Did you read the way the mith explain the creation of the Taro and the Ceno Valleys? I love to spend my days in those places, among lovely villages and mountains walks.
These two creeks born from the same mount, the Penna Mount, and, running down their own valleys, they get together in the town of Fornovo Taro, where the Taro, the biggest one, continues its run to the Po. The zone confines with the Liguria and Tuscany in the southwest and the Padana Plane in the northeast.
The first establishments of those valleys are dating back to the prehistoric times: the Romans defeated the Ligurian, who were living here between the 3rd and 2nd century BC, in a battle on the Monte Penna in 157 BC. Subsequently, around the 6th century the Longobards and the Byzantines occupied the valleys. Proof of all of this was the discovery in 1861 of an archaeological site in the zone of Varsi, called City of Umbria. The excavation found the ruins of a corner tower belonged to a fortification wall.
However, during the medieval age the two valleys had an important role in history. There were two important pilgrims’ routes crossing them: The Abbots Way and the Via Francigena.
The monks of the Abbey of Saint Colombano of Bobbio created the Abbots Way. Its main function was to connect the Abbey with Pavia, capital of the Longobard Kingdom, and with Rome. In this territory the road coming from the Nure Valley, was going down the pass of Boccolo de’ Tassi, it crossed Bardi, it followed the Noveglio creek and it went down to Borgo Val di Taro where, by crossing a bridge, it was going beyond the creek. Here it split in two, the via montis Burgalis, where was the Saint Bartolomeo hospice on the pass of the Borgallo, and the Brattello way. Then, both were going down to Pontremoli. Many monks and pilgrims were using it to go visit the Pope. In fact, many Irish, English and French travellers directed to Rome used to have as a necessary stop the visit to the grave of Saint Colombano. The monastery, moreover, was not important only for a religious point of view: it was a cultural point (its scriptorium used to create and store miniated manuscripts) and an important trade centre, since it was controlling the possessions all along the way to Tuscany. Eventually it used to have a strong political influence thanks to the royal patronage and the European origins of its abbots.
Better known is probably the Via Francigena, or Via Romea, street that during the medieval age connected Canterbury to Rome. The pilgrimage in visit to the Saint Peter’s grave in Rome was one of the three pregrinationes maiores (biggest pilgrimage), together with the one in the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostela. This was the reason why pilgrims coming from all over Europe used to cross Italy. The most ancient evidence of this walk is dating back to the 990, when Sigerico, archbishop of Canterbury, outlined its itinerary in 99 stops. Subsequently, the Icelandic abbot Nikulás da Munkathverá, in the report of his trip in the Holy Land, between 1152 and 1153, walked part of the Sigerico’s route, especially in the Italian part. Since then, the Pilgrimage became notorious. The walk begin in Canterbury and cross the English Channel and all of France. Depending on the variants, it touch Switzerland and enter in Italy through the Piedmontese Alps or the Val d’Aosta ones. In the territory of my Land the route cross the town of Castelnuovo Fogliani in the province of Piacenza and then, crossing Noceto, it goes up the Appennino of the Taro Valley, through Segalara, Fornovo Taro and Berceto, to exit the Emilia-Romagna through the Cisa Pass, directed to Pontremoli. In the Seventies of the 1900s it was re-discovered the Walk of Santiago de Compostela and soon Italy reminded it has a precious route to promote as well. It started then many initiatives directed to the highlighting of the walks and it started again the turnout of many pilgrims coming from all over the world.
