Reggio Emilia Italy
Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
24Trip End Jul 05, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Reggio Emilia is a city of 150,000 people with a recorded history of more than 2200 years. Situated in the Po River Valley in the Emilia Romagna region, a bountiful and beautiful geography is dotted with villages every few kilometers in all directions and cities like Parma, Modena and Bologna lined up every 30 kiometers or so along the valley. Bologna is the big dog, a couple million people with macho industry. The other smaller cities are content to live a quieter style, but no less proud of their own achievements and contributions to world culture.
Reggio Emilia was developed starting in 193 BC as a textbook Roman city, on a site previously inhabited by Ligurians, Celts, Etruscans and Gauls, all the same cultures who made up the Northern content for Roman citizenry
When Rome tubed in the 5th century, so did the rest of Italy, including Reggio Emilia. The area suffered through invasions, looting and worse by Northern Barbarians, Northeastern Ostrogoths, and neighboring city-states, evetually finding peace and safety under the rule of the Lombards, (French, "Long Beards") who spatted with the Pope over who owned what. All the while Reggio Emilia worked on its own identity and defenses as a place worth saving.
By the 9th century, Reggio was part of the Kingdom of Italy, and a pawn for the King, the Pope (who were at times hard to distinguish) and whatever invading army happened into Italy. Finally about 900 after a shelacking by the Hungarian Magyars, the City got serious about a defensive wall and castle which led to a century of relative peace, ending with a resolution to merge with Tuscany, a move that was supposed to provide the security of a large and powerful ally. Unfortunately Tuscany was on its way down, and soon Reggio found it necessary to again set its own course as an independent City-State, one of the first in Italy. Independence was great except that any hint of economic success drew attention and lust from neighbors and invaders, so the freedom lasted only as long as the next victory. Reggio and all of the other communities in Italy spent 500 years poking, bluffing, running, hissing, scratching, hiding, attacking and generally defending themselves against each other, invaders, the monarch, the dukes, and the Pope, includng both inter-regional conflicts and a civil war between Guelphs (pro-papacy) and Ghibellines (pro-empire) where each community chose sides and then tried to wipe out the other
In the 11th century, Reggio territory was the subject of Countess Matilde, a friend of the Pope who built a series of impressive and effective castles. She was well liked by the poeple and was something of an international superstar, hosting the dis-excommnication of Emperor Henry IV in which she brokered a deal between Hank and the pope to save HIV's European empire. But chaos was only temporarily held off. The 12th to the 15th century was an unending series of mortal combat, reward for brutality, cycles of poverty, and penalty for any measure of success.
The 15th century brought rule by the Este Family, one of Europe's great aristocratic dynasties. They ruled severely, but maintained order for almost 300 years, managing to build and foster many civil improvements as they withstood wars, plagues, famine, plunder, and the hatred of the local citizens. The Este period set Reggio Emilia up to make its significant contribution to the Renaissance including the pair of poets, Matteo Maria Boiardo, the Count of Scandiano, "Orlando Innamorato"; and Ludovico Ariosto, "Orlando Furioso".
Having had their fill of the Este Family, the Reggiani welcomed the French Revolution and the arrival of Napoleon's troops in 1796. Napoleon favored Reggio Emilia, established the Cispadane Republic as emperor on 7 January 1797, at which the first Italian parliament was convened (comprising the city states of Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio Emilia), and introduction of the "Tricolore" (Green : Hope; White : Faith; Red : Charity), which subsequently became the Italian national flag
Reggio Emilia had a population of about 70,000 people at the turn of the 20th century, and an attitude against radical politics. 500 years of anarchy followed by the Este family would sour anyone on nondemocratic government. During the Fascist period, Reggio Emilia was not cooperative, became a burr for Mussolini, endured political hardships and military devastation for 20 years, but finally led the party when the regime collapsed in 1943. The entire city was awarded Italy's gold medal for military valor in honor of their resistance.
A revolutionary educational system emerged from Reggio Emilia after WWII, when parents, administrators, and teachers outlined a plan for social improvement through the sensitive and supportive education of children. The resulting approach, which came to be named after the city, is used worldwide.
Today's Reggio Emilia carries all its historical baggage in its citizens, buildings, and institutions. It is a city of beauty and refinement, obviously having made the best of periods of propserity. Its architecture reports on every period from Roman through Medeival, Rennassaince, Romanticism, Baroque, International and Pop. The Historic Center blends 12th century with 21st in with restraint in favor of the former. The narrow streets, generous piazzas, and commercial arcades are typical of the Emilia Romagna region, very complimentary to year round pedestrian circulation in this mild climate. The Public squares alternate with markets, weddings, funerals, and cultural events, all seem to be going strong in February 2008.
Food here is incredible. 6 months in Dalian trained me to regard white rice and beer as a banquet. Reggio Emilia cheese, olives, pasta, prosciutto and wine are like a truckload of fresh corn to a hungry swine. No offense to the swine. I don't even look up when the food hits the table. I try to eat by myself. I had 3 helpings of pasta fagiole the other day, with absolutely no shame about it. I'm going to do it again the next chance I get. Civilization never looked so good.