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Brisighella

A town of SE Emilia-Romagna: 44°13N, 11°46E. Altitude: 115 m. Population in 2003: 7590.

[image ALT: A curving continuous façade of stuccoed buildings along a quite two-lane street; the buildings are all three stories plus a ground floor. The upper two stories have wooden-shuttered windows, but the story above the ground floor has a series of semicircular openings as far as the eye can reach. It is a view of one side of the Piazza Marconi in Brisighella, Italy.]

These medieval buildings in the Piazza Marconi conceal a secret!

I can put an exact date on my first acquaintance with Brisighella: May 20, 2003 when I was at home in Chicago and saw a brief television segment on the town on the Outdoor Life Network's live coverage of the Giro d' Italia bike race as it came pedaling madly thru. The aerial views of her, corseted into her pass between the Lamone River and three crags of mountains, two of them crowned with a medieval castle and the third with an old church, were stunning; and I decided I had to go there some day.

My opportunity came less than a year later. Although Brisighella can be reached by train — first stop out of Faenza on the way to Florence, a dozen times a day — the process was made much easier for me, as I was driven by kind friends who had never so much as seen me just three days before; the drive from Faenza, just 12.5 km NE, was an excellent way to get a feel for the landscape and therefore the strategic importance of the town: miles of very flat farmland suddenly give way to the gorges of the Lamone, and it is clear that Brisighella was a defensive outpost of the first order; those castles guard the road (that dates back to Roman times) from Faenza to Florence.

Archaeological excavations conducted in the cave of La Tanaccia, about 2.5 km NW of town, have shown the area to have been more or less continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period on. Yet no significant Roman remains have been found, and the first we hear of Brisighella is the bare record of a castle in 1178; the town seems to have started accreting around it in the late 13c, and the Manfredi family, lords of Faenza, soon took control of the place and built the Rocca we see today. In the Renaissance, a decade of turbulence saw Brisighella change hands three times: first to become a fief in 1500 of the famous Cesare Borgia, then passing in 1503 under Venetian rule, and finally in 1509 annexed by the Church; since then the history of the town has been that of central Italy. Brisighella today is an agricultural market town with some light industry and a spa recommended as a specific for ear nose and throat problems.


[image ALT: zzz. It is a view of one side of the Piazza Marconi in Brisighella, Italy.]

The Rocca Manfrediana, 1310 but very substantially reworked in 1457‑1466 — and with what frankly seems like a lot of restoration work going on in 2004. In the background, the Marian shrine of the Monticino. We're looking roughly NW, and as you can see from this view, the castle towers over the town, which otherwise is not 200 m away, barely off-camera lower right.

And continuing off-camera, this time about 300 m to the right:


[image ALT: A thin square crenellated tower appearing very small because it is high above the urban landscape of the rest of the photo, which shows a two-lane street of four- and five-story buildings receding into the distance. It is a view of the Torre dell' Orologio in Brisighella (central Italy), taken from the downtown area far below.]

[image ALT: zzz. It is a view of the Torre dell' Orologio in Brisighella (central Italy).]
Two views of the Torre dell' Orologio (Clock Tower), the second taken after a fair amount of walking, mostly uphill of course; together they give a good impression of how it dominates the town. The tower itself was built in 1290 but redone, to rather unfortunate effect, in 1850. Its tiny interior space houses a very slight museum.

If the civil architecture calls the more vivid attention to itself, Brisighella still has some churches to offer the visitor. The most important is S. Giovanni in Ottavio, a very old Romanesque church the current fabric of which is dated to the eighth or ninth century. The earliest surviving mention of it is dated 909, but it is locally said to have been founded by Galla Placidia (first half of the 5c) on the site of a temple of Jupiter Ammon, to which some faint support is given by its name, referring to the eighth mile of the Roman road from Faenza to Florence; its commoner name is Pieve del Thò — where a pieve is the traditional word for an outlying church: that, in turn, is why I didn't see it in my quick visit; it's about 800 m out of town to the SW.

The other churches in the immediate area are S. Pietro in Fognano (founded in 1464, but totally rebuilt in 1824); the porticoed S. Maria dell' Osservanza (1518‑1525); and Brisighella's parish church, the Collegiata of S. Michele, a large hulk of the late 17c, but with a pleasant interior, and housing a number of paintings older than the church as well as a marble baptismal font of 1547 bearing the arms of the Malatesta family.


[image ALT: zzz. It is a view of one side of the Piazza Marconi in Brisighella, Italy.]
The Collegiata S. Michele: this telephoto view from the Torre dell' Orologio captures clearly the Greek-cross plan of the church.

As you can see, my day trip with my friends gave me an idea of Brisighella, but by no means the whole story, which will have to wait for another longer visit some day; my diary entry for Mar. 29, 2004 gives a few further details and a couple more photographs. For more complete summary information, you will need to investigate the sites in the navigation bar at the bottom of this page.

Frazioni

Like most of the comuni in Italy, Brisighella includes in its territory some smaller towns and hamlets, of a few hundred inhabitants if that, with a certain administrative identity of their own: as elsewhere in Italy, these are referred to as the frazioni of the comune (singular: frazione, literally a "fraction"): a list of them follows, which I believe is complete. I haven't been to any of them yet, so any links will be offsite.

Boesimo • Casale • Castellina • Croce Daniele • Fognano • Fornazzano • La Strada • Marzeno • Monteromano • Pietramora • Purocielo • Rontana • S. Cassiano • S. Martino • Urbiano • Villa S. Giorgio in Vezzano • Zattaglia


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Page updated: 7 Apr 14