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.

Bassano del Grappa walkabout

Parking our cute little silver Volvo, 27 February 2017, on the 'Viale dei Martiri' on the north side of Bassano del Grappa's old town -- so-called because in 1944 the Germans hanged 31 local partisans from those trees overlooking the valley to the north.

The view to the north. The area was inhabited far back in pre-Roman times, and there was evidently a Roman town from the 2nd century BC; the medieval church was first mentioned in 998. In the late 12th century the city came under the control of the Ezzelini clan from Romano d'Ezzelino (now virtually a northern suburb of Bassano) -- 'romano' derives from a Longobard word for a 'military settlement -- led first by Ezzelino I da Romano ('il Balbo', the Stammerer), a former Crusader who served as podestà of Treviso and of Vicenza in the 1170s and commanded the Lombard League army that defeated Friedrich Barbarosa near Alessandria in 1175.

Before his death in 1189, Ezzelino I had switched his pro-Guelph allegiance to the imperialist Ghibelline cause, and his son Ezzelino II 'the Monk' received the lordship of Bassano in 1211 from Emperor Otto IV for his imperial service. He was podestà of Treviso in 1193, Verona in 1200, and Vicenza in 1211, but in 1212 he fought against the Lombard League near Verona, and subsequently against other Este interests and against the Venetians. When he retired into a monastery in 1223, family leadership passed to his sons Ezzelino III (for properties in the Treviso area) and Alberico (for the Vicenza area).

We'll be passing the Hemingway Café (opened in 2014) just around that corner. Ezzelino II the Monk's daughter Cunizza married the Lord of Verona (earning her a role in Verdi's Oberto, 1839) but eloped with the troubadour Sordello (thus acquiring mention in Robert Browning's Sordello and Ezra Pound's Cantos); she subsequently lived with the Cavalcanti in Florence and was admired by Dante, who put her into the Third Sphere of Paradise (Canto IX).

The Garibaldi ristorante across the piazza. But it was Ezzelino III da Romana ('il Tiranno') whose name most resonates today, as a symbol of the horrifically cruel warlord of medieval tradition -- much of what is known about him comes from hostile sources, but he still must have been a horrifically cruel warlord. As podestà of Verona in 1226, at first he favored the 2nd Lombard League, but in 1232 he signed up with the Emperor Frederick II ('Stupor Mundi') who was coming north to bring northern Italy into imperial control. Frederick made him Imperial Vicar of the March of Treviso and married Ezzelino, then 44, to his 13-year-old illegitimate daughter Selvaggia. Between 1236 and Frederick's death in 1250, between them they subdued nearly all of the northeastern Italian cities, which Ezzelino took over in the emperor's absence, and in 1254 the Pope excommunicated him and launched a crusade to bring him down. Ezzelino's German knights easily dealt with the papal 'crusaders', but in 1259 he went after Milan itself, got himself badly wounded and went on the run, but was captured near Bergamo and committed suicide in prison near Cremona, at the age of 65. What a guy.

The Castello degli Ezzelini occupies a large complex, including the Parochial Church or Duomo of Santa Maria in Colle, at the top of the old city, protected by the western and northern city walls.

We can get into the courtyard, it seems, but the castle is open only to reserved groups and the church only on Sunday mornings. The stronghold here goes back to pre-Roman times, but the castle reached its present form, more or less, in the 13th century era of the Ezzelini. Bassano and its castle were acquired by the Visconti of Milan in 1368, and then by the Della Scala lords of Verona, but then in 1404 like much else it was brought into the 'terra firma' domains of the Venetian Republic, where it remained until Napoleon came along to push the Austrians out at the 'Battle of Bassano' in 1796.

The Duomo di Santa Maria, within the castle complex. The medieval castle had been sufficient to see off the primitive 'bombards' of the Hungarians in the siege of Bassano in 1411/12, but when the French-led forces of the League of Cambrai showed up here in 1508 on their way to attack Venice, the city was no match for contemporary artillery, and the military value of the castle declined in the 16th century. Restoration work began in the 20th century.

The Duomo di Bassano del Grappa, or Pieve di Santa Maria, was first mentioned in 998 and has been expanded since then. Viewers still complain that it looks more like a barracks on the outside. It's open only on Sunday mornings; guess why.

The western wall of the castello, overlooking the Brenta river and looking up the Valsugana towards Trento and the Dolomites.

Another view of the castle. Bassano, over the ages, was called Bassano or Bassano Veneto, but after the horrors that occurred on Monte Grappa above the city in World War One, in 1928 the city was renamed Bassano del Grappa.

'Grappa' is also the name of a strong grape-based brandy made with the pomace left over from winemaking -- it's an EU-protected designation that requires that it be made in Italy or the Ticino canton of Switzerland and that it be made from pomace, not grape juice. According to Wikipedia, there is a legend that a Roman soldier brought to Bassano some stolen Egyptian distillation equipment, but more likely the techniques were brought back to Europe by returning Crusaders. The traditional methods of distillation were codified by the Jesuits in about 1600, but the most modern methods have been developed here in northeastern Italy since 1979. Absent the Roman legionaire, it's not entirely clear why the brandy should have been named after Monte Grappa, but there is a Museo delle Grappa near the Ponte degli Alpini.

We're at the Brenta riverside, about to visit the city's emblematic and most famous structure, the Ponte degli Alpini, or Bridge of the Alpine Brigades.

The original Bridge of the Alpini, or Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge, was designed by Palladio in 1569 to replace more primitive structures dating from the 12th century, but it has been rebuilt several times since, always to the same design.

