As we have said many times, Bedonia’s position is just perfect as a base, an excellent starting point to get to the coast, to the mountains, hills, cities, lakes……anywhere your little heart desires! And in the next five minutes, we are going to take you on a virtual journey to something out of the ordinary, a mere 50 miles or so away.
Our destination is Fontanellato, a small, peaceful town in the lower Parmense area, a place which literally reeks of secular culture, art and good food, all reasons for which it has been awarded with the title of “Cittàslow – città del buon vivere e della buona tavola” i.e. Slow city – city of good living and eating. It has also been inserted in the Italian Touring Club with an orange flag….quite an honour. The name Fontanellato originates from “fontana lata” – broad spring, which in turn derives from the town’s geographical position in the Padana lowlands, rich in canals and fountains. And this characteristic brings us straight to the most famous attraction – the Rocca Sanvitale, a precious historical and architectural heritage, still today surrounded by a deep moat. The building of this fort dates back to 1124, and some of Italy’s most prestigious artwork – for example the Parmigianino paintings, can be seen in its beautiful halls. Fontanellato has a great number of monuments and churches of historical and cultural relevance, in fact in the past, it was the destination of massive religious pilgrimage, dedicated to the “Regina del Santo Rosario”- Queen of the Saintly Rosary.
History and religion are fine and interesting, but in Italy practically everything is history and religion……….what was that something out of the ordinary we mentioned at the beginning? Well, let’s proceed in our journey, and go southwest of Fontanellato, where we will come across the “Labirinto della Masone”; an extraordinary cultural park, designed in a star-shaped lay-out, which includes on its grounds the biggest labyrinth in the world – 17 acres! This park, which became an official part of the prestigious circuit of the Castles of the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Pontremoli in 2015, was designed by Franco Maria Ricci, a renowned editor and graphic artist, in collaboration with two architects: Pier Carlo Bontempi and Davide Dutto. The intent was to create a place where culture could be exhibited, read and experienced; there is an art gallery in which the personal collection (approximately 500 works) of Franco Maria Ricci himself is displayed, a library dedicated to some of the best examples of graphic typography, plus all the books printed by FMR in 50 years of editorial activity.
A large square in the centre is surrounded on all sides by arcades and ample internal spaces, and is used to accomodate concerts, parties, conferences and any kind of cultural exhibition. A caffeteria, a restaurant and a niche offering typical Parmesan gastronomy are present, as well as a book shop where an FMR rare-edition enthusiast can possibly find a treasure. A pyramid shaped chapel for those who wish to pray completes the range of services.
But the star of the show (in more ways than one!) is the gigantic labyrinth which works itself around the square. Born from a long-standing obsession of Franco Maria Ricci for mazes, and from lengthy discussions on the subject with Jorge Luis Borges, a famous Argentinian author and collaborator in the FMR publishing house, the project was ultimated in 2005. Construction of the labyrinth and of all the other buildings began on property belonging to FMR near Fontanellato, and was inspired by the Greek island of Citera; legend has it that the genitals of the god Uranus fell into the crystal waters beside the island, rendering fertile the sea, and from it sprang Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. This park was to be a journey into fantasy, a voyage of the mind.
The maze itself is made up of twenty different species of bamboo, a total of 200,000 plants, with heights varying from 30cm to 15 m, the first of which were planted in 2005. The trails can be challenging, since numerous traps and junctions are dotted along the course, but the ultimate goal is to lose oneself – not physically – but to reflection and imagination. The eight-pointed star- shaped perimeter of the grounds calls to mind the walled cities of Sabbioneta and Palmanova. The construction of the park was finally finished in 2015, and the opening took place in May of that year.
We think we can safely say, that you will not find anything of the kind either in the rest of Italy, or for that matter – in the world. If you want to combine enjoyment and culture, the “Labirinto della Masone” has to be on your bucket list!