You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
Monasterolo di Savigliano, Scarnifigi, and the Castello della Manta, 18 May 2018
First, Monasterolo di Savigliano
Our antiquated Volvo GPS navigator brought us into our first destination for the day, Savigliano, from an extremely ugly direction, so it was decided (wrongly) to give it a miss without further investigation and move on to Monasterolo di Savigliano, with high hopes.
Which were mostly dashed -- it's an interesting looking municipal castle of medieval vintage, but it's also the city hall and police station, and everybody's very busy, so this will be the extent of our acquaintance with it.
We're told that the town here came into being around this castle, which was first commissioned by Thomas I, the Marquis of Saluzzo, in about 1240. It's a pity, but with no time to look around, we need to write this one off as a wasted half hour.
Moving right along, we're passing through bustling downtown Scarnifigi, a weary comune of about 2,000 that just happened to be on the next route that the Volvo GPS carelessly sent us along.
The Chiesa Maria Vergine Assunta -- we enter with measured expectations.
In fact, apparently, despite the late 18th century façade, the building is venerable. It's said that until the late 16th century it was a very old chapel of the Virgin, but it now has a nave with two aisles, a chapel of St Sudario on the one side and another of St Michael on the other. The really significant reconstructions were carried out in 1623. Since 1753 it has housed the relics of the 'patron martyrs Casto, Clara, Onorato, and Verecondo'; so there's that.
We'll move along now.
Across the little piazza, that's the church of the Holy Cross Confraternity, built in 1701.
The town was originally walled (remnants of which still exist) and moated, with three drawbridges over the moat. The Castle, originally on the site of a Benedictine priory of nuns, was enlarged to its present shape and size in 1641 but never finished off except on the one wall facing the inner courtyard.
The Via Vittorio Emanuele
An apparently modern broletto sort of arcaded building on Via Vittorio Emanele, with the city hall off to the right, dating from 1824.
We can't really spend any more time admiring Scarnifigi -- we're on our way to our Number One Purpose for being out here roaming the countryside today: to visit the seat of the medieval Marquisate of Saluzzo from 1142 to 1548.
And we did that, but the photos are on the next page; no room here.
The Castello della Manta
But on the way home from our fun time in Saluzzo we stopped off at the castle of the venerable Della Manta branch of the Saluzzo family.
Evidently this was originally a 12th century fortification overlooking Manta municipality, about 3km south of Saluzzo.
The castle was subsequently purchased by the Marquis of Saluzzo, and in the early 15th century the Marquis Thomas III gifted the fiefdom of Manta to his illegitimate son Valerano, a capable man who after 1416 served as regent for the next Marquis, Thomas' legitimate son Ludovico. Valerano, as lord of Manta, transformed it, without comprising its defensive capabilities, into an impressive palace
with a brilliant court life. The Della Manta branch of the Saluzzo family owned the property until the end of the 18th century, when it fell into disuse as it passed through several families and was finally donated to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI) and restored in the 1980s.
The castle entrance from the yard on the western side
A short hike up to the ticket office is required.
Tickets in hand, we're directed, with audio guides, to the top floors to work our way down.
We're told that "leit" is the motto of the Saluzzo Manta branch of the family -- it's everywhere, and apparently refers to something like 'to guide' or 'to lead', from German.
A Nursing Madonna ('Madonna del Latte') by an anonymous 15th century artist, with the anatomical details better done than in many pictures from the period.
We're entering the Baronial Hall with
its amazing fresco cycles for which the castle is particularly famous.
The frescoes were executed shortly after 1420 by an anonymous artist known only as the Master of the Castello della Manta. This is the first of three of my photos of the mural called 'the Fountain of Youth', a non-religious painting on a familiar medieval theme. In this part, people of all classes and conditions are arriving at the fountain of youth and jumping in.
In the centre, old and young, sick and lusty, are cavorting in the fountain, many of them getting up to shenanigans.
The third part of the mural, resuming a more youthful life after a dip in the fountain.
On the opposing long wall, we have the Nine Worthies, three heroes each of Pagan (Hector, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar), Hebrew (Joshua, David and Judas Maccabeus), and Christian (King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon) traditions -- they're all in contemporary 15th century dress and are said to bear the likenesses of family members and guests of the court. Valerano di Saluzzo himself is understood to be standing in for Hector of Troy, and Manfred I del Vasto (1125-1175), the first Marquis of Saluzzo, is Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Christian ruler of Jerusalem in 1099.
And here are the Nine Female Worthies, similarly featuring women of the family and drawn from the important long poem on chivalric ideals called Le Chevalier Errant by the Marquis of Saluzzo, Thomas III (1356–1416), Valerano's father, probably written from his imprisonment in Savigliano in the 1390s. (For modern copies of these frescoes adorning the Rocca Medievale in Torino, see here.)
There's "leit" everywhere.
Scrutinizing the wall
The other main selling-point of the Castle of Manta is the Room of the Grotesques, or 'Sala delle Grottesche', which imports from Rome some of the Mannerist fashions of fanciful grotesques, executed on the ceiling in about 1560.
The ceiling of grotesques
Another room of legendary heroes
The front yard from the second floor
All tastefully done up by FAI in more or less period furniture
A kitchen for accommodating really big banquets when required
A tour of the cellars . . .
. . . and the wine stash.
The castle's chapel is just down the hill . . .
. . . with a few more wonders.
The funeral side chapel of Michele Antonio, Marquis of Saluzzo in the first half of the 16th century, is filled with paintings and stucco decoration in the Mannerist style.
And the apse has interesting frescoes from the same ca. 1420 artistic fit that produced the Baronial Hall in the castle.
All are themed on the life of Christ
Including a cute Last Supper
The small chapel of the castle
Back down the driveway at the end of our visit, and back to Valle Talloria for dinner in Gallo.
Next: Saluzzo itself