NEWS » Region in Focus - Piacenza
Region in Focus - Piacenza
For a historical taste of Italy it can only be Piacenza
Bursting with fine arts, splendour and bordering the picturesque Italian Riviera in the north of the country, it’s small wonder Piacenza is loved by Italians.
For centuries Piacenza was a town of great political significance, thanks in part to its easy links to Bologna, Milan, Brescia, Turin and Genoa. As a result, over the years it’s been known for culture during peacetime, or the focus of conflict during war. But arguably one of the city’s greatest claims is for being the birthplace of pancetta, salami, and coppa, which have been exported all over the world for centuries.
Interestingly, Piacenza is more commonly known by it’s Latin name, Placentia and has a history of settlements dating right back to the Roman Empire. The name Placentia originates from the Latin placere, literally meaning ‘to please.’ Easy to see then why over 100,000 people call Placentia home.
But the people of Placentia have not always had an easy time and the city has suffered intense conflict.
Founded as a military base by the Romans in 218 BC after defeating the Gauls, the inhabitants hoped for peace and harmony. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, after further battles with the Gauls, the region was conquered by the Lombards in the sixth century and became a duchy seat.
From then on it enjoyed a relative period of peace until the 12th century where the city battled with Emporor Frederick Barbarossa, before falling under the power of Germanic invaders.
Thankfully, Piacenza didn’t let this animosity stop it flourishing and continued to thrive economically largely due to it’s booming farming movement.
During this time Piacenza was ruled by France and in 1802, was annexed to the French by Napoleon.
This had a devastating affect on the city as many of the city’s great artworks were taken back to France where they are still exhibited today, including a picture of St. Conrad by Lanfranco, that hung in the city’s beautiful ninth century cathedral that was remodeled by Santa da Sambucet.
Finally in 1848 Piacenza was ruled Italy, but peace still remained at large.
During World War II, the city’s excellent transport link were recognized by Allied forces and as a result the city was heavily bombed.
Key roads, bridges and railway lines were destroyed. During the Allies’ Operation Mallory Major, 90 bridges East of Piacenza were destroyed over a week which hit the city hard as without these bridges the Italians had no way of transporting food or soldiers.
But the Piacenza people didn’t give up, and in recognition of the city’s heavy losses during the war, President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro presented Piacenza with the Gold Medal for Valour in Battle in 1996.
With a host of palaces, galleries and gardens to choose from you’ll be spoiled for choice in Piacenza.
Construction on this massive palace began in 1558 for the Duke of Parma but sadly was never finished. However, this building is nothing short of breathtaking, and is currently home to the Pinacoteca, which hosts the Duke’s collection of artworks. There are also four other museums, on weaponry, carriages, Italian unification and, in the main one, the Museo Civico, the Etruscan Fegato di Piacenza, a sheep’s liver in bronze that was used to predict the future!
AKA il Gotico, stands in the Piazza Cavalli; this beautiful palace was built in 1281 and originally housed the government.
These days visitors flock to see one of the best-preserved examples of the kind of Medieval civic building complete with five arcades in pink marble. The main hall has frescoes, and although only the northern side was completed, it’s nevertheless impressive.
Worth a visit in itself, this main town square is a striking plaza and named Cavalli, (which means horse), after the two bronze equestrian monuments that show Alessandro Farnesse, Duke of Parma and Piacenza from 1586 and his, nephew and son Ranuccio, who succeeded him to the dukedom.
This catholic cathedral built between 1122 to 1233 is thought to be one of the most exciting examples of a Romanesque cathedral in the country. Just like the Palazzo Comunale, it boasts a façade of pink marble and is decorated with Romanic statues. Inside, noteworthy frescoes, made in the 14th-16th centuries by Camillo Procaccini and Ludovico Carracci, wow tourists and locals alike.
Built in the 11th century, this eye-catching church is home to an octagonal tower that claims to be oldest of it’s kind across the country. Not only that inside it contains frescoes by Camillo Gervasetti.
Home to Salami, Pancetta and Coppa – it’s easy to see why Piacenza is famous for it’s cuisine. Try one of these restaurants next time you’re passing for a true taste of Italy.
Antica Trattoria Dell’Angelo – for local fizzy red wine
Antica Osteria del Teatro – for delicious pork
Restaurante Vecchia Piacenza – sublime local dishes
Trattoria Regina – perfect pasta every time
Le Tre Ganasce – for excellent grilled local meats
The famous five
Piacenza’s spawned more than it’s fair share of famous faces
- Giorgio Armani – Celebrated fashion designer
- Filippo Inzaghi – world-cup winning footballer
- Giuseppe Merosi - critically acclaimed car engineer for Alfa
- Giorgia Bronzini - champion cyclist , won 2010 UCI Road World Championships.
- Ettore Gotti Tedeschi - President of the Vatican Bank.
In Profile – Bar Italia
It’s the most iconic café in London, famed for super coffee and celebrity fans. But the Polledri family from Piacenza have never forgotten their roots and their coffee shop is still a home from home a home for Italians.
When Luigi and Caterina Polledri took over Soho’s Bar Italia in 1949, they had no idea just how successful their coffee shop would be.
Just after the war, they wanted to make sure Italian immigrants like them had somewhere they could call home, and most of all could get a decent cup of coffee. Their blend of coffee was , provided by Omero Angelucci whose special blend of coffee was so popular it’s still served in Bar Italia today, 62 years later.
The story of Bar Italia began in 1920 when the Polledri’s arrived in London and set up a cafe in Covent Garden for the porters who worked at the market. Following the war, they recognized Londoners not only needed a great cup of coffee, but the Italian community needed a form of social centre.
Soho was full of Italians and for Luigi and Caterina, there was no better place for a coffee shop and it wasn’t long before Bar Italia became a place filled with Italians who caught up with other Italians, and also exchanged news.
Yet Luigi and Caterina recognized the Bar had star quality, and wasted no time getting other stars to publicise their bar. They invited Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to cycle along Frith Street to advertise Bar Italia, and in another publicity stunt offered a Baby Gaggia as a prize to whoever could drink the most coffee; a competition won by a little old lady!
In the seventies, Bar Italia was passed down to Luigi and Caterina’s son, Nino to run, before handing it over to sons Antonio and Luigi, and sister Veronica alongside the neighbouring Italian restaurant Little Italy.
Yet Bar Italia’s star presence grew. Sade shot her album cover, Smooth Operator at Bar Italia while David Bowie, Kylie Minogue and Harvey Keitel are regularly welcomed with open arms.
But for the Polledri family, Italians’ are at the forefront of their business. The moment you walk inside, you’re confronted with a huge picture of Rocky Mariano, given to Nino by Rocky’s wife Barbara after Rocky was killed in a plane crash in 1969. The two were great friends, and Rocky was no stranger in the Polledri house where Nino’s family made him his favourite risottos and polenta.
It’s a tradition that shows how important Italian heritage is to Bar Italia, and if anyone knows that it’s football fans.
‘It's where any second- or third-generation Italian wants to be when Italy is playing football.’ Antonio explains.
And it was certainly a night to remember after Italy won the 2006 World Cup.
‘We had a party upstairs in our Little Italy restaurant next door to Bar Italia and threw all the pasta out the window like confetti. It was hilarious. The chef came in the next day and there was nothing left. ‘
Find Bar Italia at www.baritalia.com