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The Cities of Ancient Lombardy



Author of "Hill-Towns of Italy," "Plain-
Towns of Italy," "Ridolfo," etc.





Copyright, 1914






This volume completes the trilogy which I set myself, more
than ten years ago, to write upon the most interesting cities
and towns of Italy outside of the half-dozen commonly visited
by travellers in making the " grand tour " : a task inspired
by the desire to bring to a more intimate knowledge of Anglo-
Saxon readers the countless beauties and delights — natural,
historic and artistic — of the most important of those hun-
dreds of wonderful places in the peninsula which had there-
tofore escaped the attention of the general voyageur. Thus
was born the " Hill Towns of Italy," describing the cities of
the Apennines, north of Rome, from sea to sea; there fol-
lowed the " Plain-Towns of Italy," covering the second most
interesting region of the kingdom, — Venetia ; but if I charac-
terise the district portrayed in this final volume — Lombardy
— as only third in interest and fascination, I shall be met
with a chorus of objections demanding for it the first or the
second place. The truth is, as I have found, that there can
be no real rank amongst those three most alluring provinces
of " that Enchanted Land, whose beauty is inexhaustible, and
whose boundless interests touch, and will always touch, men
and women who perceive the deepest concerns of the human
soul." *

When we come to the cities of Lombardy, nevertheless,
we should stop to remember that — aside from all those de-
lights of artistic beauty and historical association which are
common to the whole three regions — they have exercised
upon the progress of civilisation an influence so unique and

i W. R. Thayer; in his " Italica."



profound that its impress is still visible upon our modern
institutions; an influence which was so prominent a factor in
the making of those institutions that it should be carefully
noted in advance by every traveller and student.

The cause of the deviation made by these towns in the
current of history, of their marked acceleration of the prog-
ress of mankind, was the descent from the north of that re-
markable Teutonic race, the Lombards, to impose upon the
petrifying Roman customs their own free and untrammelled
ideas of life. As Lord Lindsay put it : " The freedom of
the North, the civilisation of the South, and the Christianity
of the East, are the three elements from the commixture of
which the character and history of Europe spring; and Italy
was the field where these elements first met, and began to
amalgamate. The invasion of the Lombards, in 568, may
be considered as the preliminary step to this consummation.
They were a noble race, of pure morals, and a bold, manly„
generous, and even romantic character ; presenting the strong-
est possible contrast to the corrupt and degenerate Romans,,
whom they held in utter contempt." 2

The Lombards were not, therefore, the quite wild and
savage people that they are often represented to be, but a
nation sufficiently developed to have attained that extraordi-
nary individuality which was the first to resist the influences
of ancient Rome, and to force upon her immemorial systems
their own ideals of government, art, and living. Here was
the first assertion — at least since the long-dead, ancient re-
publics of Greece and Rome — of the rights of the individual
man, as against centralised, autocratic rule, and the privileges
of class and clergy. To this daring Teutonic race we owe,
therefore, the beginnings of modern human liberty and indi-
vidual freedom, of the sanctity of person and of property, of

2 Lord Lindsay; in his "Lombard Architecture.'"


decentralised, representative, laissez-faire government; —
initiated by them in these cities of north-Italy a hundred
years or more before their cousins, the Anglo-Saxons, began
a similar revolution in Roman Britain. The towns of Lom-
bardy, fortunately preserved mostly intact under the preced-
ing Goths, — who had themselves been absorbed by the
ponderous ancient Roman system, — thus took the lead in the
advancement of free government and personal rights, and
held it for centuries before the whole of Europe; resisting
with heroic valour, as self-governing republics, the endless
aggressions made upon their liberties by emperors, popes, and
neighbouring tyrants; until the fiery spirit instilled by the
Teutons found its supreme expression in that glorious Lom-
bard League which annihilated at Legnano, in 1 176, the
armed hosts and the aspirations of Frederick Barbarossa.

With the end of the second League and the final suppres-
sion of imperial designs, the Lombard cities did — it is true,
exhausted by the long strife of Guelf and Ghibelline — suc-
cumb to their own despots; and the Visconti obtained sway,
from Milan and Pavia, over all that part of the province
which was not grasped by the splendid Gonzaghi of Mantua:
the one family becoming by all means the most powerful, and
the second pre-eminently the most magnificent — in princely
living, in culture, and the use of the reborn arts — of all the
tyrannies that sprang from Italian soil. But now there
emerged into the sunlight the second fruits of the northern
towns' absorption of the Lombard spirit, even more important
— if possible — to the world at large : the beginnings of
modern civilisation.

