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The fortress of Cimbergo

The fortress of Cimbergo may be considered the most fascinating fortified ruins in Valcamonica. Its location, right above the Middle Ages village overhanging a gorge, made it technically unconquerable.
Moreover, such a position constitutes a considerably strategic choice in order to control a large key area in the Middle Valley. Data concerning the construction are unfortunately poor. Some information about the frequentation of the site can be indirectly inferred basing on some historic documents mentioning the structure. We have in fact information about a noble investiture ceremony held in Cimbergo in 1158, when Raimondo, the bishop of Brescia, gave the Cimbergo feud to the counts Pietro and Lanfranco Martinengo. Therefore it is likely that as early as the 12th century a fortified structure was built in the area where today there are the ruins of the castle. Another key moment in the history of the fortress was its demolishing, followed to a reprisal in Brescia in 1288 against the rebel feudatories of Valcamonica. In this period the Cimbergo feud passed from the rule of the Martinengo family to the one of the Guelph Antonioli di Grevo. Since this moment the loyalty of Cimbergo village to the bishop of Brescia would remain unquestioned, so that the Vicar Cazoino granted a “two parts of the side” investiture near the village of Zero, a small settlement once placed around the nowadays Chiesa delle Sante area (Capo di Ponte) and destroyed by a flood during the 13th century. The fighting between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines went on for awhile, alternating moments of seeming calmness and others of heated struggles over the whole period. In 1363 the Ghibellines completely destroyed some enemy fortresses, among which also Cimbergo. On the 12th of March 1378 the Cimbergo fortress was chosen as the seat of a peace treaty, even though the struggles would go on for some more decades. At the beginning of the 15th century the control over the county of Cemmo and Cimbergo was moved to Bartolomeo and Boccaccio della Torre di Cemmo, allied with the Visconti family in the war against the Malatesta family. Following various ups and downs, on the 11th of April 1441 the Cimbergo county was finally left to Paris Lodrone da Storo, whose offspring would maintain it until the 18th century.
The recent archaeological surveys give evidence of some essential data concerning the several construction phases. There are three main building stages which cover the period between the 12th and the 16th centuries. The visible part of the first phase is quite scarce and its structures were revealed only by archaeological excavations. The base of a 12th century building suggests the early presence of a squared tower with solid foundations, while further remains of thinner walls and parts of some rooms can be interpreted as a small religious space, a feature which is not unusual in this period fortresses. Most of the following construction stage (late 14th–early 15th centuries) is still preserved in fine conditions even in the standing walls and is nowadays well identifiable: it is composed of a perimeter wall, with at least four buildings leaning on it, and a tank dug into the bare rock and covered with a tunnel–shaped structure, whose only still visible part is the link. The ogive–shaped entrance portal shows, on the wall above it, the year 1404 and must have been preceded by a sort of “ravelin” (that is a wall defending construction placed in front of the entrances), whose only remnant is its base. Finally, the part of the fortress turned towards the village of Cimbergo must be related to the last construction phase (16th century). Archaeological surveys are still under way, but probably the castle spread even further downward with another perimeter wall, which nowadays partially rises in the grass around the central core. During the recent excavations led inside the building new data has emerged. Among these stand out a square stone stoup carved on its sides with various symbols, vessels remains of Veneto and Emilia manufacture (15th–16th century) and finally some burials related to the religious space.

The small fort of Paspardo

In May 2011, the “Consorzio delle incisioni rupestri di Ceto, Cimbergo e Paspardo” was promoting archaeological research to verify the presence of a small fort in the locality of “Castél”, a cliff overlooking the valley floor and visible from the Castle of Cimbergo.

In spite of the poor state of preservation and the perturbation of the stratigraphic layers, due to the putting in place of repeaters and the opening of an access road, the research brought to light the rests of many walls belonging to the castle and approximately dating back to the XIV century. It was possible to identify two different stages of construction: Stage 1 (XIV century): fortified walls and entrance portal; Venetian-type cistern to filter water, a building whose purpose is still unknown, fortified tower of the castle. Stage 2 (post-Medieval time): reuse and enlargement of the building and part of the walls. The archaeological research confirmed what suggested by the toponym, the presence of a castle developed on several levels, whose real dimension is yet to be verified. Furthermore, a thorough investigation in the archives could finally answer some pending questions: which family owned the Castle of Paspardo? Which kind of relations existed with the near Castle of Cimbergo?

