Piacenza’s fascinating Ancient and Modern history
Before its settlement by the Romans, the area was populated by other peoples; specifically, most recently to the Roman settlement, the region on the right bank of the Po River between the Trebbia River and the Taro River had been occupied by the Ananes or Anamari, a tribe of Cisalpine Gauls. Before then, says Polybius, “These plains were anciently inhabited by Etruscans”, before the Gauls took the entire Po valley from them.
Piacenza and Cremona were founded as Roman military colonies in May 218 BC. The Romans had planned to construct them after the successful conclusion of the latest war with the Gauls ending in 219 BC. In the spring of 218 BC, after declaring war on Carthage, the Senate decided to accelerate the foundation and gave the colonists 30 days to appear on the sites to receive their lands.
They were each to be settled by 6,000 Roman citizens, but the cities were to receive Latin Rights; that is, they were to have the same legal status as the many colonies that had been co-founded by Rome and towns of Latium.
The reaction of the region’s Gauls was swift; they drove the colonists off the lands. Taking refuge in Mutina, the latter sent for military assistance. A small force under Lucius Manlius was prevented from reaching the area. The Senate then sent two legions under Gaius Atelius. Collecting Manlius and the colonists, they descended on Piacenza and Cremona and successfully placedcastra there of 480 square metres (0.12 acre) to support the building of the city. Piacenza must have been walled immediately, as the walls were in place when the Battle of the Trebbia was fought around the city in December. There is no evidence either textual or archaeological of a prior settlement at that exact location; however, the site would have been obliterated by construction.
Piacenza was the 53rd colony to be placed by Rome since its foundation. It was the first among the Gauls of the Po valley.
It had to be supplied by boat after the Battle of Trebbia, when Hannibal controlled the countryside, for which purpose a port (Emporium) was constructed. In 209 BC, Hasdrubal crossed the Alps and laid siege to the city, but he was unable to take it and withdrew. In 200 BC, the Gauls sacked and burned it, selling the population into slavery. Subsequently, the victorious Romans restored the city and managed to recover 2,000 citizens. In 198 BC, a combined force of Gauls and Ligurians plundered the whole region. As the people had never recovered from being sold into slavery, in 190 BC they complained to Senate of underpopulation; in response the Senate sent 3,000 new settlers. The construction of the Via Aemilia in the 180’s made the city easily accessible from the Adriatic ports, which improved trade and the prospects for timely defense.
The Liver of Piacenza, a bronze model of a sheep’s liver for the purposes of haruspicy discovered in 1877 at Gossolengo just to the south of Piacenza, bears witness to the survival of the disciplina Etrusca well after the Roman conquest.
The first Bishop of Piacenza (322–357), San Vittorio, declared Antoninus, a soldier of the Theban legion (and not to be confused with the 6th-century Antoninus of Piacenza), the patron saint of Piacenza and had the first basilica constructed in his honor in 324. The basilica was restored in 903 and rebuilt in 1101, again in 1562, and is still a church today. The remains of the bishop and the soldier-saint are in urns under the altar.
The theme of Antoninus, protector of Piacenza, is well known in art.
Piacenza was sacked during the course of the Gothic Wars (535–552). After a short period of being reconquered by the Roman Emperor Justinian I, it was conquered by theLombards, who made it a duchy seat. After the Frankish conquest (9th century), the city began to recover, aided by its location along the Via Francigena that later connected the Holy Roman Empire with Rome. Its population and importance grew further after the year 1000. That period marked a gradual transfer of governing powers from the feudal lords to a new enterprising class, as well to the feudal class of the countryside.
In 1095, the city was the site of the Council of Piacenza, in which the First Crusade was proclaimed. From 1126, Piacenza was a free commune and an important member of theLombard League. In this role, it took part in the war against the emperor Frederick Barbarossa and in the subsequent battle of Legnano (1176). It also successfully fought the neighbouring communes of Cremona, Pavia and Parma, expanding its possessions. Piacenza also captured control of the trading routes with Genoa, where the first Piacentini bankers had already settled, from the Malaspina counts and the bishop of Bobbio.
In the 13th century, despite unsuccessful wars against emperor Frederick II, Piacenza managed to gain strongholds on the Lombardy shore of the Po River. The primilaries of the Peace of Constance were signed in 1183 in the Saint Antoninus church.
