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Path of Da Carrara

(Villa Bragadin – Priuli – Soranzo – Petrobelli; Abbey of Saint Stephen’s; Castle of San Pelagio; Pontemanco)
An itinerary inside the Municipality of Due Carrare, to discover the origins of one of the most important dynasties of the Medieval Veneto: the Da Carrara. Lords of the city of Padua and its territory, which once extended far beyond the present boundaries of the province, figures of the first level in the politics of the 14th century, able to build a refined court, cultured and able to rival, also militarily, with the other city states of Northern Italy, starting from the neighbouring Venice. A path that covers above all the first part of the almost one hundred years of history, marked by the dynasty of Carrara in the ‘300, and which starts the ancient manor, today partly traceable in the complex of Villa Bragadin – Priuli – Soranzo – Petrobelli and in the nearby Villa Tondello and Capodaglio. These dwellings with the ancient Abbey of Saint Stephen’s, founded together with the homonymous monastery in 1027, by the first known member of the family, Litolfo, on the ruins of a pre-existing building, are undoubtedly the most important testimony of their political rise. In addition, important traces of the defensive structures of which the Da Carrara were promoters remain at Due Carrare. It is an important page in their history, which is justified by the expansionist ambitions that always characterized their government. The rivalries with the neighbouring cities, as in the case of Verona, ruled by the Scaligeri, posed the need to equip the strongholds of the territory with powerful walls and castles, which still today constitute the witness of the greatness of that distant past. The walls of Montagnana or the fortress of Valbona date back to the Carrara period and, to return to Due Carrare, the strong and powerful tower that stands out from the Castle of San Pelagio. The route ends in Pontemanco, where you can add another piece to the understanding of society and life of 14th century. Pontemanco, in fact, constitutes a clear demonstration of how much the water was at the base of the economy of the time: as a source of life, sure, but also as almost only motive force in the proto-industrial production.


The route starts from the Abbey of Saint Stephen’s, from where it is necessary to take the SP17 towards the town centre. After the town hall, in front of the church of San Giorgio we see on our right Villa Bragadin – Soranzo – Talpo – Petrobelli. The complex that, besides the palace, built at the end of the 16th century by the family Priuli and realized by Vincenzo Scamozzi, is formed by other buildings that constitute what can be defined as the Ancient Court of the Carrara. Turn left continuing on the SP9 that in a few minutes will lead us out of the town, in total safety. After passing the centre, in fact, you can take advantage of the bike path to proceed safely in our pedalling. Also the next Via Figaroli, where we will turn, to take it, is accompanied by a roadway destined for the two wheels. On the latter we will proceed until we meet the intersection with Via Saline, where we will turn left. It is a secondary road, with little traffic, which allows you to appreciate also the surrounding countryside. At the intersection with Via Verdi we turn right and continue between the crops until we cross Via San Pelagio where, once past the bridge above the A13, Bologna – Padua, we will bump into the Castle location of the Museum of Air. to get to the next destination of the route, we should turn back, crossing again the bridge above the motorway and proceed along Via San Pelagio for a few kilometres until you reach the roundabout, after which the road takes the name of Via Figaroli, and continue straight up to the intersection with Via Pontemanco where we will turn slightly to the right to take it. Once we pass the intersection with the SP9, we will find ourselves practically in the small medieval village. To return to the centre, you will then have to take the SP9 and then the SP17 to the Abbey of Saint Stephen’s where the route started.

Site sheets of interest touched by the route: 

Villa Bragadin – Priuli – Soranzo – Petrobelli
The complex of Villa Bragadin – Priuli – Soranzo – Petrobelli consists of numerous buildings. In addition to the Palace, overlooking the town square, and design and built by the Priuli to Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1597, in fact, contribute to the definition of the spaces a nucleus of buildings that constitute what we can define “Corte Antica dei Carraresi”. A Court that is extended, near the Villas Tondello and Capodaglio, that, in fact, incorporate the structures and the defensive elements of the ancient fortress. Of Villa Bragadin – Priuli –Soranzo – Petrobelli are again visible parts of the walls, two access fortress doors and the lodge where the Da Carrara conduced the family deals and exercised justice in this area which was the cradle of their house. The centre of Carrara, in fact, besides giving the name to this family of Lombard origin, became the centre of their action that extended in a very vast territory. It should be remembered that the Da Carrara were rural lords, that is bound to the land with possessions scattered from Pernumia to Bovolenta and Tribano to Conselve, up to Monselice. They owned mills in Battaglia, the Castle of Pernumia, boasted rights on that of Agna and possession of land extended up to Anguillara, on the Adige river. And the centre of his vast territory was their Castle in Carrara. The link with the rural municipality is also indirectly confirmed by the document of 1027, which informs of the important donations made by Litolfo to the Monastery of Santo Stefano and its subsequent destination as a family mausoleum. It is to this centre, that is entrusted the delicate task of preserving the memory of the house. Practice, among other things, that remained invaded for a long time, so much so that the remains of  Marsilium the Great, lived three centuries later, found burial still in the local church, reiterating that it was here that the Da Carrara felt at home.