That of the old Romans, as modified by the Lombards,
had been within their stout walls safely preserved during
these centuries of the Dark Age; some branches of ancient
art and science had, indeed, perished, — but not by fault of


the Lombards, under whom " the Italians enjoyed a milder
and more equitable government than any of the other king-
doms which have been founded on the ruins of the Western
Empire ; " 3 the citizens, however, zealously keeping alive
what handicrafts, what branches of art and the applied
sciences, were left to them, reinvigorated from their quon-
dam decadence by the admixture of the powerful northern
blood, had striven vigorously and continuously to improve
their knowledge, to better their conditions of life, and to
beautify their cities. The same fierce Lombard genius that
kept them enviously at war with each other during the gener-
ations preceding the Oath of Pontida, incited each town to
endeavour to exceed its rivals in aggrandisement; each was a
burning centre of civic life, that strove to outdo its neigh-
bours in building, in the embellishment of its arts, in the
wealth and the ostentation derived from its handicrafts and
its knowledge of the sciences.

When we stop to think that in these cities of northern
Italy, during all that terrible Middle Age, remained prac-
tically the only salvation from the feudalism which was de-
stroying culture everywhere else in Europe, — reducing human
life to a system of wild country serfs dependent upon savage
baronial castles, — we realize how infinitely we are indebted
to them for the preservation, first, and later the renovation,
of civilised existence.

To this period we owe the many superb examples offered
us by the cities of the plain of the so-called Lombard-
Romanesque architecture, civic and ecclesiastical, — which was
the result of the Lombard art superimposed upon and alter-
ing the decadent Roman. Although the Lombard dynasty
ceased to rule toward the end of the eighth century, upon
the coming of Charlemagne, the art of its people — by then

3 Gibbon.


thoroughly mixed with, and predominant amongst, the old
Romans — continued to rule until the trecento. The Lom-
bards, in spite of their addiction to country-life, were power-
ful builders, and changed the features of the dying Roman
architecture in accordance with their temperament. Above
all — and this is our chief debt to them in the realms both
of art and of religion — they revolutionised the form of the
Christian church ; shaping it into the beautiful edifice that
still symbolises to us the tenets and the traditions of our faith.

Such a daring metamorphosis of the long-established Cath-
olic forms and prejudices was only to be expected from those
remarkable men who first insisted upon entire freedom from
churchly rule and clerical privileges. " Whatever merit " —
said Gibbon — " may be discovered in the laws of the Lom-
bards, they are the genuine fruit of the reason of the Bar-
barians [precisely as was the common-law of the Anglo-
Saxons], who never admitted the bishops of Italy to a seat
in their legislative councils." The Lombards- altered the
early Roman church, — naught, as all know, but an adapta-
tion of the heathen basilica to the uses of Christian worship,
— into our present and millennium-old type of cathedral,
with its entrance-porches, aisles, upper-galleries, clerestory-
windows, side-chapels, transepts, apse, and surmounting dome.
They also introduced the use of bells, and the bell-tower.
The finest remaining example of their earlier churches still
fortunately remains in excellent condition, — S. Michele of

To all of the cities of the old Lombard kingdom, — seeth-
ing, as they had been so long, in the envious strife not only
of arms but of material and artistic aggrandisement, — there
needed but the advent of the trecento artists from Tuscany
and from the slowly dying Byzantium to kindle the fire of
the Renaissance, whose fuel had been thus preparing.


From Padua to Pavia, the blaze burst forth with quick in-
tensity. Although the towns of that section of the realm
which came subsequently under Venetian sway and are hence
now called Venetia, were foremost in leading the early Re-
naissance, the latter attained its splendid perihelion in the
more western region covered by this volume: at Lodi, for
instance, with its beautiful Incoronata, at Mantua, with its
marvellous Reggia, and at Pavia with its incomparable
Certosa, probably the supreme monument of the Renaissance.
Western Lombardy possesses also an unparalleled work of
the earlier period, in those masterpieces of painting which
Masolino of Florence, the inaugurator and teacher of the
more highly developed schools of the quattrocento, laid upon
the walls of the Collegiate church and baptistery of Cas-
tiglione Olona. And at Saronno, near-by, we behold the
crowning works of the most beautiful school of the cinque-
cento, — Leonardo da Vinci's, — in the magnificent frescoes
of Luini and. Gaudenzio Ferrari.