After its destruction in World War II (sabotaged by partisans in 1945 on Allied instructions), in 1948 surviving members of the Italian army units that had fought in the region, the Alpini or mountain troops, financed its restoration to original designs and installed their own museum of the Alpini at the farther end of it.

From mid-bridge, a look at the river Brenta and the Castello degli Ezzelini

The Brenta looking up into the Venetian Prealps to the north

River scenes

Houses near the bridge, pockmarked with bullet holes

The Museo dal Ponte degli Alpini (more commonly now, the Museo degli Alpini, at the end of the bridge, founded in 1950 and dedicated to artifacts from the First as well as the Second World War and the Resistance.

Downstream on the left bank, a mini-piazza in front of the Museo della Ceramica in the Palazzo Sturm (with the best view of the bridge from the riverside)

The Castello and Duomo from the bridge

The entrance to the museum on the left and an estimable pizza restaurant on the right

Awwww. . . . . (The Bacin d'amor, evidently 'kiss of love', near the bridge, from 2010 after a famous love poem from 1916, a favorite now for wedding photos and Valentine's Day activities especially amongst gays.)

Back across the bridge into the upper city

Street scene along the riverside

The Ponte degli Alpini from the Palazzo Sturm

-- What's the harm just in asking how much they want for it?

The Tempio Ossario, or Ossuary Temple, a reconditioned church housing the remains of about 5,500 Italian soldiers killed in World War I, many of them underage boys drafted to the front to fill the gaps after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Caporetto in 1917.

The central Piazza Libertà, looking towards the city hall, built in the early 18th century on top of the 15th century loggia, with an astronomical clock (partly hidden by the festive decorations above the balcony) from 1747.

The Church of San Giovanni, originally from 1308 as a shelter for the sick and disabled, but presently dating from 1747.

Preparations for carnevale

The eastern end of the Piazza Libertà, with the Civic Tower looming overhead

From the Piazza Libertà we proceed to the adjacent Piazza Garibaldi just to the east

The Church of San Francesco across the Piazza Garibaldi, first built in the late 12th century Ezzelini era as a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, at one of the then-gates to the city to accommodate arriving pilgrims, but handed over to the Franciscans in the later 13th century. The exterior preserves a medieval aspect but the interior has been remodeled in a baroque style in the 18th century and radically restored in 1928.

The St Francis monastic buildings now house the Museo Civico archaeological collections and the pinacoteca.

There's presently a special exhibition on, Fragments, with displays drawn from original photographs from the World War One era.

Hard times for the Bassanesi

A special memorial for Ernest Hemingway who seems to have spent time in Bassano in 1918 during his brief service as an ambulance driver, before he was wounded on the Piave river east of Treviso. There is a Hemingway Museum just 1.5 km upriver from the Ponte degli Alpini.

It's quite an honor for Hemingway to have been included here -- though there is a similar display for Gabriele d'Annunzio, the goofy fascist poet airman from the period.

Bassano also claims significant visits from John Dos Passos, who was based in Bassano in May 1918 with the medical service and first met Hemingway in nearby Schio, as well as (we're told) F. Scott Fitzerald at some point.

Telamones holding up the entrance to the pinacoteca

There are a lot of good things in the Museo Civico pinacoteca

Like this 'Lamentations' by Francesco Bassano il Vecchio (ca. 1530). The Da Ponte family, lifelong residents of Bassano, were established here by Francesco in the family workshop that served the famous Jacopo Da Ponte or Bassano and subsequently his sons.

A Misericordia with an odd Jesus brooch on, a tiny donor, and an even tinier group of misericordees.

The Baptism of Jesus with prophets David and Isaiah, mid-15th century

A representative work by Jacopo Da (or dal) Ponte, called Jacopo Bassano, 'Il Paradiso' (what a jumble), who was born and spent his professional life in Bassano, spanning the 16th century, in the family workshop with his four sons, whose (chiefly religious) works had great popularity especially in Venice.

This interesting Deposition is attributed to Il Perugino (Pietro Vanucci), early 16th century.

An unusual Last Supper by Francesco Bassano the Younger, one of Jacopo's sons, late 16th century

Museo Civico scenes

The museum has a special focus on some of the works by the late 19th century Venetian Antonio Dal Zotto -- this is the 'Dying Petrarch', and . . .

. . . this is 'Narcissus at the fountain', 1887.

The cloister and entrance to the museum

Back out via Sarcophagus Alley

The church porch in afternoon sunlight

Across the Piazza Garibaldi, formerly the Piazza delle Erbe as it was the medieval vegetable market. The 43-metre Civic Tower above it was a defensive work built, perhaps by the Ezzelini in the mid-13th century, but certainly by 1312, as part of expanded city walls at that time. The clock was added in the 18th century; the fountain is from the turn into the 20th century; the ticket booth will serve the kiddy rides being erected on the left for the coming carnevale.

Via Jacopo Da Ponte

Along the Via Jacopo Da Ponte


A funfair below the Viale dei Martiri, and we leave Bassano del Grappa . .

Passing by Romano d'Ezzelino on our way back to Borso del Grappa.

The next morning, we're passing by the Torre Ezzelina in the comune of Romano d'Ezzelino, built in 1827 to commemorate the Ezzelino fortress once on this hill, the Col Bastia, mentioned by Cunizza to Dante in the Paradiso.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 22 April 2017.

Veneto region
Feb. 2017

Veneto region
May 2017