away from here (about 76km), but the border with the province of Pistoia over the Abetone pass is much nearer (about 10km). This makes the inhabitants of this little Municipality in the Emilia-Romagna region (about 1200 people) much closer , at least from a linguistic point of view, to the people of Liguria and Toscana, especially as regards some ancient dialectal terms.
However it is Mother Nature to be the real landlady of the territory, dominating a stage marked by the main uplands of the Appenino Alto Modenese: Monte Cimone (2165 m) on the one side, and Monte Lagoni on the other (1962 m).
Paths, mule tracks and ancient mountain tracks bear the history of this little village, connecting the Po valley to the Tirrenic coast through the Appennine. This is a crossing area whose peopling during Roman time, but also earlier (just think about the Celts) must had been very fluid, or rather not limited to a single travel reality.
The first settlements date back to Liguri Friniati, who sought refuge in 175 b.C., after being defeated by the consul Marco Claudio Marcello. The very first information about the hamlet however dates back to 1038 BC, when the Marquis Bonifacio, father of the famous Matilde di Canossa, presented the Bishop of Modena with the «Rocca che si chiama Fiumalbo» (the Citadel named Fiumalbo). As far as we know and from the rests preserved still today, the village must had been composed by a fortress with three towers, the ancient Church of San Bartolomeo, a little fortified hamlet and a monumental entrance door.
Fiumalbo, under the Estensi Family’s protection, preserved for centuries his typical isolated character, which is typical of every little mountain village, and was marked by a strong development during the 17th century and later during the Late Modern period with big works of rebuilding after the 1920 earthquake, when part of the village was destroyed.
What To See
Fiumalbo is not easy to reach, it is surrounded by brooks and mountain areas and the main streets are far away: all this elements lead to the isolation of this hamlet, which contributed to the preservation of its urbanistic structure that still today testifies its medieval origins, even after centuries. The historical centre is defined by small trails and stone buildings, many of which restored, as well as little piazzas and ups and downs leading to districts and places of the municipality at high altitudes.
A building to visit is for sure the Church of San Bartolomeo Apostolo, main place of worship and hub of the city centre. The church was built around 1120 a.D. and was later rebuilt in 1592. The building bewares some ancient architectural memories of Wiligelmo (11th-12th century) – one of the first Italian sculpturer to create some very interesting artworks as La Madonna e i Santi, then attributed to Saccaccino Saccaccini da Carpi in the first half of the 16th century.
Right in front of the Church of San Bartolomeo is the Church of the Immacolata Concezione, also known as “Dei Bianchi” (the Church of the white ones), for the confraternity in the nearby oratory, on whose shabby entrance door is written 1516, the date of its building. Not far away from these churches is the Church of Santa Caterina da Siena, also called “dei Rossi” (of the red ones) built in 1601, seat of a permanent museum dedicated to the Sacred Arts. At the entrance doors of the hamlet is another place worthy of being visited, namely the Renaissance Oratory of San Rocco, which was built in the first half of the 16th century with big blocks of sandstone and frescoed like the Church of San Bartolomeo with paintings by Saccaccino Saccaccini. In the village there is even more to visit: the Church of San Michele Arcangelo, the Church of the saints Santo Donnino and San Francesco and the Oratory of the Costolo, all these buildings cover a long period of local history.
As mentioned before, the origins of Fiumalbo seem to be much older than medieval times. The hamlet Borgo delle Valdare, but also at Doccia and generally throughout the slope under Monte Cimone, huts of stones and dirt called by the locals “Casoni”, that create a parallelism with the Celtic culture that in the 4th century must have reched this part of Italy. Besides there are the socalled Margolfe, small stone sculptures with women faces that decorate many buildings of the village, whose origins are uncertain and that are linked to apotropaic beliefs.
What To Do
– the trekking season officially starts with the melting of the snow. There are many trails to follow that from the valley floors lead to the main peaks of the area. You can take your pick;
– a trip to Lago Santo, a stretch of water of glacial origins at 1501 m height;
– long walks or rides on a mountain-bike in the Parco del Frignano through fir and beech woods, until arriving to crystal clear water sources;
– riding a horse to the discovery of the Modena-Appenine
– the woods of the Tuscan-Emilian Appenines are the ideal destination to breath the autumnal atmosphere and to enjoy its colour transformations;
– if you are mushrooms lovers, the entire area surrounding Fiumalbo is the ideal place to seek for them
– with its 50km slopes, Monte Cimone and Monte Abetone are the biggest ski areas of the northern Appennine;
– a long snowshoe-walk in the mountain territory between Abetone and Fiumalbo
Throughout the year the village of Fiumalbo offers to its citizens and visitors a rich programme of events, many of them with an historical tradition at their back.
The year starts with the Carnival Torchlight Procession that since more than 5 centueries, more precisely since 1512, characterises the evening of Shrove Tuesday: the long bright procession with many little torches made of burch wood and rags wants to leave every bad moment of the previous year behind.
Every year in spring, between the end of May and the beginning of June, depending on the liturgical calendar, is celebrated the “infiorata” of Corpus Domini, a procession throughout the streets of Fiumalbo embellished for the occasion with flower carpets.
In the end of summer there are the celebrations for San Bartolomeo, that has always been the proud of the community. Every year on the night of 23rd August the entire village lights up with flashlights, small lamps, torches and candles, creating a magic and surreal atmosphere. During the night many attractions: from the statue of the saint brought during the procession by the confraternities of Bianchi and Rossi to the traditional market with hundreds of stands, from the magnificent pyrothechnics to the final bingo that involves everyone in the village.
In the end, at Christmas time, the famous living Christmas Crib comes back every two years recalling the Nativity along the streets and paths of the village illuminated by feeble torchlights, performing ancient professions (shepherds, masons, millers, etc) with hundreds of animals.
Food and Wine
As for the language and culture influence, also food and wine in Fiumalbo have been influenced by its peculiar position between the regions of Tuscany and Emilia, creating a mix of cooking traditions of these territories.
On the one side there are crescentine, borlenghi (thin crepes rubbed with salt pork and cold cuts), tortellini and tortelloni (typical homemade pasta), all traditional Modena dishes, and on the other hand are black cabbage soups, beef steaks and second courses with game and mushrooms, typical of mountain places. As for desserts, the almond brittle is the unquestioned king. Some people think that the recipe derives right from this area, and it is a mixture of chestnut honey, very flat almonds, sugar, caramel and a bit of natural essences.
The whole territory of Fiumalbo offers beyond these specific foods, a number of blackberries, blueberries, ceps and chanterelles from the underwoods and produces extraordinary cheeses, cold cuts, meats coming from animals bred in the uplands
How to reach Fiumalbo
Fiumalbo is about 80km from the Autostrada del Sole (A1). You can get there by car or by bus driving on the SS12 of Abetone and Brennero. a street that connects Pisa directly with the Austrian border.