That the rebirth and high development of arts and civilisa-
tion occurred in the towns of Lombardy during the three
centuries subsequent to their submission to local despotisms,
shows not only how much their energies were then turned
in that direction, but also how beneficent were those despo-
tisms in their effect upon the masses, and in their paternal
encouragement of all the best in art. The same jealousies
that had kept the communes at fraternal strife, now incited
their tyrants to exceed each other in the display of dilet-
tanteism and in a cultured magnificence of life and surround-
ings. We cannot be too thankful that at precisely this
period of Italian history the revenues of many cities were
placed in a few princely hands, able to disburse them without
question. Thus only could the Visconti and the Sforza have
raised the Cathedral of Milan and the Certosa of Pavia, and


the Gonzaghi have erected that stupendous pile known as
the Reggia; thus only could Mantegna and Giulio Romano
have flourished at Mantua with their numerous pupils, Isa-
bella d'Este have adorned her enchanted Grotta and Paradiso,
and Leonardo have formed under the patronage of the Moro
that glorious school which gave us Luini, Ferrari, Borgo-
gnone, and many others.

Of these three great despotisms which possessed Lombardy
proper during the Renaissance, and which so remarkably ad-
vanced the artistic progress of mankind, the two of Milan,
owing to their greed of territory, perished successively amidst
a rain of blood, leaving their dominions to the desolating rule
of Spaniards and Jesuits for two hundred years; only the
Gonzaghi had sufficient wisdom to weather the storms of
the early cinquecento, and continue their benign rule over the
Duchy of Mantua till the extinction of the family-line. In
which feat of political equilibration an important part was
played by that paragon of womankind, " the ideal woman of
the Renaissance," — Isabella d'Este; whose sagacity in affairs
of state was only paralleled by her remarkable ascendancy
over the leading artists, litterateurs and dilettantes of that
extraordinary epoch. Thus was Raphael's pupil Romano
able to complete his decoration of the Reggia, and construct
that amazing Palazzo del Te which still fortunately remains
to us intact, — the ideal princely villa of the Renaissance.

It is unnecessary to add, in concluding, that Milan was
omitted from the list of cities herein described (as was Venice
from the "Plain-Towns of Italy"), not only because it
would require a volume in itself, but because this work is
intended precisely to cover all the other towns of Lombardy : 4

4 The town of Como, however, was also omitted, because it be-
longs to that mountainous region of the great lakes which is
quite extraneous from Lombardy proper.


in the hope that it may both be of some aid to travellers,
beyond the restricted limits of the " Baedeker," and also
enable those who do not travel to glean a little of the Lom-
bard beauties from my pages. With the same desire to help
those who may follow me, I have taken pains, as heretofore,
to give the names and qualities of those inns which I found
by personal experience to be what a traveller in that province
can best expect, with regard to cleanliness, proper prices,
and a good Italian table.

February i, 1914. E. R. W.


I. Bergamo the Lower i

II. Bergamo the Upper 35

III. Monza and the Iron Crown 73

IV. Saronno and Varese no

V. Castiglione Olona, Legnano, and Busto

Arsizio 149

VI. The Marvellous Certosa di Pavia . . .188

VII. Pavia the Primeval 220

VIII. Pavia the Pious 248

IX. Lodi and Crema 281

X. Cremona the Contentious 324

XL Cremona the Captivating 357

XII. Mantova la Gloriosa 400

XIII. Mantua the Magnificent 446

XIV. The Palazzo del Te, Sabbioneta, and En-

virons of Mantua 520


The Cathedral Tower, Cremona .... Frontispiece


Map c xix

The Porch of S. Maria Maggiore, Bergamo ... 40

The Cathedral of Monza 106

The Certosa of Pavia, Viewed from the Small Cloister 202

The Monument of Lodovico Sforza and Beatrice d'Este.

