Grizzana Morandi and Riola

Morandi, Aalto, a Fairytale castle and a Black Virgin

Alvar Aalto's church at Riola

Beginning in 1913, Giorgio Morandi often spent his summers in the cool altitudes of Grizzana, a village made of attractive stone hamlets spread over the mountains, including part of the Monte Sole (see Parco Storico di Monte Sole). According to Morandi, these were the most beautiful landscapes in the world (featured, along with his pictures of Grizzana, in this short video in Italian). After the painter died, Grizzana adopted his name and made his house into a museum; the Casa Museo Morandi; if you're really keen and want to have a look at the master's bed and library, ring +39 051 6730329 Wed-Fri from 3-6pm, or Sat 10am-12.

One of Grizzana's hamlets, Riola, has two surprises. The first is the parish church, which just happens to be a Modernist masterpiece: the pure white concrete and glass Santa Maria Assunta, one of the last works of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1978), built at the request of the local Cardinal, who wondered how a great architect would respond to the doctrines of Vatican II. From the outside, the church's shape echoes the three surrounding peaks of Montovolo, Monte Vigese and Monte Vigo; in the serene luminous interior, the soft northern light filters down through a grid of asymmetrical ribs.

The Rocchetta Mattei not only after it was built

Another man-made effort jabbing into Riola's mountain skyline are the turrets, loggias and bulbous, gilded neo-Moorish domes of the Rocchetta Mattei, built over twenty years (1850–70) on the foundations of a ruined castle by Cesare Mattei (1809–1896). Born into a wealthy family in Bologna, Mattei was a co-founder of the Cassa di Risparmio di Bologna bank. Pope Pius IX made him a count. His hobby was alchemy and travelling: he was especially impressed with the Alhambra and Moscow, which he combined together in his dream castle.

He is best known, however, as the inventor of electrohomeopathy, as a non-surgical cure for cancer, based on the curing power of 'natural electricity' in plant extracts. His claims of remarkable cures attracted world wide attention and numerous Russian aristocrats to his castle although most doctors condemned him as a quack. Others credit at him as the inventor of placebos.

In 2005, the dilapidated Rochetta was purchased by the Cassa di Risparmio, and restored; in 2015 it reopened for guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays (10am-1pm and 3-6pm, given by local volunteers. Book a tour at visitarocchetta@gmail.com; for more see the website.

There's more. From Grizzana, you can drive up Monte Vigese to the 11th-century sanctuary of the Madonna di Montovolo, with a famous black Virgin, a Byzantine cross and fragments of frescoes and sculptural work by the Comacene Masters, who rebuilt the church in the 13th century. There is something uncanny about Monte Vigese, which was sacred to the Etruscans, possibly even the 'navel' of their world; the crypt of Motovolo, according to at least one researcher, Professor Graziano Baccolini, may even be an intact Etruscan shrine.

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