In the locality of Serravalle, in the Ceno Valley, next to the church of Saint Lorenzo is located a baptistery which is probably the most ancient Christian monument of the territory, dating back to 9th or 10th century. It is an octagonal building, 5 meters high with a diameter 7,5 meters long. Outwardly, it has four splayed single-lanced window of different measures and an entry door with an archivolt and no decorations. Inside there are cylindrical and squared columns, located in the corners. There is only one capital keeping some reliefs that are dating back to the 12th-13th century. Serravalle is a district of the town of Varano de’ Melegari, where is an impressive wonderful castle. It is located on a sand stone hill, in a strategic position for the control of the Ceno Valley. The first information we have about this structure are dating back to the 1087 and says it already belonged to the Pallavicino Family, one of the most important families of the territory for trade and politic reasons. In the 1400s the castle was given to the Terzi Family and then to the Visconti one, but soon it was transferred back in the properties of the Pallavicino Family. They lived there until the 1828 when the Grossardi Family replaced them, followed by the Levacher Family and the Tanzi Family. Since 2001 the castle belongs to the municipality of Varano de’ Melegari. The castle as we see it today was built in the 12th century on top of an earlier structure. The tower is the oldest part of the complex and it was connected to the central part by a drawbridge, later replaced by a wall structure. The tower position made it possible to oversee closely the Pallavicino’s castle of Rocclanzona, which later passed to the Rossi of San Secondo and of which today there are only ruins left. At the bottom floor were located the old prisons and at the first floor there is a room that should have function of tribunal. At the second floor there were the accommodations of the castellan and at the third floor the servants’ ones. The top was characterized by the patrolling walkways. The castle is surrounded by a small garden and three towers open it to the village. The entrance is located on the side of the central one. As any proper castle, it seems that also in this castle is living a ghost of a very young girl named Beatrice Pallavicino.
In the high Taro Valley there is actually another castle, the Compiano’s one. The first information about it are dating back to the 1100 ca, when it belonged to the Malaspina and it seems like built in the 9th century. In the 13th century, the Landi Family took possession of the lands of both the valleys and kept its ownership until the end of the 16th century, time when it became part of the Land of the Farnese. When I took over as Duchess of the Land, I used its structure as State Prison. Right now, the castle belong to the municipality of Compiano. It has a peculiar structure: the shape is of an irregular quadrilateral, built around an internal patio with three towers. It has one access only, made of a bridge of bricks preceded by a semi-circular ravelin. At the Noble Floor there were the apartments of the Landi princes enthusiastically recovered by the Marchioness Lina Raimondi Gambarotta. It is thanks to her if today we can still see sculptures, tapestries, paintings, fireplaces, floors of the 1600s and ceilings of the 1400s. The castle is also headquarter of the International Masonic Museum. Objects, clothes, medals and paintings tell the Masonic English symbolism of the 1700s and the 1800s. One room is dedicated to the Italian Masonry.
The biggest municipality of both valleys, headquarter of the Mountain’s Community of the Taro and the Ceno Valley, is Borgo Val di Taro, generally called Borgotaro. It seems like the first foundation of the town is dating back to the time when all the territory belonged to the monasteries of Saint Colombano, and Torresana, the ancient name of the village, was one of the richest and widest possession of the Abbey of Bobbio. Thank to this richness, the families began turning independent and the village increased. However, they could not govern them-self, so they decided to submit to the municipality of Piacenza and then to the control of the Visconti. Since then many families followed one another, under the name of Dukes of Milan, until the affirmation of the Landi Family, whose properties were expanded on the territory of both valleys. They found themselves fighting against the Dukes of Genoa, the Doria, but they were never supplanted; however, their government was despotic and the people banished them in 1578. The Farnese Family took over, but the fights continued up to the 1646, when Borgotaro entered definitely being part of the Land of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, keeping a good independence level, due to its not very accessible position. During my sovereign, in the village were many masonic uprising, while during the World War II, on these mounts there were battles and oppositions actions of the Partisans against the German and the Salò Republic. Because of its participation in the Liberation War, the town of Borgotaro was awarded with a golden medal for military valour in 1983.
The town is very suggestive, placed in the middle of the valley. It has many monuments and building that deserves to be seen. There are the churches of Saint Anthony, Saint Domenico, Saint Rocco and Saint Christopher and the palaces: Boveri, Bertucci, Tardiani ones and the Palace of the Pretorio. Moreover, you can still see the ruins of an ancient castle of the medieval age. The territory of Borgo Val di Taro is famous for its porcini mushrooms, and every year in there are the best Carnival Parade of the entire province!
I really hope you enjoyed the tales of these valleys and you feel inspired of going visit and walk around these villages and trails.