The Certosa di Pavia 234

The Monument of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The Cer-
tosa di Pavia 266

The Cathedral of Cremona 334

The Family of the Gonzaghi. Mantegna's Famous

Fresco in the Sala degli Sposi, Mantua . . . 470

The publishers acknowledge the courtesy of Alinari Fratelli, of
Florence, Italy, for the use of the illustrations in this volume.




" Far to the right where Apennine ascends
Bright as the summer Italy extends ;
Its uplands sloping deck the mountain's side
Woods over woods in gay, theatric pride;
While oft some temple's mould'ring top between
With venerable grandeur marks the scene."

Goldsmith's " Traveller."

As " Apennine " may be said to signify " little Alp," these
words of the poet well apply to Bergamo and her neighbour-
ing scenery; for, though now a plain-town, the original
little burg still perches high upon her wooded foot-hill, lift-
ing above trees and battlements the mouldering roofs of her
grand old Christian temples. She is, then, a bifold city, —
with a strange, bifarious personality. To the modern Italian
Bergamo means the recent, wide-spread boroughs on the
plain, vomiting black smoke from scores of factories, hum-
ming with industrial life ; to the traveller and the aesthetic it
means that ancient picturesque hilltop, — on which Manzoni
placed some scenes of the " Promessi Sposi " — and the won-
drous productions of its great, bygone artists, which are
amongst the most purely beautiful of all the schools. As
Verona attained the supreme development of gorgeous colour-
ing, so did Bergamo reach the nadir of ideal, perfect loveli-
ness. At her name there rise before us a crowd of painted
forms of such ineffable beauty, that they could come only
from the opened vault of paradise, with a burst of celestial
music. To three sublime painters this glory of Bergamo



is due, — Jacopo Palma, " il Vecchio," Lorenzo Lotto, and
Andrea Previtali. 1

Bergamo, though strictly a Lombard town, both in situa-
tion and affiliation, was the fourth of the subject Venetian
cities that sat at the foot of the Alps, curiously equidistant
from each other, along the northern edge of the plain. As
Brescia lies midway between Lakes Garda and Iseo, so Ber-
gamo, farther to the northwest, sits midway between Lakes
Iseo and Como, just at the converging mouths of two charm-
ing Alpine valleys, — the Val Seriana and Val Brembana.
At the head of the latter its highway from Bergamo crosses
an easy pass to the spacious Valtellina, so long renowned for
its wine; whose road in turn, by the famous Ortler Pass,
reaches German lands.

Two other routes from Bergamo, slightly longer but of
more level grade, have also for many centuries led travellers
to the Valtellina and the north ; one up Lake Como on the
west, to the end of the valley, the other by Lago d'Iseo to its
eastern confines. By Lake Como and the Val Brembana,
trade also crossed the Engadine, and the Splugen Pass to
Switzerland. So Bergamo was favourably situated of old ;
yet she seems never to have possessed then a population of the
present size, — • about 50,000. Her restriction to the narrow
hilltop was a drawback to growth ; and she was perhaps too
near the metropolis of Milan, — which lies no farther to the
southwest than Brescia does to the southeast.

Bergamo was certainly too unimportant in Roman days

1 Lotto, according to Corrado Ricci, was born at Venice; but
Palma, Previtali, Cariani, Moroni, Girolamo da Santa Croce, Tal-
pino, Bissolo and several other prominent masters, were all born
either in Bergamo or in its environs; and after wandering away —
mostly to Venice — to receive their artistic training, returned to
combine their ideas in the brilliant school famed for " the purity
of its traditions."


to attract the attention of historians. We know that she
was a Roman municipium, but few mentions of her descend
to us from ancient annals ; — a fortunate people, indeed.
About the nearest that she came to being embroiled in im-
perial troubles was on the occasion of the rebellion of Aure-
olus, in 268, against the Emperor Gallienus; their decisive
battle, which routed the insurgent, was fought only 13 miles
away, at a bridge over the Adda, known ever since as Pons
Aureoli — which has been corrupted into Pontirolo. The
Adda is next the Adige in size, and surpasses the Mincio in
strategic importance, being the outlet of Lake Como, and
dividing the plain with an unfordable current ; it formed the
ultimate border of Venetian territory; and when Napoleon
came to destroy the Republic, it was at another bridge over
this stream that he fought a critical battle, — the battle of
Lodi, — so critical, indeed, that he was obliged, it is often
said, to lead his troops in person, to gain the passage. I
have often pondered over the different course that history
would have taken, if the Conqueror had that hour fallen slain
into the Adda.