Agriculture and trade flourished in these centuries, and Piacenza became one of the richest cities in Europe.
This is reflected in the construction of many important buildings and in the general revision of the urban plan. Struggles for control were commonplace in the second half of the 13th century, not unlike the large majority of Medieval Italian communes. The Scotti family, Pallavicino family and Alberto Scoto (1290–1313) held power in that order during the period. Scoto’s government ended when the Visconti of Milan captured Piacenza, which they would hold until 1447. Duke Gian Galeazzo rewrote Piacenza’s statutes and relocated the University of Pavia to the city.
Piacenza then became a Sforza possession until 1499.
Coat of Arms Antico Stemma
A coin from the 16th century features the motto: Placentia floret (“Piacenza flourishes”) on one of its sides. The city was progressing economically, chiefly due to the expansion of agriculture in the countryside surrounding the city. Also in the course of that century a new city wall was erected. Piacenza was ruled by France until 1521, and briefly, under Leo X, it became part of the Papal States. In 1545, it became part of the newly created Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, which was ruled by the Farnese family.
Piacenza was the capital city of the duchy until Ottavio Farnese (1547–1586) moved it to Parma. The city underwent some of its most difficult years during the rule of duke Odoardo (1622–1646), when between 6,000 and 13,000 Piacentini out of the population of 30,000 died from famine and plague, respectively. The city and its countryside were also ravaged by bandits and French soldiers.
Between 1732 and 1859, Parma and Piacenza were ruled by the House of Bourbon. In the 18th century, several edifices which belonged to noble families such as Scotti, Landi and Fogliani were built in Piacenza.
In 1802, Napoleon‘s army annexed Piacenza to the French Empire. Young Piacentini recruits were sent to fight in Russia, Spain and Germany, while the city was plundered of a great number of artworks which are currently exhibited in many French museums.
The Habsburg government of Maria Luisa 1816–1847 is remembered fondly as one of the best in the history of Piacenza; the duchess drained many lands, built several bridges across the Trebbia river and the Nure stream, and created educational and artistic activities.
Union with Italy
Austrian and Croatian troops occupied Piacenza until, in 1848, a plebiscite marked the entrance of the city in the Kingdom of Sardinia. 37,089 voters out of 37,585 voted for the annexation. Piacenza was therefore declared Primogenita dell’Unità di Italia (“First-born of Unification of Italy”) by the monarch. The Piacentini enrolled en masse in the Giuseppe Garibaldi‘s army in the Expedition of the Thousand.
In June 1865, the first railway bridge over Po river in northern Italy was inaugurated (in southern Italy a railroad bridge had already been built in 1839). In 1891, the first Chamber of Workers was created in Piacenza.
World War II
The important railway and road bridges across the Trebbia and the Po rivers and the railway yards were destroyed. The historic centre of city itself also suffered collateral damage.
In 1944, the bridges over the Po became vital for the supply from Austria of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring‘s Gothic Line, which protected the withdrawal of Kesselring’s troops from Italy. Foremost among these were the railway and road bridges at Piacenza, along with supply depots and railway yards. In Operation Mallory Major, 12–15 July, allied medium bombers from Corsica flew 300 sorties a day, knocking out 21 bridges east of Piacenza, and then continued to the west for a total of 90 by 20 July. Fighter-bombers prevented reconstruction and cut roads and rail lines.
By 4 August, all the cities of northern Italy were isolated and had suffered heavy bombing, especially Piacenza. Transport to Genoa to the south or through Turin to the north was impossible; nevertheless, Kesselring continued to supply his men.
On the hills and the Apennine mountains, partisan bands were active. On 25 April 1945, a general partisan insurrection by the Italian resistance movement broke out and on 29 April, troops of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force entered the city. In 1996, president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro honoured Piacenza with the Gold Medal for Valour in Battle.
Piacenza and its province are known for the production of seasoned and salted pork products. The main specialities are pancetta (rolled seasoned pork belly, salted and spiced),coppa (seasoned pork neck, containing less fat than pancetta, matured at least for six months) and salame (chopped pork meat flavoured with spices and wine, and made into sausages).