Cerveno: the Sanctuary of the Stations of the Cross

During the 17th century at Cerveno, thanks to the will of the parish priest don Pietro Belotti, an artistic enterprise which would last more than one century was undertaken. The reasons hidden behind such an initiative must be found in the devotional stirrings inspired by the Holy Places of Palestine and by the Franciscan preaching, even if the work was commissioned and completely accomplished by the Cerveno community by herself.
It consists of a Sacred Mountain–type sanctuary placed inside the village next to the parish church. Belotti’s original intention was to charge Andrea Fantoni di Rovetta (by the same sculptor it is recommended to observe inside the parish church the box wood main altar and the choir, the altar dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary, the statue of the Immaculate Conception and a Dead Christ), but, following the death of Fantoni (1734), the parish priest in charge, don Andrea Boldini, passed the commission to the sculptor Beniamino Simoni (1712-1787). The construction went on over several decades so that the fourteenth and last Station of the Cross was accomplished only in 1869 by Giovanni Selleroni from Milan. Anyhow, in 1763 the work was already quite far ahead. By that time Simoni had already finished more than three–fourth of the work, missing only two chapels among the total fourteen, and some statues in the other Stations. Therefore the chapels from the first to the fifth and from the eleventh to the thirteenth must be attributed to Beniamino Simoni, while the remaining eighth, ninth and tenth would be later made by Francesco and Donato Grazioso Fantoni, who will deliver their works in 1765. The official opening was held in 1783, even if the last chapel was decorated with only the urn of the sepulchre containing the statue of the Dead Christ, today preserved in the parish building.
The route, differently from what happens in the other Sacred Mountains, is completely developed indoors so that the structure is usually called “Sanctuary of the Way of the Cross”. The building rises next to the parish church façade and from the back of the church nave it is possible to easily enter the sanctuary, which is placed perpendicularly. The structure of the “Mountain” is mainly due to the presence of stairs leading from a Station to another and to the cluttered stop landing in front of the sculpture groups. The latter are placed inside chapels separated from each other and open from both sides to the central space, which climbs till the last Station placed ahead on the top of the sanctuary. The central space is covered with brick vaults frescoed by the painters Bernardino Albricci, Paolo Corbellini and Giosuè Scotti, while inside the fourteenth Station there are other frescoes by Giuliano Volpi da Lovere. The statues are mainly in carved wood and painted, with some cases in stucco and others in half–relief, which means with figures coming out of the wall beside or behind the main characters. Every sculpture group has its own painted scenery, which harmoniously combine with the figures sculpted in the round and produces a very effective game of illusions. Such an artistic structure was designed to allow the devotee to practice with a deeper involvement the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross. This kind of “theatre of mercy” was originally conceived by the Franciscan friar Bernardo Caimi, who was the first, on his way back from the Holy Land, to have the intuition, following a vision, to build a “Sacred Mountain” at Varallo.
The life–size carved statues in Cerveno represents different characters of the Bible, some from the official Gospels and others inspired by a repertoire of human “types” whose origins can be traced back to Plautus works. The only image free from the stereotype is the Christ, who turns into a sort of mystical face. Therefore Jesus is represented following the canon of the “beautiful”, though maintaining a composed sorrowful expression. On the contrary his executioners, the other thugs and the Hebrews constitute a sequence of human types and a real “physiognomies catalogue”, a sort of social study made in pictures. It happened that at Cerveno, over the time, the statues were given specific names related to the action they are doing. Such names indeed, which must be traced back to the oral tradition, refer to “the man holding a stick”, “the man with the dog”, “the man of bile”, “the centurion”, “the merchant”, etc. The cruel nature of the executioners is underlined not only by the lively gesture of the sculptures but especially by the deformed features of their faces, which in this way seem to express the idea of ugliness linked to evil. On the contrary Saint John, the Magdalene and the Marys, embodying the “good” faction, are represented with classic and peaceful faces. The Sanctuary lives still nowadays on the enduring devotion of the Cerveno people, who once every ten years impersonate these characters (about 140 actors) and play a magnificent living Way of the Cross, an extraordinary evidence of the deep devotion which originated such a great sculpture work. In the village there is also a little Museum of the Way of the Cross, where documents of the previous editions are collected (the next representation is planned for 2012).

Capo di Ponte Romanesque Art

While visiting the rock art parks in Capo di Ponte the presence of some Romanesque Age buildings is immediately perceived, as they dominate the surrounding landscape: such constructions are the Pieve di San Siro (San Siro parish church) and the church of the Monastero di San Salvatore (San Salvatore Abbey). These two sites can be easily visited all the year long and do not present any particular problem of accessibility.

Pieve di San Siro

The San Siro church, whose care the parish priest is charged with, rises on a striking rock height 410 metres above sea level. The church, built between the 11th and 12th centuries, can be easily seen already from the highway. The stone building is indeed placed among the bare rock ranks, suggesting the impression of a fusion between the nature and the man–made construction. In order to enjoy and understand the full artistic value of the monument the visitor is suggested to watch it from a lower point. The best place may be the bridge on Oglio river in the centre of Capo di Ponte town, where it is possible to see the daring of the apse side, built literally overhanging the river. The church represents one of the best examples of the Lombardy Romanesque art, especially for its three apses, a main apse and two smaller ones on either side of it, and for the crypts under its floor, where it is possible to see part of the emerging rock. The building is reached after climbing some stairs ending in a grass front yard where a stone portal on the south side of the church opens and lets the visitor in. The church has no façade because its western side, where the structure leans against the rock, have enough room only for the 16th century bell tower. Therefore the façade has been placed on the side, where a magnificent portal was used as main entrance. The round arch portal is marked by a splay with columns and small square pillars, the latter refined with figurative elements carved in bas–relief. The fanlight shows stone elements representing flowers, geometric forms, amphisbaenas, mermaids, and the inscription “hinc deus intrantes ad te benedic properantes” (“May God bless those who, coming in, go towards Him”). The inside of the building is divided into three naves, closed between the three apses on one side and the bare rock on the other and skilfully carved in order to make some tiers for sitting. The central nave is covered with a wood ceiling. The floor in correspondence of the apses is raised in order to leave under them enough space for the crypt, where there are an altar, some frescoes and a vault supported by squat shafted columns completed by capitals.
On the walls of the church some fresco remains can be observed. It is worth mentioning a Virgin of the Crafts, which is quite rare in paintings of the period. Next to the latter there is a Baptism of the Christ which clearly refers to the Pieve institutional privilege of giving the First Sacrament to the neophytes. In the case of the Pieve of San Siro the rite was officiated using the considerably big stone font still preserved within the western nave.

