Gusaliggio castle in Mozzola valley


The ruins of the Gusaliggio manor in Val Mozzola, (in some ancient documents referred to as Gusaleggio, Gusalicchio or Sisaligio), are perhaps among the most fascinating in the Parma area, erected on a dizzying rocky spur, overlooking the Mozzola stream below. The overhang is impressive and exciting at the same time, which is why you need to be very careful if you go to the site. However, there is no indication to reach it, and after a first visit many years ago, the last time I was there the access was blocked and the path partially collapsed.

May 8th marks the anniversary of the death of Uberto Pallavicino known as the Great, a bloody character who met his death here besieged by the people of Parmigiano and Piacenza. On this date, during the night, legend has it that you can still hear the moans and screams of this infamous character, a restless soul in life and, apparently, even after it.

History tells us a character portrait of Hubert the Great which portrays him as romantically very similar to the harsh and wild spirit of this place, where his last, staunchly defended home stood.

In fact, Augusta Ghidiglia Quintavalle writes  "... in his agitated life Gusalicchio, the hermit castle, austere and strong, on the rugged top of a mountain in Val di Mozzola, represents the background and the very sad explicit. Desolate and solitary, today , the ruined walls, blackened with thorns in the silence and abandonment of death, an ideal sepulchral epigraph to Uberto who "one-eyed, old and aged in evildoing, died in the mountains, in the bitterness of the soul and in pain, without confession and without penance....

Alone, abandoned by everyone, but not tamed, still proud of himself, still pertinacious, perhaps because, like Dante's Farinata, he is aware of never having committed miserable acts; but even in his mistakes, even in his sins, even in the most serious faults he always had his own grandeur, similar to that of the castle that hosts him today... and later it will fall into ruin, but which, again, after seven centuries , arouses a shiver of terror and instinctive respect.

Sad was his solitary end in this solitary castle, without honours, without pomp, devoid, one might say, of everything; yet he is not free from a suggestion of greatness, for not having given in, for not having knelt, for having courageously stood up, until the end, to the material siege of the Parma and Piacenza citizens, and the spiritual siege of the friars."

by Augusta Ghidiglia Quintavalle - The Castles of Parma, 1955

"On top of an enormous sandstone boulder (today we know that the rock on which the fortress stood is not sandstone, but ophiolite of volcanic origin (from an underwater eruption) which protrudes on the left bank of the Mozzola stream, which gives its name to the valley that flows through, and which, rising on the crest of Mount Mariano, crosses the valley, flows into the Taro torrent half a mile from Pietramogolana; a fortress stood in 1250, believed to have been built by the Pallavicini family, called Gusaleggio, near another equally strong one called Landasio, subject to the dominion of the then powerful Oberto Pallavicino. This fortress rested proudly to the west on the edge of the same boulder at a height of 200 metres, and due to the boldness of its position a kind of terror arose when looking at it from the bottom of the valley, where it seemed that every moment it should fall from the steep slope. This fortress was individually distinguished by four crenellated towers and various lookouts, a windmill and about twenty buildings placed on the external shelves dug into the rock and naturally defended by it, among which on the side of the stream there were a small church sacred to the Great Mother of God. Guarding the fortress at that time was a certain Federigo Malchiavello, a ferocious man beyond all words, father of five sons who were all very similar to him..." wrote Carlo Malaspina in 1841 in his historical story "Richilda da Gusaleggio". where it tells of the love story of a young and beautiful peasant woman, already promised in marriage, but on whom the nobleman of the Gusaliggio manor sets his eyes. In short, a sort of "Betrothed" in a medieval style set in Valmozzola. The author of this story was born in Parma in 1808 to a father originally from Borgo Taro and a mother from Vianino, of humble peasant origins who moved to work in the city as labourers. The young Carlo is hired as a "fucker" in a school where he expresses to the teachers his desire to study. By working and studying, he soon demonstrated his talents and became friends with prominent figures in the city, such as Paolo Toschi and Pietro Giordani. The latter granted him a sort of scholarship, at the time called a "pension", to be able to integrate his meager salary and allow him to continue his studies. During his life he met people of the caliber of Silvio Pellico, attended university until he almost reached the professorship, also traveled abroad, founded his own magazine (Il Facchino) in 1839 and obtained the title of Custos from Maria Luigia of the Ducal Library: how to say, commitment and passion pay off, a beautiful story for a boy of peasant origin born to illiterate parents.

On the edge of the precipice you can see some steps carved into the living rock.

Here there is a natural rock terrace that overlooks a scary and very high overhang that ends with sharp rocks at the bottom of the stream. History passes down to us the memory of a terrible misfortune, right here in fact, in the courtyard of the oratory that stood inside the castle, two women, while they were hanging out and ironing the laundry, for some unspecified reason, tugging at their sheets, perhaps joking and playing with each other, they lost their balance and fell into the abyss!

Among these mysterious ruins and these dizzying walls of bare rock that inspire fear but transmit strength, only a herd of feral goats live and scrutinize the intruders, after having lost their elderly owner for many years now, at least this is the version told to us from a local gentleman met along the way. There was also a period in which a pack of wolves raged in the woods around the castle, and the narrow passage through the woods to reach the castle took on the gloomy and uninviting name of dark valley


... and after having explored, fantasized, and breathed the history, towards evening we set off on the way back, among the scents of grass, plays of shadows and landscapes that caress the soul.

The article with other photos and historical images can be found on the blog >>>

Bibliographical references:

  • I Castelli del Parmense di Augusta Ghidiglia Quintavalle - edizione fuori serie del 1955
  • Richilda da Gusaleggio, ovvero Parma nel 1250 di Carlo Malaspina - ediz.Prograf
  • Misteri di Parma di Stefano Panizza Vol. II