The medieval town of Brisighella in the Emilia Romagna region is set atop one of the biggest of Faenza’s range of Gypsum hills. Its origins go back to the end of the 13th century, when Maghinardo Pagani built the first important castle of the Lamone Valley on one of the three peaks of selenite, a gypsum rock.
Looming over the village is the Clock Tower, the first bastion of defense, built in 1290. Rebuilt in 1548, it was damaged several times and took its present form in 1850. Today it houses the Time Museum. In the 14th century the Manfredi, Lords of Faenza, started to build a bigger castle on another peak, the magnificent Rocca di Brisighella. Nearly 200 years later the Venetians conquered it and gave the castle the present look. Today, the fortress has been restored to a new splendor after continuous and qualified works and is a valuable example of medieval military art.
Brisighella is made up of ancient lanes and streets, remains of defensive walls and stairways carved into the chalky rocks. The ancient Via del Borgo, a covered street with a variety of arches of different sizes, was a defensive fortification for the medieval citadel at the back. This street is world famous for the very nature of its extraordinary architecture, and is also called “Via degli Asini,” or Donkeys Alley. The raised and covered road is illuminated by half-moon-shaped arches of varying sizes, the only one of its kind in the world. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries as a defense fortification, it was later used by carters for carrying chalk on donkeys from the quarries in the surrounding valley. These carters had “cameroni,” or stalls for their animals across from the arches, and their living quarters were on the upper floor. They kept their two-wheeled carts or birocci in the square down below.
Inside the village, just outside the old defense walls, there is the Collegiate Church of San Michele Arcangelo, completed in 1697. The façade, recently modified, has a bronze portal, the work of the sculptor Angelo Biancini.. Inside the church there are a 16th century carved olive wood crucifix and the neo-Baroque polychrome stucco altar dedicated to the Our Lady of Grace, represented in a 15th-century wooden panel. The collegiate church also holds a magnificent Adoration of the Magi, a brilliantly- colored panel by the Forlì Renaissance painter Marco Palmezzano originally in the old parish church of Rontana.
At the edge of the village, along the road to Florence, stands the Osservanza, built in 1525 in the name of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Inside there are excellent ceramics and a Pietà by a Brisighella native son, Giuseppe Rosetti, known as Mutino (1864- 1939). The church is richly decorated with stuccoes from 1634, and there is a fine panel by Palmezzano above the altar.
Continuing along the road toward Florence we find, just outside the village, the Parish Church of Tho. Its origins go back to the 8th – 10th century. It is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and it is called “in Ottavo,” or “del Tho” for short, because it is located at the eighth mile of the Roman road between Faenza and Tuscany. It is a fascinating Romanesque building having a basilica plan with a nave and side aisles, divided by arches that rest on eleven grey marble columns and one in Verona marble, differing greatly in thickness and width (they could be recycled materials from a pre-existing temple dedicated to the god Jupiter Ammone). A Roman milestone, an 8th-century sandstone altarfront, frescoes from the 14th- 15th-16th centuries, and a Corinthian capital from the 1st century AD bear witness to the complex history of this important place of worship.
Not only is the town of Brisighella beautiful, but so is its climate. The village rests on hill of gypsum, a highly sought-after natural fertilizer, and has the best natural microclimate for growing sensational olives. They grow amazing olives which are pressed locally into some of the best olive oil in world. The oil is so good that it was the very first DOP olive oil in Italy. Denominazione di Origine Protetta is to olive oil what DOCG is to wine, a guarantee that the oil has been produced according to strict quality standards, and that the olives come from a delimited geographic area.
Some of Brisighella’s finest olive oil includes Brisighello, an intense extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed drop by drop and “Nobil Drupa,” an oil extracted in a very limited quantity from the cold pressing of the ghiacciola olives, which come from a rare tree that can be found only in a few groves around Brisighella. There are only 3,500 half-liter bottles of Nobil Drupa produced each year.