Italy: Piacenza I – Historical Buildings and Palace

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After a day of full and intense work, a group of tireless teachers visited the historical center of our beautiful city!

Even though the city is a commercial and industrial center now, the seat of the gas and oil refineries and the World War II has hit its historical heart, it still offers a number of beautiful historical monuments. In the following lines, we will look into its center and enjoy the local architectural gems.

We headed for Emilia Romagna region, to Piacenza, a town on the confluence of the Rivers of Po and Trebbia. The town, which was founded as a Roman military camp (218 BC), protected the plain from the Gauls and the attacks led by Hannibal. Although the communications network from Roman times has been preserved to this day, the Romans were not the first inhabitants of the city. The Etruscans and Gauls lived before them. In the Middle Ages, the Duchy of Langobard, which conquered the Franks (9th century), grew up after the year 1000, when the power of the feudal lords moved to entrepreneurs. In the 13th century, Piacenza was one of the richest cities in Europe.

After the sneak peeks, we were intrigued by information about the Council’s leadership, which invited Christians to the first crusade (1095), the city’s participation in the war against Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano (1176), or the acquisition of control over the trade routes with Genoa. During the reign of Napoleon (1802), Piacenza became part of France. During this period, the city was sacked and the works of art that once belonged to it could be nowadays admired in French museums. During the Second World War, there was no bombing, not only bridges over the Trebbiusa the Po rivers were destroyed. The greatest damage was inflicted upon the historic center.

We begin in the northern part of the city, on the edge of its historic center. Here once stood the fortress of the Visconti family (1352), which was replaced by the majestic Palazzo Farnese (1558-1602). The palace was built for Duke Ottavio Farnes and his wife Margaret of Austria. This family ruled here at a time when the city became part of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza (1545). Architect Jacopo Barozzi (known as Vignola) designed this palace to symbolize the power of the Farnese family. After the death of the last Duke of Farnes (1731), the chateau was dilapidated and its restoration began in the 20th century.

Today, the palace is the most important museum in the city – the Museo Civico. It displays sculptures, paintings, weapons, carriages, majolicas, and there is also a document archive. However, there is one exhibit which attracts visitors the most. Madonna with a Child and John the Baptist by the Renaissance painter Sandra Botticelli. The archaeological department of the museum also offers another jewel – Fregata di Piacenza (Liver of Piacenza), which is sheep liver made of Etruscan bronze. Names of deities are carved into the liver. They were used by the priests at the time for future telling. The palace also features Cappella Ducale – Cappella Grande, used by the family for religious ceremonies. It is decorated with symbols of the houses – lilies, unicorns, starfish, dolphins or turtles.

From the palace, we walk along the Via Cittadella, at the end of which the area of the beautiful historic Piazza Cavalli opened in front of us. During the Second World War, allied bombing destroyed rail and road bridges across Trebbia and Pád and the historic center suffered total destruction. Fortunately, today, nobody even mentions this horror today.

In the middle of the main square is the seat of the Chamber of Commerce – Pallazo del Governatore (1787) – featuring an interesting sundial clock. Immediately opposite the palace, there is the main landmark of the square, which will delight and enchant every visitor to the city – the Palazzo Comunale. Il Gotico, call this the pearl of a city built by many architects at Alberto Scotia’s initiative (1281). It is one of the best-preserved examples of a medieval Lombardy blotto (court and administrative building) in northern Italy. The monastery and the church of St Maria de Bigulis. The front of the facade features five white-stone arches and three side arches holding a structure made of red Verona marble.

Between the fourth and fifth of the six slender Romanesque windows, there is a niche with a statue of the Madonna with a child from the nearby San Francesco church (13th century, the original displayed in the Museo Civico). The frontage of the building ends with battlements with three slender towers, the middle of which is a bell to summon people. The back of the building is designed in a more down-to-earth style. The palace served for some time as a theater, which is evident in its interior decorated with frescoes with the motif of cultural events.

In front of the palace, there are bronze equestrian sculptures on its right and the left. Francesco Mochi created these two statues in the 17th century, representing the Duke of Alexander Farnes (nephew Philip II of Spain) and his son Ranuccia, who succeeded him as the Duke. These statues gave the name to the whole square, as Cavalli in translation means horses.

When looking at Il Gotico, the other buildings in the square are in the background. But if you look around good enough, next to it stands Palazzo dei Mercanti (17th century). This yellow-orange building with a double-ported porch was built by the Council of City Traders for material from the demolition of the old bridge over the River Trebbia. During the French domination, guilds were abolished and the palace became the seat of the constituency, the commercial court, and later the Filodrammatica Theater. Today it serves as the town hall.

While walking through the streets Piacenza you will discover many historic palaces. These include, for example, Palazzo Landi (15th century), built on the orders of the humanist and consultant of the Viscontians and Sforzesco in Milan, Manfred Landi. The guest to this palace with a portal resembling an arc of triumph was also Emperor Charles V (1529). It later became the seat of the Supreme Council of Justice. There is now a courthouse – the Palazzo Tribunali.

On Via San Siro street on the ruins of one of the oldest buildings, probably the Roman fortress, Orazia Cavazza Della Somaglia ordered to build Palazzo Somaglia (17th century). Among the important guests to the palace were Napoleon (1796), Russian general Suvorov (1799) and Pope Pius VII. Today it is home to the Museum of Natural History.

One of the most important families of rich merchants and bankers owned Palazzo Costa (17th century). The palace with the rococo-decorated facade was owned by the Costa family until the death of the last descendant in 1880. Today, on the first floor is the Museo ambientale with paintings and a collection of furniture from the 18th century. The palace garden was the largest private garden in the city.

A walk through Piacenza can also be found in other historic palaces, magnificent gardens or shop windows. Maybe you will find the window with Armani (Giorgio Armani) sign. Remember that this famous fashion designer was born in this city on July 11, 1934.

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