Dwight Peck's personal website

Ten days in the Veneto (without Venice)

February - March 2017

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Borso del Grappa and Asolo in the Veneto region

A last view over the Lago di Viverone over breakfast. 26 February 2017.

The Upper Viverone high street from the attic breakfast room of the lovely B+B Monastero del Lago, as we're setting out on the 4hr, 350km journey to the eastern side of the country. It's a Sunday, so we're risking the northern autostrada around Milan -- on weekdays the solid lines of bumper-to-bumper high-speed trucks are unnerving, so we go round the southern bypass past Alessandria and Piacenza -- but this worked out well.

After the highway past Bergamo, Brescia, Verona, and Vicenza, we headed northward up provincial roads into the hills to the suburban sort of town of Borso del Grappa, and this is the Country Club da Cesco on a quiet side street. No sign of a country club but five very nice rooms, ours with a top-floor terrace (as above), and a friendly host who also makes up a very nice low-price dinner made mostly with ingredients he and his friends have produced here in the area.

Monte Grappa looms up behind Borso and other towns in the area, at 1,775m the highest mountain of the local massif and once the scene of horrific battles in World War One. In the Second World War, it became a temporary refuge for the partisan resistance fighters, but the German soldiers and fascist militias caught up with them, killed many (a famous ossuary and monument stand on the summit, built in 1935 and holding the remains of nearly 13,000 mostly unidentified partisans) and publicly hanged the rest in the larger city of Bassano del Grappa nearby. Monte Grappa is now a popular centre for paragliders.

Borso del Grappa is a rather undistinguished town of about 6,000 citizens (who are called 'Borsatti') in the Province of Treviso and Region of the Veneto, about 60 crow-fly kilometres northwest of St Mark's Square in Venice.

There seem to have been early Christian establishments here as early as the late 4th century, mainly associated with St Severo and St Eulalia, and a parish church in Borso dedicated St Zenone; the town is mentioned in a benefaction of 168 households to the Benedictine abbey in 1085, and from about 1000 there was a market authorized by Emperor Otto III (perhaps that explains the name 'Borso'). In the 13th century, a fortress was built nearby by Ezzolino III da Romano ('il Tiranno') apparently in his role as Emperor Frederick II's imperial viceroy for the March of Treviso. Eventually Borso was absorbed into the orbit of Treviso and then of the Venetian Republic and, except for local earthquakes, etc., shared their history until the onset of World War One.

A comfortable room under the eaves

The dining room and reception area of the Country Club da Cesco

Our terrace. Next day we're off to . . .


Asolo, "The City of a Hundred Horizons", is set up in the hills just 9km from Borso where we're staying, a small town of about 9,000 Asolani and a long list of famous former residents and guests. We're coming up into the Centro Storico at the top of the village -- long fingers of inhabited combes and valleys extend the commune's jurisdiction southward down the hill.

The Piazza Maggiore. Asolo was inhabited by the Iron Age Veneti tribe and allied with the Romans against the Gauls and then Hannibal's Carthaginians in the 3rd century BC; having latinized themselves pretty thoroughly, the Veneti of the region were given Latin rights in the early 1st century and then Roman citizenship in 49 BC.

The central carpark in the Piazza Maggiore with, up the hill, the former Convent of St Peter and Paul, until recently in service as some sort of American business institute, and at the top of the hill, the Rocca or fortress overlooking the town.

Facing the other way in the carpark, with the tower of the Castello of the Queen of Cyprus. Yep, the Queen of Cyprus.

Even in February, a dedicated outdoor clientele for the café in the Piazza Maggiore

The Fontana Maggiore, fed from a Roman viaduct, with part of a Roman-era column, 16th century bas-reliefs, and an assertive 20th century winged lion on top. In the background on the right, with its frescoes from the 15th century, is the old Palazzo della Ragione, the administrative offices or courthouse, now housing the Civic Museum.

The fountain itself dates from 1575 over the town's age-old principal source of water, but the lion was added in 1918.

Across the main street, the Via Regina Cornaro [that's the Queen of Cyprus] and the Piazza Garibaldi, there is the Duomo di Asolo, properly the collegiate church of Santa Maria Assunta -- Asolo was apparently the seat of a bishopric from at least 590, and the cathedral was almost certainly on this spot, but in 969 the Emperor Otto I suppressed the diocese and subsumed it into that of Treviso to the south. It retains the name of "cathedral" because there is a titular, non-resident bishop still.

The still-so-called Duomo assumed its present structure in the 1580s, but there were significant renovations in 1606 after a fire and again in 1747; the façade, however, dates from 1889.

It's a simple design with doors coordinated to the nave and two side aisles within, and a fine mosaic of the Assumption of Mary, which replaced the rose window when the organ was installed on the interior.

A nave with two aisles, separated by two rows of seven pillars; not bad for an 18th century makeover.

One of three side chapels, this one the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, begun in 1529 but with the tabernacle on the altar from the 1680s and the two angel statues from the 18th century.

In the presbytery behind the high altar is a 19th century copy by Quarena of Titian's 'Annunciation of the Virgin' now in Venice. In two side altars, there are interesting pictures of the Madonna by Lorenzo Lotto (1506) and Jacopo Da Ponte, called Bassano (ca. 1549) respectively, but my photos were rubbish.

-- Come along, little ones. We're going to have some fun.

A baptismal font with a frieze showing the Madonna/Child and St Prosdocimus, patron saint of Asolo, and the arms of the Conaro family, dated 1491. Prosdocimus was a friend of St Peter the Apostle, who sent him along to Christianize this region, of which he became the first Bishop of Padua (we're told).

