The Longobards reached Italy in 569, and passing Verona, eventually entered Brescia’s territory during that same year. Having reached Sirmio, today’s Sirmione, they took control of the Late-Antique walled civitas which dominated the lower reaches of Lake Garda’s territory, and headed for the area of Brescia from two different directions.
One contingent approached the city from the North, following a route which skirted the foothills to the south, the same route of expansion of Christianity during the Late Antique period, and dotted with significant productive structures which had risen close to the remains of the great Late Antique villas.
A different Longobard contingent had meanwhile chosen a southern route, which set out across the mid-plane area, heading towards the areas today occupied by the modern towns of Montichiari and Carpenedolo, and once past the Chiese river, towards Calvisano and Leno, finally electing to establish themselves in close proximity to the productive and habitation centres which existed in the surviving Roman villae.
Many towns rose in the area between the river Mella and the river Chiese: so far, nineteen are known to us, their presence mostly testified by necropolises. All are distributed at the same latitude, from east to west, in the territory of today’s Communes of Carpenedolo, Montichiari, Visano, Calvisano and Leno.
Instead, another large number of settlements (San Zeno Naviglio, Flero, Borgo Poncarale, Montirone, Bagnolo Mella and Manerbio) is scattered along a north to south axis along the via Cremonensis, and along the Garza watercourse and reveals how quickly the Longobards focused on the important communications artery which linked the cities of Brescia and Cremona.
The Longobards reached a city whose population had slumped, but although its habitations and urban layout downsized the city was still well defended, its power centres now rising close to the new Christian buildings, not far from the Late Antique palatium, which had become the new government seat under the Goths.
- THE NECROPOLIES IN THE DUCHY’S AREA
- THE ROTARI’S EDICT AND CULTURAL MODELS IN THE TERRITORY
- GEOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT OF THE CITY
- THE FRANCIACORTA AREA
- THE GARDA AREA IN THE LONGOBARD PERIOD
- NATURALISTIC FEATURES
The written sources concur with the geography of finds emerging from the most ancient Longobard necropolises. Both reveal a strategy dictated by the need to conquer and control sectors which on the one hand were crucial to the armed group’s subsistence, but which could also guarantee the group’s safety regarding the boundary constituted by the basin of the river Oglio. This boundary marked the limits of the territory under the rule of the Byzantines, who controlled Cremona for many years.
Excepting very rare traces of wooden buildings, the Longobard villages have completely disappeared. News of vast necropolises has offered attestation of the organizational assets and specific uses. The wealthy furnishings found in tombs excavated in the necropolises of Leno, Porzano, Milzanello, Calvisano and San Zeno Naviglio can be dated to the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century, and indicate the places in which these new arrivals built their villages.
The necropolises of Montichiari, San Zeno, Calvisano Santi di Sopra, and the settlements of Manerbio and Leno have surrendered furnishings which document the Longobard’s second settlement phase in the central and eastern area of the Lower Po Valley. This was characterized by the constitution of communities, when Longobard presence became firmly routed in the territory in question, and quickly amalgamated into the local population.
This is the context in which the rule of Duke Rotari matured. Rotari went on to become a legislator King, whose Edict constitutes a visible synthesis of an advanced integration process, which fuses Longobards and local population and seems to mirror the situation at Brescia. The coexistence of the powers exercised respectively by the Bishop and by the Duke, whose task it is to implement the indications contained in the Edict, contributes to diffuse certain cultural models which can be easily detected in the burials dating from the second half of the 7th century, and especially in the burials dating from the first half of the 8th century. The same cultural models are at the base of the widespread diffusion of religious buildings sometimes erected over 6th and 7th century centres, as exemplified by the Early Medieval Church of San Bartolomeo at Bornato.
The upswing of the integration process during the reign of Liutprand is marked by a large number of foundations of both churches and chapels, and from the mid-8th century onwards, by the founding of monasteries: first of all, the one at San Salvatore in Brescia, then San Salvatore at Sirmione, and San Benedetto at Leno, all due to the patronage of King Desiderius and of his relatives. At Leno in particular, in the time before his royal accession, King Desiderius had had a church built in honour of the Saviour, of the Virgin and of the Archangel Michael on his own land, close to the family palace.
In 758 the same Longobard King decided to institute the Monastery of San Benedetto ad Leonesclose to a private small church of the same name, and obtained from the Abbott of Montecassino twelve monks to be established there, who brought with them an important relic of Saint Benedict, while the same King brought to Leno from Rome the relics of martyrs Saints Vitalis and Martialis, a gift of Pope Paul I.
The geographical context of this further phase of Longobard establishment in the Brescia area is that in which the city forms the centre of a district including the Lower Po valley, from Sirmione to Palazzolo, whose Southern boundary is marked by the Oglio river, and the Northern one by the settlements rising close to the mining basins of the Upper valley of the Trompia river, and the Scalve river valley.
