Dwight Peck's personal website

Umbria and the neighborhood, November 2015

Twelve days in Gubbio and day trips roundabout

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.

But first, the road trip southward: Piacenza and its own neighborhood

This is the B+B Villa Partitore, 11 November 2015, in the countryside near Piacenza, along the easily located Strada Agazzana leading southwestward out of the city. The central tower was a medieval guard tower, begun in the 1200s to protect the ancient canal importing water from the river Trebbia into the city, and the flanking apartments were added around 1700 to make it into an elegant manor house for the huge farm roundabout.

The gates looking out to the old canal and the Strada Agazzana

The ancient canal, apparently now used for local irrigation

The family of the present owner bought and renovated the estate in the 1890s and moved here from the canton Ticino in Switzerland.

There are two rooms for guests, the rates are reasonable, the owner is knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful, and there are good restaurants in nearby Gossolengo and Quarto.

A beautiful dining (and breakfast) room

A remarkable fireplace

A circular salon in the central tower

The park around the house, looking past the trees out onto broad farm lands, some of it still part of the family estate.

Farm buildings from the bedroom windows. We spent two pleasant nights here, flanking our one-day visit into downtown . . .


We've parked in a convenient lot under the Eataly megastore on the Stradone Farnese, inside the southern city ringroad, and this is the Municipal Theatre, inaugurated in 1804 and still going strong, as we're ambling north into the city centre.

Just across the piazza, this is the Romanesque Basilica of Sant'Antonino, with its interesting octagonal tower; from its origins in AD 350 (completion in 375), it was dedicated to the co-patron saint of the city and restored and somewhat modified during later eras, especially by an impressive 12th century portico and a late 15th century cloister. It was originally the cathedral of the city, later replaced by the present duomo.

At first glance, not much to our tastes. Sant'Antonino was supposedly martyred in nearby Travo in about AD 303, and his relics are said to be stored here. The story that he was a member of the famous Theban Legion seems most unlikely, since the Legion, all Coptic Christians, were venerated for having been martyred to a man in AD 286 at Agaunum, modern day St-Maurice down the road from our house near Lake Geneva.

Uh oh, we're interrupting something.

The Basilica of Sant'Antonino and its immense portico. Modern Piacenza is a city of some 100,000 citizens bordering the river Po in the region of Emilia-Romagna, on the border with Lombardy across the river, very close to Cremona (a traditional medieval foe) and roughly halfway between Milan and Parma.

Piacenza (Latin Placentia, 'nice place') was established, with Cremona, as military posts in 218 BC, in order to consolidate Roman control over the Cisalpine Gauls of the northern Italian region. Very soon thereafter, it was beset by Hannibal's Carthaginians from Spain, when the Roman legionaries who'd survived their defeat at the Battle of Trebbia outside the city were able to shelter within its new walls. Ten years later, Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal was similarly unable to take the town, but in 200 BC the Gauls burned the place down and sold everybody into slavery.

We're approaching the town centre, the Piazza Cavalli. The completion of the Roman military road, however, the Via Aemilia, in 187 BC, ensured a certain security and prosperity for as long as Roman imperial authority continued in the region.

The Piazza Cavalli and the side of Il Gotico, the Palazzo Comunale. The city was sacked, however, during the 6th century 'Gothic Wars', occupied by Belisarius' Byzantines, and then overrun by the Lombards from the north, who made it one of their preferred ducal properties. Charlemagne's Franks arrived in the 770s, and thereafter Piacenza was connected, especially by the Via Francigena pilgrimage route, to the commercial opportunities of both southern and northern markets.

The Piazza Cavalli and the Palazzo del Governatore

The Palazzo Comunale, called 'il Gotico' or Gothic thing -- the town hall, in effect, built in 1281 in the Lombard style of broletto for a democratic assembly place and administrative offices. The two equestrian statues, early 17th century creations of Francesco Mochi, representing my favorite 16th century military commander, Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, nearest to us, and on the far side his son and successor in the dukedom, Ranuccio, give its name to the city-centre Piazza Cavalli.

Five large arcades in the front and the efficient Tourist Office stuck in at the back.

That's meant to be Alessandro Farnese, 3rd Duke of Parma, son of Emperor Charles V's illegitimate daughter Margaret, who was half-sister to King Philip II of Spain. Parma was brought up at the Spanish court and fought at the battle of Lepanto (1571), then joined his mother, who was acting as Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, and took over military command of the Spanish forces during the Dutch Revolt with amazing success. There's a lot more about him in the Palazzo Farnese and civic museum up the street a ways.

Arcades in il Gotico. Piacenza was a free commune and member of the Lombard League after 1126, participating in the League's defeat of the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa at Legnano in 1176. In the next century, Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen dealt the city some shrewd blows in his late campaigns to subdue the north, but over the centuries Piacenza prospered impressively, not least through trade on the Po River, and was ruled by a succession of powerful families until the administration was taken over by the Visconti of Milan, succeeded in the 15th century by the Milanese Sforza dynasty.

An interesting memorial to the fallen of World War Two. The top part lists those who died in the "Secondo Conflitto Mondiale", 1940 to 1943. The lower part lists those who died in the "Guerra di Liberazione", 1943 to 1945.

The church of San Francesco, begun for the Franciscan Friars Minor in 1278 and completed in 1363, financed largely by the powerful Landi family.

The brickwork may be uninspiring but the portal has an interesting 15th century lunette which shows St Francis getting his famous stigmata.

A Latin cross layout with a nave and two aisles, with a load of 15th century frescos all round.

Three chapels around the apse; here's Francis.

The central chapel; no surprises here.

errmmm . . .

Interior of the Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi

Back to the Piazza Cavalli. In the early 16th century, France and then the Papal States had their oars in here, but by 1545 the Farnese family had risen to prominence, aided first by Popes' girlfriends and then by a Farnese Pope himself (Paul III), who created his illegitimate son Pier Luigi Duke of Parma in that year; the civic elite killed the new Duke almost immediately, unfortunately, and Count Landi announced the fell deed from the San Francesco church in 1547.

The Pope quickly declared Pier Luigi's son Ottavio Farnese the new Duke and got him married to the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor Charles V, Margaret of Parma (aka Margaret of Austria) -- in 1556 Piacenza was added to the 2nd Duke's title and territory by the Emperor, and Ottavio established his court here, beginning work on the Palazzo Farnese just up the street, though he later moved his seat of government back to Parma. Following Ottavio's death in 1586, his son Alexander, the Spanish military commander, became the 3rd Duke until his own death from ill health in 1592. The statue above represents his son Ranuccio, the 4th Duke.

And there, in fact, is the uncompleted Palazzo Farnese in the north of the city, with the Po River passing by just outside the city walls on the far side of it. And the city's bus station in front of it.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 7 December 2015.

Umbria trip