Abbey of Saint Stephen’s, the mausoleum of the Lords of Padua
The Abbey of Saint Stephen’s, a jewel erected in Due Carrare in the vicinity of an early medieval oratory, is one of the oldest monasteries in the province of Padua. It is precisely to this place that part of the history of the Da Carrara dynasty is linked, since a document of 1027 attests that on that date a donation was made by Litolfo, the first known member of the family, for the construction of the monastery. The sacred walls became later also the Mausoleum of the Da Carrara and still a marble ark on the northern wall of the abbey preserves the remains of Marsilio, the second Lord of Padua who ruled from 1324 to 1338. Over the time the abbey experienced various hardships, such as the raid perpetrated in 1405 by the Venetians, after the extinction of the Carrara dynasty, and even the partial demolition of the abbey complex towards the end of the 18th century. Of that important ancient past only the bell tower, the ancient cemetery, the rectory, the house of the sexton, ‘una vera da pozzo’(closed protective railing around a well hole) of Istria and, obviously, the church that represents one of the few examples of Romanesque architecture in the territory. The interior of the latter, at the foot of the presbytery, preserves three large mosaic laces dating back to the X – XI century, with white and black tiles, with zoomorphic figures. Another element of originality is the bell tower: built two centuries after the refoundation of the whole complex wanted by Carrara, still retains, in the north wall, the traces of the original window system with single – double arched - trifora window (later fenced) and the ceramic basins on the small arches which make it a unique on the Venetian mainland.

Castle of San Pelagio
One of the consequences, still evident, of the Da Carrara policy in the Padua territory was the progressive fortification of the main strongholds. The expansionist aims but above all the aggressiveness with which they were conducted, required in fact adequate instruments. In his regard it should be remembered that the possibility that Padua could alternate Venice in the hegemonic role in the Veneto of that time, remained more than a hope in the hearts of the Lords of the descent, so much so that it was pursed on every occasion that circumstances favoured. Never worked. However, it was with the Scaligeri of Verona that the historic rivalry of the Lords of Padua was consummated and it was precisely to contain the excesses and intentions of domination of the whole territory that towards the end of the years ’30 of the 14th century, during the government of Ubertino Da Carrara, started an important policy related to the fortifications, involving Este with the construction of the Castle and the rearrangement of the manor of Valbona. A few years later, on the other hand, the completion of the wall of Montagnana and the construction of the tower that still surmounts the Castle of San Pelagio in Due Carrare. Just to mention the still existing fortifications of the territory. Here, in San Pelagio, only one of the various ‘belfredi’ (wooden lookout tower) that constituted the defensive system remains today.  Its impressiveness, however, suggests the impregnability of the place defended by large towers connected to each other also by underground passages: it seems that one of them reached the 2 km of length and constituted a way of escape, in case of siege, towards Mezzavia, fraction of Due Carrare. At present, as a result of floods and obstructions, the underground passages are not accessible. In the following centuries, when the defensive tasks of the structure were overcome by the reorganization of the territory, finished all under the rule of Venice, the castle was transformed. In the first decades of 1700 the property passed to the Counts Zaborra who greatly expanded the building, modernized the master wing to adapt it to stately residence and built the service buildings for agricultural use. Today the same spaces are dedicated to hosting the collections that make up the Flight Museum.

To understand the importance of water in the Middle Ages, it would be sufficient to consult some archives. You will notice that most of the secondary water supply was built in those times. Very often with the purpose of reclamation, but also with the plan to create real transport routes. This is the case of the area surrounding Due Carrare. It suffices to think that between 1189 and 1201 was realized the Battaglia canal that allowed to reach Monselice and Este, and, through the restored canal Cagnola – Pontelongo, also the lagoon near Chioggia. In the same years, moreover, was realized the very direct Padua – Venice with the excavation of the Piovego that connected the city to the Brenta and then the lagoon to Fusina. Through the waterways, in fact, agricultural products were transported from Padua to Venice, cereals in particular, and the trachyte that was loaded into the port of Lispida. From the lagoon came the salt, while from Venice came passengers and exotic luxury products. The economy of the Middle Ages, in short, ‘worked on water’. And until the industrial revolution it was the only driving force available, along with the animal. From the earliest times, therefore, attempts were made to use the hydraulic force to set in motion mechanisms that relieved the effort of men. They were used in particular to operate hammers and saws in carpentry workshops, in the production of fabrics, papers, as at Battaglia Terme or the grinding of grain, like at Pontemanco. But not just these. Here, in fact, the small jump of the waters of Biancolino, branch of the canal Battaglia, was sufficient in the pre – industrial centuries to operate the machinery assigned to the carding of hemp, ice production, cutting and processing of wood. The oldest information about the mills dates back to the time of Carrara, and more precisely to 1338, when they were mentioned in the will of Marsilio Da Carrara, but the activity stopped only last century. To imagine Pontemanco at that time also means to imagine a village with houses and ‘casoni’ (large modern building with many popular apartments) which became the homes of the workers of the mills and the workers of the induced ones like carpenters and smiths, who settled gradually with their families, together with those of the figures deputized to river transport  as the mares, boatmen, the blacksmiths, thus completing a unique functional model of settlement, around production and trading.