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The history of the Castle

History flows along the banks of the river . Lorenzo Molossi wrote in 1934, in his Topographic Vocabulary of the Duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, that the Trebbia is "one of the primary streams of these states, which has its cradle, common with Scrivia, on Mount Antola about 15 miles from Genoa [...]".

Welcome to the magical world of Rivalta, where history and nature intertwine in a timeless embrace. Overlooking the banks of the Trebbia river, this enchanting village contains centuries of fascinating events. In 1934, Lorenzo Molossi described the route of the Trebbia in his Topographical Vocabulary, highlighting how this river has witnessed multiple events. From ancient battles, such as that of 218 BC between the Romans and Carthaginians, to landscape transformations, Trebbia has forged the identity of this region.

These places have witnessed epic clashes, landscape transformations and dynastic changes. Historians still debate the exact path of the river over the centuries, but the essence of the past is still tangible in the evocative views from Niviano and from the escarpment of the waterway. Here, among homeland memories and ancient stones, the saga of the Landi, one of the most illustrious and ancient families of Piacenza, took place. From the first references to a corridor called "de Andito", this family has left an indelible mark on the history of Rivalta.

Through periods of political change and conflict, the Landi have forged the castle of Rivalta, transforming it into a sumptuous and strategic residence. From the centuries of contrasts between Guelphs and Ghibellines to the dynamics of the Napoleonic wars, this castle has witnessed many events that have shaped its identity. Today, thanks to the efforts of those who carried out the restoration and valorization of this heritage, we can immerse ourselves in a journey through time, exploring the frescoed rooms, the majestic towers and the fascinating corners of the castle.

Let yourself be captured by the magic of Rivalta, a place where the past is revealed through stones and nature, and where history continues to intertwine with modern life. Be welcome in this corner of Italy that will take you on an exciting journey through the threads of history and timeless beauty.

Discover the entire history of Rivalta by clicking below and downloading the free pdf "The History of Rivalta"

Surrounded today by a thick tree-lined garden, a sumptuous noble residence often chosen by the royals of England for a quiet, aristocratic holiday, the Rivalta Castle was, in times gone by, one of the most important military bastions of western Emilia. Announcing the arrival of the medieval walled village that encloses it is the profile, singular and unmistakable, of its "Torresino" impetus.

History flows on the banks of the river. Lorenzo Molossi wrote in 1934, in his Topographical Vocabulary of the Duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, that the Trebbia is "one of the primary streams of these states, which has its cradle, common with Scrivia, on Mount Antola about 15 miles from Genoa. It descends to Monte Bruno, to Piascino, to Campi, receives the Gramizzola stream, flows on the right side of Ottone, then drinks the Borica, passes under the Organasco bridge, bends towards the East and reaches a confluence with which it collects its great prole waters of the Auto stream; runs along the Piacenza border for a while up to below Calandrino, parish of Ozzola (municipality of Coli); there it turns north and with many upheavals it goes to greet the small town of Bobbio, having already traveled 40 miles of road: from Bobbio, turning north-east, it travels 2 1/3 miles and enters the Piacenza territory of the municipality of Coli a piè of Mount Spanna; it runs to ignore the waters of the Perino (formerly Brino), then moves to Travi and Rivergaro; from where turning north it runs to Rivalta; enters pompously, wide and menacingly into the fertile plain, recalling the ferocious battles that bloodied its waters...". It is in these places that the pitched "battle of Trebbia" between the Roman legions and the Carthaginian army of Hannibal Barca, during the Second Punic War, is said to have taken place in 218 BC, under the snow of the winter solstice. On a day in December "of exceptional cold and snow" specifies Polybius, Hannibal inflicted a heavy defeat on the Roman consul Titus Sempronius Longus: his militias blocked the Roman infantry in the muddy bed of the Luretta torrent and the Numidian cavalry, with the support of the archers, overwhelmed the Roman soldiers.

Today's maps do not coincide with the movements of the troops narrated by the ancient historians, Livy and Polybius. However, there are those who - convinced that the river has deviated from its paleochannel, moving a few kilometers to the west with the passing of the centuries - believe that the historical scenario still appears precisely legible from the small cemetery of Niviano, overlooking the escarpment of the course The water then moved away: “The Roman camp in Ankaran. The small valley towards Rivalta where Magone Barca [editor's note: younger brother of the leader who challenged Rome], before daybreak, positioned his knights for the decisive ambush. The Rivergaro meander, sudden, dry like the exchange of a train in a station, with the crystalline waters of the Trebbia bending west towards Rivalta and the Annibale field. It all adds up: Polybius was right..." (Rumiz, 2007). Not everyone, however, among historians, cartographers or simple enthusiasts of homeland memories, agrees on the shifting of the river bed. However, there is no shadow of doubt about the meaning of the name Rivalta: the expression clearly derives from ripa alta, the hill near which the epic clash on the Trebbia that opens our narrative was fought.