Bortellina (salted pancakes made with flour, salt, and water or milk) and chisulén (torta fritta in Standard Italian; made with flour, milk, and animal fats mixed together and then fried in hot strutto, or clarified pork fat) are the perfect coupling of pancetta, coppa, and salame, but they are also good with fat cheese, particularly Gorgonzola cheese and Robiola.
Pisarei e fasö is a mixture of a unique handmade bread based pasta and borlotti beans, basted in a tangy tomato, pancetta and onion sauce.
Among the culinary specialties of the Piacenza region (although also enjoyed in nearby Cremona) is mostarda di frutta, consisting of preserved fruits in a sugary syrup strongly flavored with mustard. Turtlìt (tortelli dolci in standard Italian), or fruit dumplings, are filled with mostarda di frutta, mashed chestnuts, and other ingredients, and are served at Easter.Turtlìt are also popular in the Ferrara area. Turtéi, a similarly named Piacentine specialty, is a kind of pasta filled with spinaches and ricotta cheese, or filled with calabash.
Piacentine staple foods include corn (generally cooked as polenta) and rice (usually cooked as risotto), both of which are very common across northern Italy. There are also locally produced cheeses, such as Grana Padano, though nearby Parma is more famous for its dairy products.
The hills surrounding Piacenza are known for their vineyards. The wine produced in this area is qualified with a D.o.c. (Denominazione di origine controllata) called “Colli piacentini” (“Hills of Piacenza”). Main wines are Gutturnio (red wine, both sparkling and still), Bonarda (a red wine, often sparkling, made from Croatina grapes), Ortrugo (a dry white wine), and Malvasia (a dry or sweet frizzante white wine).
- Saint Gerard of Potenza (died 1119), Bishop of Potenza from 1111 until his death.
- Placentinus (died 1192), law scholar, founder of the Law School of the University of Montpellier.
- Teobaldo Visconti (c. 1210–1276), became Pope Gregory X.
- Saint Conrad of Piacenza (1290–1351), medieval Franciscan hermit.
- Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711–1786), member of the Guadagnini family of luthiers.
- Melchiorre Gioia (1767–1829), writer on philosophy and political economy.
- Pietro Giordani (1774–1848), writer and classical literary scholar.
- Amilcare Ponchielli (1834–1886), musician and composer, began his career here in 1861.
- Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, Bishop of Bergamo and mentor of the future Pope John XXIII
- Giorgio Armani (born 1934), fashion designer.
- Carla Longeri (1960–2007), art historian.
- Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691–1765), famous 18th-century ‘vedutista‘ painter and architect
- Luigi Illica (1857–1919), librettist, author and co-author (with Giuseppe Giacosa) of opera librettos for Giacomo Puccini (La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly), Alfredo Catalani(La Wally) and Umberto Giordano (Andrea Chénier).
- Giuseppe Merosi (1872–1956), automobile engineer.
- Ettore Boiardi (1897–1985), chef, better known as Chef Boyardee.
- Edoardo Amaldi (1908–1989), physicist, professor at Sapienza University of Rome (1938–1979), co-founder of CERN, ESA, and INFN.
- Amedeo Guillet (1909–2010), World War II cavalry commander and diplomat, also known as “Comandante Diavolo”.
- Cardinal Agostino Casaroli (1914–1998), Catholic priest and diplomat for the Holy See, Cardinal Secretary of State (1979–1990).
- Pino Dordoni (1926–1998), 50 km walk Olympic gold medallist at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.
- Tarquinio Provini (1933–2005), twice World Champion Grand Prix motorcycle racer.
- Mario Arcelli (1935–2004), economist and once Minister for Budget of the Italian Government (1996).
- Ettore Gotti Tedeschi (born 1945), economist and banker, former President of the Vatican Bank.
- Gen. Fabrizio Castagnetti (born 1945), Chief of Staff of the Italian Army(2007-2009).
- Giuseppe Orsi (born 1945), CEO of Finmeccanica (2011-2013).
- Federico Ghizzoni (born 1955), CEO of Unicredit.
- Filippo “Pippo” Inzaghi (born 1973), World Cup-winning footballer.
- Simone Inzaghi (born 1976), professional footballer.
- Nina Zilli (born 1980), singer and songwriter who represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012.
- Giorgia Bronzini (born 1983), cyclist, World Champion of female Cycling in 2010 and 2011.
- Ettore Boiardi (1897–1985), creator of the Chef Boyardee brand of food products