Translated Jeff Matthews
Moving southwest along the lower Po basin from Reggio Emilia towards La Spezia, just coming out of a curve in the road you suddenly chance upon an isolated rock with steep sides of clear calcarenite. The sight of this monolith, so totally different from the surrounding landscape, grabs your imagination, no doubt the reason it has always been seen as a sort of “Sacred Mountain”. Even the Supreme Poet, Dante, felt compelled to take note of it in the fourth canto of Purgatory (27-44 – trans. H.W. Longfellow):
One climbs Sanleo and descends in Noli,
And mounts the summit of Bismantova,
With feet alone; but here one needs must fly;
With the swift pinions and the plumes I say
Of great desire, conducted after him
Who gave me hope, and made a light for me.
We mounted upward through the rifted rock,
And on each side the border pressed upon us,
And feet and hands the ground beneath required.
When we were come upon the upper rim
Of the high bank, out on the open slope,
"My Master," said I, "what way shall we take?"
And he to me: "No step of thine descend;
Still up the mount behind me win thy way,
Till some sage escort shall appear to us."
The summit was so high it vanquished sight,
And the hillside precipitous far more
Than line from middle quadrant to the centre.
These days it's somewhat easier to get to the top than it was in Dante's time. There's an asphalt road to take you from Castelnovo, the town at the bottom, up the mountain as far as the parking lot of the CAI (Italian Alpine Club) Refuge. Then you find the trail that hugs the mountainside and up you go, climbing up to the extensive grassy plateau at the top.
Our trail up was not a particularly difficult hike; it ran along the steep cliffs on the south-western side. We noticed along the way that some unknown artist had engraved into pieces of old fallen rock the likenesses of animals that live here on “the Rock”. There was a lizard, there a snake, and who knows what other creatures decorated the fallen rock all around us in this magic place?
Go all the way up if for no other reason than to get the full view, the breathtaking panorama all around you wherever you look. The entire hike up and back is about 3 km (2 miles); it took us a bit more than one hour. The altitude differential up and back from the parking lot is about 170 meters. It's a restful walk if you want it to be.
On the other hand, it's also a rock-climber's paradise for the many groups of enthusiasts who swarm along the countless trails on the sides of the cliff walls. It's quite a show to stand and watch them for a while as they deftly defy gravity.
The mountain hides other secrets no longer accessible since the powerful rock slide of February 13, 2015. For reasons of safety, the entire 17th-century Benedictine hermitage has been closed. It was built on the site of a preexisting chapel dedicated to The Most Holy Saviour.
Have a good hike