From garrison to castle:
stronghold of the high bank

Names of places close to Rivalta such as Niviano, Ottavello Settima Quarto are "military" toponyms, which lead back to the presence of columns indicating the distance in miles from the nearest urban centre, in the case of Piacenza. Precisely the toponymy has led us to believe that already in Roman times, due to the presence of the military road that ran through the Trebbia valley, a watchtower or a more structured defensive structure had arisen at "Ripa Alta", that is to say a real castrum with its garrison. After the fall of the empire, it initially became the seat of a Lombard "arimannia", a military institution made up of exercitales, the soldiers that the king installed in areas of strategic interest. He granted them lands characterized, usually, by a cultivable area, pastures and woods. The dedication of the local church to Martin, a particular saint dear to the Lombards, as well as the Franks, also led to this hypothesis. Subsequently, the garrison would become a Frankish stronghold, guarding the strategic position at the mouth of the Trebbia Valley, on the road that led to Genoa crossing the Apennines. As proof that a solid Lombard settlement had been present, still in 1106 we can read, in an act relating to water collection rights granted to the Piacenza monastery of San Savino, of a conduit which continued from the river, near Rivalta, through places already controlled by “arimanni” (from heer, army and mann, man): “quod pergit iuxta castrum Ripalte et per predia arimannorum…” (Direi, 1950). The evolution of the countryside in northern Italy, between the 4th and 7th centuries, had characteristics that made that historical period very interesting. A large part of the plain and the territories already cultivated by the Romans, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, returned to the forest.


The landscape became wild and everywhere began to be marked by woods and forests, not only mountainous, but also hilly and marshy forests, near the larger cities and villages. The uncultivated lands were not, however, deserted: loggers, hunters, fishermen, but above all shepherds frequented them, as part of a primitive silvo-pastoral economy, in which wild and semi-free grazing of sheep and pigs was significant. Indeed, the extension of the forests intended for the breeding of pigs was measured based on the number of animals that could be fed by spontaneous fruits such as acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts. In this regard, some documentary sources, such as the "polyptychs", the inventories of the assets of large monasteries of the time, provide valuable information, for example "est silva ad Sagginandum porco duo miles...", that is, "we have a forest that can fatten two thousand pigs... ”. Not only the forest, but also the human settlement reached notable altitudes, laying the foundations for the increase in inhabited areas which, during the Middle Ages, reached even higher. In a historical and environmental context of that nature, groups of free Lombard warriors, the "arimanni", settled in the border area between the current provinces of Piacenza and Parma, in the first centuries after their entry into the peninsula from the northern border -eastern, which occurred in Friuli in 568. They brought with them women, household goods and herds. Unlike the Romans, who concentrated their attention in the cities, the Lombards organized the social fabric in a widespread manner throughout the territory they were taking possession of and their people tended to become sedentary by organizing small journeys.
From the end of the 8th century, then, a type of management of land assets began to spread homogeneously, the curtense company, which, although it originated from pre-existing structures from the Lombard period, developed coherently only after the Carolingian conquest . The scenario changed again between the end of the 9th and 10th centuries, when fortified centers, castles, arose, destined to transform the previous territorial structures. Due to its importance in controlling the passage to the sea, some fortresses were built in the area: in the municipality of Gazzola those of Rivalta and Statto, on the left bank of the river, opposite that of Montechiaro and the destroyed castle of Rivergaro.

The fiefdom dispute:
from the Benedictines to the Landi

The first certain information on the castle of Rivalta dates back to the 11th century. Of these, the most distant in time are obtained from a donation deed of 1025. Subsequently, attestations are found in 1037 and 1048, the year in which Emperor Henry III of Franconia confirmed the donation of a part of it to the monastery of Benedictine fathers of San Savino di Piacenza. After almost three decades the rest of the complex also passed into the monastery, contributing to consolidating its wealth and authority. For about a century, the most important events involving the castle included sieges, partial demolitions and the succession of various owners. So in the 12th century, as appears in a document from 1164, Rivalta belonged to the Malaspina family, a family lineage that came to hold - at the moment of greatest success - control of a vast territory between Lunigiana and Emilia, including, as well as Rivergaro, the centers of Podenzano, Cortemaggiore and San Pietro in Cerro, in the Nure and Arda valleys. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, when the Papal State and the Empire disputed cities and feudal districts, the castle belonged to the "de Ripalta" family, levellers of the monastery of San Savino, whose abbot was a Landi from Cerreto. In 1255 the Ghibelline marquis Oberto Pallavicino, imperial vicar and mayor of the city of Piacenza, ordered its destruction similarly to other Guelph fortresses, loyal to the papacy. Then at the beginning of the 14th century, as lord of the village and the fiefdom, the figure of Obizzo or Opizzone Landi di Cerreto (second half of the 13th century-1329) appears in the documents, which the sources also indicate with the names Vergiuso, Vergiusio and Verzuso. The nobleman had purchased the castle of the same name from the Ripaltas and after having strengthened its defenses he entrenched himself, with an attitude of clear defiance towards the Duke of Milan and lord of Piacenza, Galeazzo Visconti. From April 1322, the Supreme Duke began to besiege the fortress "all around with bastions, ditches and fences" (Poggiali): at the end of eleven exhausting weeks Obizzo Landi had to surrender. However, he managed to escape. He later returned with papal troops, taking back Piacenza and the fiefdom.