The area thus comprised many well identified settlements, distributed over much of the area, linked to Brescia and to each other by a network of communications, whose nodes can be deduced thanks to archaeological evidence, as well as art historical sources.
These allow us among other things to give a new interpretation of the statement made by Paul the Deacon, which refers to the presence of many noble Longobards in Brescia since the earliest phases. Up till now, this had been taken to mean only those present in the city, now we can instead take this to mean also those which resided in most of the surrounding area, and owned large estates there.
This is proved for example by documents dating from the mid-8th century, which refer to assets in the territory of Sirmione, or to estates in the lower Po Valley along the Oglio river, which belonged to the large real estate belonging to the two monasteries of San Benedetto at Leno and San Salvatore at Brescia, the latter being chosen by its founders, Queen Ansa and King Desiderius, as the final resting place of the Longobard Kings.
The surveys on the settlement and the institutional organization in the Garda area during the Longobard period already started by Gian Pietro Bognetti have led to an exhaustive, particularly rich historical and archaeological picture thanks to the excavations in burial areas and worship places.
The most important centre from a strategic and institutional point of view as well as for its historical documentation and material is Sirmione. It was the iudiciaria seat and theatre of the patrimonial vicissitudes of the royal warrior Cunimond and of Ansa’s attention to the Monastery of San Salvatore.
In Sirmione the traces of the Longobard past are clearly visible both in the built-up area (with the remains of the late-ancient walls and the worship buildings) and in the Museo delle Grotte where sets and elements of sculptural furnishings are shown.
The important site of the Church of San Pietro in Mavinas is now associated to the necropolis of Cortine that can be dated back to the first phases of the invasion and presumably pertaining to the villa of the Grotte di Catullo and to the findings of the early medieval builtup area.
The Church of San Pietro in Mavinas has been documented since the 8th century: the excavation revealed a first important building founded between the 5th and the first half of the 6th century and used as funerary church of the military élites established on the peninsula.
As for the last phases of the Kingdom the foundation by Ansa of the Monasteriolum of San Salvatore, which has recently been object of new excavation campaigns and arrangement, is quite remarkable.
The results of the historical and archaeological surveys on the area of the upper Garda, traditionally considered marginal, have revealed on the one hand complex geo-political dynamics with the probable maintenance of the control by the Byzantines, on the other hand have given back, for example with the excavation of San Pietro di Gardola, important evidences of the settlement between the 6th and 7th centuries. The hermitic settlements in caves are connected to the first aspect; it is a phenomenon explainable with border dynamics introduced by the Longobard invasion and comparable to other contemporary case all over Italy.
The most important site is the one relative to the Bishop of Brescia Ercolano, who took refuge in Campione because of the Longobard invasion. The analyses have confirmed the foundation of the site in the second half of the 5th century; so, it is associated with the contemporary settlements of Val Tignalga and of San Giorgio di Varolo.
The excavation of San Pietro di Gardola has given back a Church of the 6th century, where during the 7th century some privileged burials with precious elements of belt made of damascened iron were included; the discovery of such precious objects has enabled to draw the vast map of the cultural and material exchanges between the Longobard elites and the neighbouring peoples.
Once again, the archaeological surveys carried out in Franciacorta in the last ten years have revealed a territory rich in early medieval worship centres and burial areas that even though they are not characterized by dating elements can be framed within a late ancient early medieval period (Cortefranca, Sant’Eufemia di Nigoline and San Vitale di Borgonato).
San Bartolomeo di Bornato is particularly important since there the Roman villa sequence poor settlement of the Longobard period worship edifice with burials and the presence at Frankish Court of curtes of Santa Giulia, to which the presence of chapels with early medieval liturgical furnishings (Santa Giulia di Timoline) is connected, have been identified.
Moreover, Franciacorta has given back the so-called sarcophagus of Gussago actually slabs of presbyteral enclosure one of the very few anthropomorphic representations (a knight accompanied by the inscription Mavioranus or Mavi orans) of the sculpture of the Longobard period.
From the naturalistic point of view the territory of Brescia is large and highly diverse. It is noted for presence of three lake basins (Lake Garda, Lake of Iseo and the Lake of Idro), which have a strong vocation for tourism, because of the natural beauty of the area and of its cultural heritage, which ranges from Roman times (there are Roman Villas at Desenzano and Sirmione, as well as production plants at Lonato), up to modern times (the so-called Vittoriale degli Italiani, the former residence of writer Gabriele D’Annunzio at Gardone Riviera).
Three ample valleys called Valle Camonica, Valle Sabbia and Valle Trompia, all lead to the Alps.
They constitute a vast area where to enjoy mountain and winter sports, the area boasts extensive National Parks (called Stelvio and Adamello), towns of remarkable cultural and ethnographic interest.
In particular, in Valle Camonica there is a National Park of Rock face Artwork (Parco Nazionale delle Incisioni Rupestri) which was the first Italian site to be inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, as well as other archaeological sites dating back to Roman times, located at Breno and Cividate.