Brescia

Brescia Cathedral
Old and New Cathedral

The ancient city of Brixia, Brescia has been an important regional center since pre-Roman times and a number of Roman and medieval monuments are preserved, among which is the prominent castle.

The city is at the center of the third-largest Italian industrial area, concentrating on mechanical and automotive engineering and machine tools. Its companies are typically small or medium- sized enterprises, often with family managements. The financial sector is also a major employer, and the tourist industry is important as well, given the proximity of Lake Garda, Lake Iseo and the Alps.

Ancient history

Different mythological versions of the foundation of Brescia exist: one assign it to Hercules, while another says that it was created as Altilia (“the other Ilium”) by a fugitive from the siege of Troy.

According to a further one, the founder was the king of the Ligures Cidnus, who had invaded the Padan Plain in the late Bronze Age. Other scholars attribute the foundation to the Etruscans.

Invaded by the Gauls Cenomani, allied of the Insubri, in the 4th century BCE, it became their capital. During the Carthaginian Wars Brixia was usually allied of the Romans: in 202 BCE it was part of a Celt confederation against them, but, after a secret agreement, changed side and attacked by surprise the Insubri, destroying them. Subsequently the city and the tribe entered peacefully in the Roman world as a faithful allied, mantaining a certain administrative freedom. In 89 BCE it was recognized as civitas (“city”) and in 41 BCE received the Roman citizenship. The Roman Brixia had at least three temples, an aqueduct, an amphitheater, a forum with a further temple built under Vespasianus, and some baths.
Brescia Foro Romano
Foro Romano
When Constantine advanced against Maxentius in 312, an engagement took place at Brescia in which the enemy was forced to retreat as far as Verona. In 402 the city was ravaged by the Visigoths of Alarich I. During the invasion of the Huns under Attila, the city was again besieged and sacked (452) while, some forty years later, it was one of the first conquests of the Goth general Teoderich the Great in his war against Odoacer.

Brescia

Medieval history

In 568 or 569 Brescia was occupied by the Lombards, who made it the capital of one of their semi-independent duchies. First duke was one Alachis, who died in 573. Later dukes included the future king Rotharis and Rodoald, and Alachis II, a fervent anti-Catholic who was killed in the batte of Cornate d’Adda (688).

The last king of the Lombard, Desiderius, had been also duke of Brescia. In 774 Charlemagne captured the city and ended the existence of the Lombard kingdom in northern Italy.

Notingus was the first (prince-)bishop (in 844) who bore the title of Count (see Bishopric of Brescia). Later the power of the bishop as imperial representative was gradually defied by the local citizens and nobles, Brescia becoming a free commune around the early 12th century.

Subsequently it expanded in the nearby countryside, first at the expenses of the local landholders, and later against the neighboring communes, notably Bergamo and Cremona. Brescia defeated the latter two times at Pontoglio, and then at the Grumore (mid-12th century) and in the battle of the Malamorte (1192).

In the successive struggles between the Lombard cities and the emperors, Brescia was implicated in some of the leagues and in all of the uprisings against them. In the Battle of Legnano the contingent from Brescia was the second in size after that of Milan. The Peace of Constance (1183) that ended the war with Frederick Barbarossa confirmed officially the free status of the commune. Memorable is also the siege laid to Brescia by the emperor Frederick II in 1238 on account of the part taken by this city in the battle of Cortenova (27 November 1237). Brescia came through this assault victorious. After the fall of the Hohenstaufen, republican institutions declined at Brescia as in the other free cities and the leadership was contested between powerful families, chief among them the Maggi and the Brusati, the latter of the (pro-imperial, anti-papal) Ghibelline party.

In 1311 Emperor Henry VII laid siege to Brescia for six months, losing three-fourths of his army. Later the Scaligeri of Verona, aided by the exiled Ghibellines, sought to place Brescia under subjection. The citizens of Brescia then recoursed to John of Luxemburg, but Mastino II della Scala expelled the governor appointed by him.

His mastery was soon contested by the Visconti of Milan, but not even their rule was undisputed, as Pandolfo Malatesta in 1406 took possession of the city, but in 1416 bartered it to Filippo Maria Visconti, who in 1426 sold it to the Venetians.

The Milanese nobles forced Filippo to resume hostilities against the Venetians, and thus to attempt the recovery of this city, but he was defeated in the battle of Maclodio (1427), near Brescia. In 1439 Brescia was once more besieged by Francesco Sforza, captain of the Venetians, who defeated Niccolo’ Piccinino, Filippo’s condottiero. Thenceforward Brescia acknowledged the authority of Venice, with the exception of the years between 1512 and 1520, when it was occupied by the French armies. It subsequently shared the fortunes of the Venetian republic until 1796.

Modern history

After the end of the Napoleonic era, Brescia was annexed to the Austrian puppet state called Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. It distinguished for the revolt called the Ten Days of Brescia (march 1849), for which the poet Giosuè Carducci called it “Leonessa d’Italia” (“Italian Lionesse”).

Brescia was annexed to Italy in 1859.

The city was awarded a Gold Medal for its resistance against Fascism, in the late World War II.

On May 28, 1974, it was the seat of the bloody Piazza della Loggia bombing.Brescia Piazza della Loggia
Piazza della Loggia – Photo © AG

Main sights

  • Piazza della Loggia, an noteworthy example of Renaissance piazza, with the omonymous loggia built in 1492 by the architect Filippino de’ Grassi.
  • The Duomo Vecchio (“Old Cathedral”), erected in the 11th century and containing works by Palma the Younger, Alessandro Bonvicino, Romanino and others.
  • The Duomo Nuovo (“New Cathedral”). The main attractions is the Arch of Sts. Apollonius and Filastrius (1510).
  • The Broletto, formerly the Town Hall.
  • In Piazza del Foro is the most important array of Roman remains in Lombardy. These include the Capitoline Temple, built by Vespasianus in 73 CE.
  • The Basilica of San Salvatore, dating from the Lombard age but later renovated several times. It is one of the best example of High Middle Ages architecture in northern Italy.
  • Santa Maria dei Miracoli, with a fine facade decorated with bas-reliefs and a Renaissance peristilium.
  • The Romanesque-Gothic church of St. Francis.

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Brescia Province

The presence of the lakes in the eastern zone of the territory provides for a specially moderate climate, notwithstanding the latitude and allows the cultivation of vines, olive-trees and citrus fruits, specially on the shore of Garda Lake; it achieves a dainty and renowned production of wines (Franciacorta, Classic Garda, Lugana, San Martino of the Battaglia) and of extra-virgin olive-oil (Oil of Garda DOP) that are accompanied with the other products and typical dishes: cheeses, cold cuts, polenta, casoncelli (ravioli with different stuffed from zone at zone), fish of fresh water, frogs and snails.