In October of the same year, in fact, Obizzo banished his cousin Manfredo Landi of Castell'Arquato and Galeazzo himself from the city, wresting dominion from the Viscontis and entering with all the burdens, elected as rector by Cardinal Bertrando del Poggetto. If in the beginning the relations between Galeazzo and Obizzo had been excellent, so much so that in 1313 the former had become "perpetual lord" of Piacenza also thanks to the decisive support of the latter, the epilogue saw a decisive reversal of positions.
As a pretext for the "about-face", which was actually political, it seems that Landi cited jealousy over the repeated licentious proposals of his former associate towards his wife Ermellina Bagarotti (according to others Orsolina della Torre), remembered as a "very beautiful and honest female" . The episode has no basis in the documents and is indeed to be considered in all likelihood a fairy tale. Yet, in the 19th century, the story inspired Luigi Marzolini from Piacenza to write the historical novel Bianchina Landi or the expulsion of Galeazzo Visconti from Piacenza. Historical tale of the 14th century. The work, despite the prose cloaked in neo-Gothic romanticism, deserves to be remembered because it is certainly a mirror of the cultural climate of the time, which was rediscovering the Middle Ages as a period of spirituality, the Middle Ages as a period of spirituality and battles for the affirmation of peoples. In any case, since the fourteenth century, with the exception of brief and not very influential discontinuities, the Landi family, despite its different ramifications, has been the owner of the castle and the village of Rivalta, inseparably enclosed within the defensive walls.


Which Landis? From “de Andito” to Zanardi Landi

The Landi family - including that of the Zanardi Landi of Veano, the current owners of the castle of Rivalta - was among the oldest, most numerous and illustrious of the patriciate of Piacenza, as well as the only one to achieve, with the main branch, the dignity of princes of an "immediate" fiefdom of the Holy Roman Empire, that is, of sovereigns dependent solely on the emperor. The hypotheses on the origin of the lineage are various - as G.Fiori wrote - so much so that historians have not been able to identify the first ancestor that unites the various Landi branches, some of which took different surnames. The surname was initially "de Andito", which some chroniclers associated with an entrance corridor existing near the church of S.Maria del Cairo (now S.Apollonia): the first homes of the Landi are attested here. Members with this surname could be counted within the noble coterie as early as the 12th century, but they could not be connected to each other or to those who lived in the following century, from whom today's members of the gens certainly descend. Some of these Landi then gave rise to collateral family lines: more than one has survived to the present day, combining the common surname with the name of the place of residence (such as the Landi della Scala and the Gravago Landi) or the nickname or patronymic of 'an ancestor, like Volpe, Buffa, Barbarossa, della Monica, Zuccheri or precisely, Zanardi. The progenitor was, in fact, a "Zanardo de Andito", mentioned in deeds of 1198 and 1235. Even though they changed the name, they did not modify the original coat of arms with the blue band on a silver field. Only later did they add the "head of the empire": the term is used in heraldry to describe the black eagle on a gold field, placed in the part of the shield that occupies the upper third, which symbolizes loyalty to the emperor. If many of the first Landi were consuls (Bonizzone in Piacenza in 1132) or podestà (Ghislerio in Potremoli in 1197, Giacomo in Padua in 1210) and held high offices in other cities, the Zanardi were no exception.