The mosaic on the façade. The plaster cover of the façade had to be removed from the brickwork, for safety reasons, in the 1960s, and there are said to be continuing discussions about whether to replace it.

Alongside the Duomo bound for Browning Street

The back of the Duomo, with its 55 metre belltower made in 1480 and a side entrance with very nice portico from the 15th century. The sacristy is pointing out at us on the corner.

Kristin on the Via Browning -- Asolo is extremely proud that the poet Robert Browning lived here for a time, and his final book of poems, published on the day of his death in 1889, is entitled Asolando; one of his earliest famous works, Pippa Passes from 1841, is set in Asolo, and his son Robert ("Pen"), from his marriage with Elizabeth Barrett Browning, died here in 1912.

We're also told that a number of other luminaries have lived here over the years: Hemingway is claimed, though it's not easy to figure out when that would have been (nearby Bassano claims him, too); the famous explorer Freya Stark was frequently in Asolo as a child in the 1890s, as her parents were friends of Robert Browning's son, the painter "Pen" Browning -- she came back in 1921, and eventually died here days after her 100th birthday in 1993 (her house can be visited; in fact, I was standing with my back to it taking this photo, and didn't know it); and the actress Eleanor Duse had a getaway home here.

The Via Browning, heading out of town

The Rocca di Asolo or fortress on the hill above the upper village. Its presence is attested from the late 12th and 13th century, when the Ezzelini dominated the area, including Asolo, but records of building, maintenance, and garrisoning are more helpful for the periods when Asolo was a fiefdom controled by Treviso from 1261 to 1339 and mostly by Venice thereafter until the advent of Napoleon. The Rocca last saw action in 1510 and was already deteriorating and serving as a plague hospital in the 16th century, but was decommissioned by the Venetians in 1650 and thereafter kept up by the Asolans as part of their heritage, most thoroughly in the 1980s and 1990s.

It's undergoing further restoration now, alas, and closed until summer 2017.

On the Via Foresto Vecchio

The cathedral belltower in the front and, behind it, the tower and palace of the Castello della Regina Cornaro

Down the Via Pietro Bembo back to the centre. The super-scholar, poet, humanist, rumored lover of Lucrezia Borgia, and (later) papal secretary Cardinal Bembo spent at least some time, probably between 1497 and about 1501, with the often-illustrious court of Caterina Cornara, the Queen of Cyprus. His dialogue on Platonic love, Gli Asolani, is set in the Cornara court in Asolo and was shown to Lucrezia in 1503.

In the Piazza Garibaldi, looking at the Palazzo della Ragione with its 15th century frescoes, the Via Regina Cornaro, and the tower of the Queen's castello

The loggia on the side of the cathedral in the Piazza Garibaldi

In the loggia of the Palazzo della Ragione, the Museo Civico, featuring amongst other things a collection of books, portraits, letters and photographs, as well as dresses, of Eleanor Duse, donated by her daughter in 1934.

The Castello Pretorio dates from at least AD 969 but was enlarged and otherwise tinkered with over several centuries. In 1489, it was turned over to the Queen of Cyprus and is now more commonly identified as the Castello della Regina Cornaro.

The clock tower and adjacent wing remain, now housing the restaurant Al Castello and the Eleanor Duse Theatre, inaugurated in 1932.

The castle may actually have dated from the 10th century, but after 1242 it was the home of the tyrant Ezzolino III da Romano and, after 1339, the residence of the podestà sent from Venice. It was linked up to the strengthened city walls during the brief period in the late 14th century when Asolo was dominated by the Carraresi lords of Padua, and three of its four towers still remain; on the right is the Reata Tower, and the cathedral belltower is in the background.

Inside the Reata Tower. Caterina Cornaro was a high-born Venetian who was married off at 14, in 1468, to James II of Cyprus, joining him there in 1472. James died in 1474, as did their infant child, and Caterina stayed on to govern as regent, supervised by the island's Venetian merchants and paying tribute to the Mameluks of Egypt. In 1489 she was constrained to sell the administration of Cyprus to the Venetian Republic, and in return Venice set her up as titular Queen of Cyprus and Sovereign Lady of Asolo, which was a Venetian fiefdom, where she gathered about her an impressive Renaissance-style court that attracted intellectual and cultural luminaries from all round the Venetian ambit. Bembo was one, and the painter Gentile Bellini (son of Jacopo, brother of Giovanni), who made an unflattering picture of Queen Caterina (there are also portraits by Titian, Dürer, and Giorgione.)

Asolo from the Reata Tower. In the dispiriting episode in the "Italian Wars" called the War of the League of Cambrai, in 1509 the French forces occupied Asolo and Caterina fled to Venice, where she died in the following year.

Along some of the remaining castle walls

Another view of the remaining wing of the castle from the southern wall

The Castello and the Rocca

The Rocca again -- a nine-sided polygon, with no particular symmetries except height, and no slits or windows, once the anchor of the city's defensive arrangements.

The Via Dante, leading back into the Piazza Maggiore

Time for a chilly outdoor coffee before we leave

The 20th century lion with a distinctly medieval ferocity to it

The Caffé Centrale

A zoom of the Palazzo della Ragione with frescoes, and a Zen bus

Leaving Asolo

What a surprise -- wandering around on forest roads, we're under the Rocca by chance.

Nobody's really preventing us, so having dumped the car we're on a mission.

Not too much to see, though . . .

. . . according to the helpful signs, it's been closed since November 2016 and, with any luck, open again later in 2017.

Really too bad

Now we'll move on to Bassano del Grappa for the afternoon

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 12 April 2017.

Veneto region
Feb. 2017

Veneto region
May 2017