Among the saintly legends descending to us from imperial
times is that of St. Grata, who about 300 " was the daughter
of St. Lupo, Duke of Bergamo, and St. Adelaide, both of
whom she converted to the faith. When St. Alexander, one
of the Theban Legion, suffered martyrdom, she herself
wrapped the head in fine linen and reverently buried his body.
On the death of her father, St. Grata succeeded him, and
governed her people well, setting them an example of good
works. She built churches and hospitals, and did all in her
power to further the spread of Christianity. She died at
length in peace and prosperity." 2 — A singular story, both

2 E. A. Greene's " Saints and their Symbols."


in its peaceful termination and in its idea of a woman ruling
Roman Bergamo as a duchess.

Roman peace and prosperity were soon ended, however,
together with Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and so many other
cities, Bergamo was destroyed by Attila; and it must have
been a very thorough destruction, since it has left us prac-
tically no fragments of the ancient buildings. But that
Bergamo soon rose again, is shown by the fact that she be-
came the capital of a Lombard duchy. In 894 she was
conquered by Arnolfo of Germany, with Berengarius; but
this subjection lasted only a few years. 3 In the 12th cen-
tury, after the enjoyment of nearly three centuries of inde-
pendence and democratic rule, she was drawn into the long
struggle between Guelfs and Ghibellines. It was at Pon-
tida, only a few miles from Bergamo, that her consuls in
1 167 met those of the other plain-towns to form the first
Lombard League, and swore to struggle unitedly against
the devastating power of Frederick Barbarossa ; — a conven-
tion to which Italians always look back with emotion, as
the first impulse towards a united Italy!

That same year the federated cities accomplished the ex-
traordinary task of rebuilding Milan, which Frederick had
razed to the ground ; and the next year they erected the new
town of Alessandria — named after their ally, Pope Alex-
ander III — as a fortress to contest the Emperor's southern
trips. The Bergamasques fought famously beside their
brethren, and became prominent also in the renewal of the
League against Frederick II, a half century later; but their
city, probably from its lofty location, seems to have escaped
the sieges and captures which visited Brescia. Although they
thus freed themselves from imperial oppression, it was only
to fall into the covetous hands of that very town which they
3 Vide F. di Manzano's compilation of the " Annali di FriuiliS


had helped to raise — Milan: a strange end to all their
sacrifices and labours.

This change was accomplished at first by their own voli-
tion, without their perceiving its significance: the Delia
Torre had become the supreme authority in Milan, by reason
of leading the city's troops in the warfare against Frederick
II; and Bergamo, Lodi, Novara, Como, as well as a number
of other neighbouring Guelf towns, deemed it wise to entrust
to those leaders, about 1263, the command of their own
forces, and to obtain their protection by electing them sov-
ereign lords. " Thus began to be formed among the Lom-
bard republics, without their suspecting that they divested
themselves of their liberty, the powerful state which a cen-
tury and a half later became the duchy of Milan. But the
Pope, jealous of the house of Delia Torre, appointed Arch-
bishop of Milan, Otho Visconti, whose family, powerful on
the borders of the Lago Maggiore, then shared the exile
of the nobles and Ghibellines." 4

When Bergamo saw herself pass from the hands of the
Delia Torre to those of Otho, without her own consent or
opinion being asked, she realised what she had done, too late.
She was so far west as to have escaped the clutches of Ezze-
lino da Romano, and be safe from those of the Delia Carrara
or Delia Scala; but she paid for it by the tyranny of the

Up to this time the Bergamasques had been violent Guelfs,
— so much so, that the story is related that one citizen who
discovered his guests to be Ghibellines, by the way they sliced
their garlic, violated the sacred laws of hospitality and killed
them on the spot. " Ghibellines cut fruit at table cross-
wise, Guelfs straight down. — Ghibellines drank out of
smooth, and Guelfs out of chased goblets. Ghibellines wore

4 Symonds' " Age of the Despots."


white, and Guelfs, red roses. Yawning, passing in the street,
throwing dice, gestures in speaking or swearing, were used

Online LibraryEgerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) WilliamsLombard towns in Italy; or, The cities of ancient Lombardy → online text (page 1 of 47)