In fact, they held authoritative public offices in the ancient Municipality of Piacenza, within the noble Pars militum, in antagonism with their Landi cousins who, although members of the aristocracy, were instead heads of the popular party. Everyone held up the emblem of the dynasty. Among the numerous figures of the family we remember: Rinaldo, "camerario" of the Municipality in 1210; the soldiers Oberto and Giacomo, who signed the “Peace of Cremona” with the popular party (1219); Ruffino, ambassador to the Pallavicino family in 1222. Divided into the main branches of the "counts of Veano", the "lords of Ottavello, then of Guardamiglio" and "di Pigazzano" (extinct), the Zanardi Landi came to own towers and villas over the centuries , also in Tuscany, and numerous castles, including Veano, Sarmato, Rivalta. Like the other branches of the Landi family, they also based their economic fortunes on mercantile and banking activities, also carried out internationally. They thus had at their disposal the wealth necessary to purchase vast tracts of land in the Piacenza and Parma Apennines. Since the thirteenth century, members of the Landian family expanded their possessions from Piacenza towards the mountains, the location of the trade routes, becoming lords of a key area of the territory located at the crossroads between Emilia, Liguria, Lombardy and Piedmont. An example is Ubertino Landi (around 1220-1298), who in the middle of the century, having acquired the territories of Bardi and Bedonia from various owners, heirs of the most ancient local feudalism, purchased from the Municipality of Piacenza the jurisdictional and fiscal rights on the lands and on the castles of the Taro and Ceno valleys, including Borgotaro and Compiano, which had already belonged to the Malaspina family. From his possessions, which were different among his nephews, the three branches of the Landi of Compiano, Bardi and Rivalta were formed. However, the connection with the main lines of other Landi families that reached the modern age is not established. The genealogy was first published in 1603 in Milan by Giovan Antonio Mariani. The work, Declaration of the tree and of expiry of the Landi house, previously called by Andito (...), is not free from errors, which subsequent authors and bibliographies have passively repeated. The inaccuracies were remedied by a chapter included in the volume The ancient families of Piacenza and their coats of arms (Fiori, 1979), taken up and integrated in the recent book Il castello e il borgo di Rivalta (2009) and also made accessible on the official website of the castle. For appropriate in-depth information not available in this text, please refer to those specific searches.

The Landi dynasty transformed the Castle and the Borgo

Returning to Rivalta, it should be remembered that Obizzo Landi, after conflicts with the Ghibelline party, remained in the service of the Pope as a leader until his death, which overtook him in Bologna in 1329. Only in 1336 were the Viscontis able to return to Piacenza. In 1412 it was therefore Filippo Maria, the last of the Viscontis to govern the duchy of Milan, who confirmed Manfredo III Landi's investiture with the title of count of the fiefdom of Rivalta, which he had already obtained from Giovanni Maria Visconti seven years earlier. Only to be deprived shortly thereafter of the possession, confiscated for lack of confidence in his submission and offered and offered to the leader Niccolò Piccinino, together with other fiefdoms in the Piacenza area. Manfredo IV (1429-1488), who managed to regain possession of it only after several years, in 1448, and only by force, was responsible for imposing restoration and embellishment works on the Rivalta manor, where he used to reside assiduously.
The next count was Corrado Landi. Just like the father, advisor and most faithful to the Duke of Milan, at the end of the fifteenth century, when the Milanese Visconti-Sforza lady was about to fall, under the threat of the kings of France Charles VIII and Louis XII of Orleans, as descendant of a Visconti, he claimed rights over Milan - he gave asylum in the castle of Rivalta to Cardinal Guido Ascanio Sforza, fleeing from the city. The soldiers of Louis XII, who entered Rivalta, captured both and took them prisoners to France; Corrado, freed, obtained the ducal license to hold a market in 1507 and this opportunity brought Jewish mercantile traffic and money changers to Rivalta. The commercial success achieved greatly favored the development of the village and put the locality in a position to become the capital of the municipality until the unification of Italy in 1861. In the 17th century, with the extinction of the princely branch of Bardi and Compiano (1682) , the Landi had to cede their fiefdoms to Duke Ranuccio II Farnese and renounce the rights to control the waters of the Trebbia, receiving in exchange the not very advantageous marquisate of Gambaro, in the Nure Valley. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, if on the one hand the Landi with distinct interventions transformed the castle into a sumptuous residence, on the other hand repeated war events involved the fortress. In 1636 there was a siege by six thousand Spanish soldiers led by general Gil De Has. In 1746, the looting by German soldiers of General Berenklau. Rivalta was also plundered at the end of the century in the second "battle of Trebbia". It happened in 1799, during the Napoleonic wars, when the Russian general Alexander Suvorov defeated the French troops led by the Bonapartist general – but of Scottish origin – Etienne Jacques Joseph Alexandre MacDonald. In 1808 the Landi branch, counts of Rivalta and marquises of Gambaro, ended with the death of the marquis Giuseppe. The ancient fortress passed to the Landi di Veano, descendant of Pietro Zanardi Landi, son-in-law of Opizzo Landi di Cerreto, who in the 14th century had been one of the great competitors in the hereditary division disputes. The rest is recent history: the systematic restoration and valorisation of the complex, culminating in the 1990s with the opening of the fortress to visits, are thanks to the current owners of the castle, witnesses and convinced followers of the impulse given to the recovery of the historic property, starting from the 1960s, by Count Filippo Zanardi Landi and his wife Francesca Vincenzina of the Ardissone marquises.

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