Ancient Ligurians museum in Madrignano castle
Comune di Calice al Cornoviglio: Frazione Piano di Madrignano - 19020 Calice al Cornoviglio (SP)
Telefono: 0187 93 56 44

Madrignano castle is on the Apennine ridge between Liguria and Tuscany, on the mountains that surround Val di Vara, in the Municipality of Calice al Cornoviglio.
It is extraordinary historical evidence of events from the Middle Ages in this part of Liguria, and is part of the large and complex system of historical elements that characterize the territory of La Spezia:  castles, towers, defensive systems and buildings that outline the contour of Spezia province, from Lerici to Sarzana, from Madrignano to the even more ancient structures of Zignago.

The historical traces in this area are not limited to those magnificent ones from the Middle Ages: there are many signs of the ancient Ligurian people, in fact more than in any other place in the region, those people who populated these lands, especially the hinterland, before the arrival of the Roman troops.

Val di Vara in particular, in contrast with the magnificence of the remains of the Roman coastal colony of Luni, is the place where the living areas of the Ligurian population are still preserved. It is the ancient “popolo del Cigno” (Swan People), who left an important trace with the necropolis of Genicciola, proof not only of the sepulchral uses, but also of the everyday life of these people from ancient Liguria. 

A little bit of history

The history of the castle develops over nine centuries. It is mentioned for the first time in 1164, in one of Federico Barbarossa’s diplomas, where the castrum Madrognani was granted to the Malaspina family. Probably the castle, or its first nucleus, is however older than the imperial document.
The Malaspina family held power over the area until 1416, the year of the attack by the Republic of Genoa, which brought the arrival of the Fieschi family as feudatories.

Having returned to the hands of the Malaspina family in 1469, the castle remained family property for about three centuries, until it was destroyed a second time between 1705 and 1706, during the clash between the French-Spanish armies and the Austrians.

From 1772, just like the Castello di Calice (Calice castle) al Cornoviglio, it passed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. With the Kingdom of Italy it was used as a prison and barracks. At the moment in ruins, it was not restored during the 19th and 20th centuries, and today it appears in its full authenticity.

The necropolis of Genicciola, between the Municipalities of Podenzana (Massa Carrara) and Calice al Cornoviglio, is of great archaeological, historical and environmental importance. Inserted in the settlement area of the ancient Ligurians, it dates back to the period between the end of the 4th century BC and the 2nd century BC. About 80 “box” tombs protected by a heap of stones have been found on the site.

The settlement is in the centre of the ancient trade roads that headed up towards the mountains from the sea. The necropolis is directly linked to the living settlement of Monte Castellaro, and it is in the centre of the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri (a high-level trail), a few hundred metres from the ancient Roman trail of Via Aemilia Scauri.

The intervention

The intervention proposes completing castle restoration to give a suitable headquarters to a research institute that can hold the remains found in the Genicciola necropolis. The second aspect of the intervention, at this stage, is to continue rearranging the archaeological area of the necropolis itself.

The Castle is the object of an important work programme, already funded and under contract, to which this intervention will be integrated, which concerns the preservation and restoration of the castle, in addition to the necessary works and new accessibility.

The restoration project aims at preserving and developing the monument. The new interventions will not change the external aspect of the building, and will strengthen the walls.
Different activities will be transferred to the castle: on the ground floor the museum, which will increase the value of the archaeological goods in the municipality, and on the first floor the new town hall. This will have the double advantage of reviving the castle and constantly protecting the structures.

The museum will have various rooms: open air spaces could houses some objects from the collection, toilets and an info desk in the first room will be put in the north section of the building, near the entrance.
The three main rooms will hold most of the exhibition, while the small space behind the base of the Medieval tower will hold a smaller and more precious part of it. The rooms will be equipped with glass and steel showcases, video equipment, notice boards, legends and educational multimedia equipment will be installed.
In addition to this, the museum can use the large meeting room of the town hall for conferences or seminaries.

The necropolis will be made safe (also with fencing) and structures for visiting the site will be created: educational billboards and archaeological experimental equipment.


The Municipality of Calice al Cornoviglio is between the hinterland hills and mountains, furrowed by smaller valleys that are transversal to the Val di Vara, the main centre of which is Varese Ligure. Val di Vara, one the less densely populated and more uncontaminated areas of Liguria, has woods and trails just a few kilometres from the sea, and is famous for being the Valley of Biological products.

For many years the different places in the area have relied on renewable energy, waste sorting, natural and organic production.
They were able to revitalize the mountain economy, which had been declining for many years, and to create a virtuous circle from a tourism viewpoint.


In Calice al Cornoviglio, many folk traditions that remained alive until the last century, return listeners to magical and pre-Christian atmospheres, like the donkey festival held in Bolseda or the festival of San Sebastiano, who protects from the influence of witches, or even the propitiatory rites of Carnival for fertility.

Nota: Liguria Heritage freely offers services and technological tools but accepts no responsibility for entrance fees to the sites nor their direct management. Please refer to the individuals owners and managers regarding the implementation or changes to entry times, conditions of use and accessibility of the various sites.