Monastero di San Salvatore

Nowadays San Salvatore church should likely have been the core of a large Cluniac monastic microcosm, whose today visible remnants are limited to a few structures. The church, built towards the end of the 11th century, is now owned by Fondazione Camunitas, a private organization which has recently restored it so that it is now open to the public by booking. Evidences of the first existence of the building are given by some papal documents dating back as early as 1095, but its establishment and control must be attributed to the Cluniac monks so that the church has been considered among the best examples of the Burgundian Romanesque art. In spite of its position on a flat area the construction naturally combines in many points with the outcropping rock, as in the case of the San Siro church. Observing the simple façade with a central mullioned window it is possible to guess the presence of a nave and two aisles. The entrance portal is sober and decorated with only some bas–relief additions. On the contrary the three apses of the church are particularly noteworthy, as they look like rising directly from the bare rock. They are supplied with half–columns which mark vertically the architectural sections, while on the top there is a long non–stopping series of small arches, some of which are supported by the half–columns. A further element which articulates the walls is constituted by the round–arch single–lancet windows. It is particularly worth mentioning also the octagon–based dome which rests on the cross between the nave and the transept. Each side is marked by a mullioned window supported by a little column and a capital. These are typical architectural elements of the period and are often found in several Romanesque bell towers in the district. The inside covering is made of bricks and characterized by cross vaults. Following the style of all the Romanesque buildings in Europe the nave capitals are carved with figures drawn from the Middle Ages imagination: mermaids, animals, amphisbaenas and biblical characters. The walls were probably frescoed but today there are only some remaining portions likely dating back to the 15th century, among which it is worth mentioning a Virgin on the throne with Child, a knight saint and Saint Anthony abbot.

MUPRE-The National Prehistory Museum of Valle Camonica

In the National Prehistory Museum, housed in the old Villa Agostani in Capo di Ponte’s historic centre, a display of archaeological finds and the heritage of rock-engraved figures are combined into an integral expression of Valle Camonica’s identity.

Musil – museum of electric power

It’s the first Italian museum dedicated to not just industrialisation as a phenomenon but also society as a whole. The structure of the Museum stimulates a physical-rational-emotional participation: the body, the mind and the hearth work together in order to explain the transformation of a drop of water into electric power.

Valcamonica rock art – other sites open for the public

Currently rock art areas organised as Parks are eight and include some of the main and most interesting sites.

Established in different times the eight parks are marked by specific jurisdiction (city park, regional park, national park) and administrative arrangement (essentially public or private management). Therefore each park issues its own rules — according to largely shared guidelines defined by the State — and its own policy concerning opening hours and entrance management. Single disciplines must be checked case by case at the institution charged of the park administration. This apparent fragmentation is going to be more and more simplified as a coordination effort is taking place in these last years and involve all the concerned institutions (Ministry, local and district institutions, research institutes, etc.). Everyone are actively working together in order to produce shared and long–term projects aimed at promoting as a whole the unesco whl site n. 94 “Valcamonica Rock Art”.
Though all the rock art areas discovered up to now in Valcamonica should be actually considered World Heritage, the eight Parks cover the entire Valley and allow a complete view of the extension and variety of themes and periods offered by the engraving phenomenon at large. The suggested route for discovering rock carvings, being a single day or several days long, should include first of all a visit to the Middle Valley sites (the Capo di Ponte Park and the Natural Reserve of Ceto, Cimbergo, Paspardo), adding then the most important site in Low Valley (Luine) and, according to the interest degree and the available time, one by one the other described parks (Corni Freschi at Darfo B. T., Asinino–Anvòia at Ossimo, Sellero and Sonico).
Each of these eight parks can become a source of fascination and unique environment for those who wish to go deep inside the magic of prehistoric rock art. The present guide–book propose a route that touches all the eight parks, from Luine (Darfo Boario Terme) in the south to Coren delle Fate at Sonico in the north, and covers almost completely the Valley in its 70 km length. The visitor who would like to have a more exhausting idea about the surrounding of the different areas, is given the chance, using the “Nearby” notes, to stop along his route and visit some monuments particularly important from an historical or artistic point of view (such as Roman sites, Middle Ages churches, etc.) and placed right in the neighbourhoods of the described parks.