The earliest traces of mankind in the area around Parma have been found on the quaternary fluvial terraces of the hills near Traversetolo, dating back to the Mousterian period of the Lower Paleolithic (100,000 – 35,000 yers ago). Upper Paleolithic sites (35,000 – 10,000 yars ago) have been found in the Taro and Ceno valleys. The main Neolithic settlements (4,500 BC) were in the lower-lying areas at Mamiano, Collecchio and Santa Margherita di Fidenza. Eneolithic burial chambers (2,700 – 1,800 BC9) have also found at Collecchio.
The Bronze Age saw the widespread use of terramara, from terra mara or terra marna: farming settlements on mounds of black, oily earth (or marl, a good fertilizer) forming quadrangular units enclosed by dikes and ditches linked to a waterway.
The best examples of more than fifty that have been found are at Castione Marchesi, Borgo Valorio di Parma and Castellazzo di Fontanellato.
Celtic occupation in the second half of the 4th century did not extend into the Apennine area, which was firmly controlled by Ligurian tribes until their supremacy was weakened by the crushing forces of the Roman army in the early 2nd century BC. The numerous prehistoric walled settlements, or castellieri, that have been found at Norciveglia on the slopes of Mt. Pelpi, d’Umbria and Rocchetta Metti (Bardi), Costa delle Case (Ponteceno) and Rocca Casali (Bore), provide a record of local defense systems.
The roman conquest and land reorganization
With the defeat of the Gauls in 191 BC and the construction of the via Emilia (187 BC) the Romans began to take over the area. The reorganized, centuriated plain was used for agriculture, and sheep farming became a major activity that continued right up to the 18th century.
Livy (Titus Livius) tells of the simultaneous foundation in 183 BC of Parma and Modena, where 2,000 families were settled. Archaeological remains have come to light in Parma and Fidenza, where the ancient town layouts survive; other vestiges of Roman life in the area include the country villa at Felino, the kiln at Sala Baganza, what are believed to be Roman bridges at Corniglio and Santa Maria del Taro, and the remains of a Roman bridge at Fornovo di Taro.
The Via Emilia, restored by Augustus, was the main artery of communications (remains of a Roman bridge where it passe
d over the Parma river and a Roman bridge over the Stirone at Fidenza survive), from which a series of major roads branched off.
Parma occupied a strategic position at the intersection between the Roman road (running east – west) and the pre – Roman transapennine route connecting Luni and the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Po and the Adriatic.
Two roads led to Tuscany and the Tyrrhenian Sea: Via Claudia – which later became the main Mt. Bardone road – and the Parma – Lucca highway, which ran up the Enza valley to the Pradarena (or Ospedalaccio) pass, down to the Lunigiana and Garfagnana regions, and from there to Lucca. Another important link was with Brixellum (present – day Brescello), a major river port on the Po where ships connecting Ravenna with Pavia and the Po valley changed crews.
Parma, which was rebuilt by Augustus after its destruction in 44 BC, reached its height in the Imperial period and the title Julia was conferred on the city in the 1st century AD, in recognition of its loyalty to Rome.
It became an episcopal seat in the 4th century when its land was drawn into the tangled conflict that led to the breakdown of Roman state organization, Barbarian invasions and prolonged war between the Goths and the Byzantines.
The middle ages and the age of the communes
The city, which was renamed Crisopoli in the Byzantine period (553 – 568), was later conquered by the Longobards (569) and became a duchy ruled in 603 by a chamberlain who in turn was nominated by the king. A new communications system was laid over the Roman pattern, differing from it in some parts and coinciding with it in others. It was in this period that the Mt. Bardone road was created, the Parma stretch of the Via Francigena.
Castles and hospices offering hospitality and assistance to pilgrims and wayfarers, such as the one founded in 712 by the Longobard king, Liutprand, at Berceto, sprang up throughout the area. In the 15th century there were 49 hospitals in Parma, 12 along the Apennine ways, 18 on the Via Francigena, 12 in the valley and 6 along the Via Emilia. With the arrival of the Franks (774) Parma became an administrative capital.
The area was fraught with danger after a series of devastating, cataclysmic events in the High Middle Ages; rivers flooded the plain and uncultivated land and woods spread. It was not until the 9th century, with the appearance of a string of mostly Benedectine monasteries (Valserena, Certosino, Fontevivo, Chiaravalle, and Colomba to the south, and Sanguigna to the north) that any real efforts were made to reclaim the land so that it could be settled and farmed once again.
The bishops gradually assumed temporal control and Parma took on a leading role in the investiture controversy. It took the side of the Holy Roman Empire in the dispute between the lay and ecclesiastical powers and produced two antipopes: Honorius II (ruled 1061 – 72), Bishop Cadalus, lord of the city and founder of its Cathedral, and Clement III (1080 – 1100), Bishop Guiberto.
The Via Francigena became an international thoroughfare, used by pilgrims and traders alike. Fortifications were an increasingly common sight and a network of parish churches grew up, the gathering places in a complex system of towns and scattered clusters of houses. At its hub lay Parma, ensuring stability and control.
The establishment in 1106 of the Comune, or indipendent municipal authority, marked the rebirth of the city after its break – up in the early Middle Ages. The Peace Treaty of Constance (1183) was followed by a rekindling of disputes with the neighboring municipalities of Reggio, Piacenza and Cremona over control of the Po river, which was linked to Parma by the naviglio canal system.
The seignoral age
The decline of the Comune and the internal strife caused by the struggle for supremacy between the pro-papal families (Sanvitale, Rossi and Lupi) and the Ghibellines, resulted in the defeat of Emperor Frederick II in 1248.
The early 14th century saw a period of grave political crisis induced by factional fighting (especially between the Rossi and the Da Correggio families) and of widespread social and economic misery, which culminated in the Great Plague of 1347.
Power changed hands several times before Parma was eventually seized by the Visconti family in 1341, after which control passed to Philip Maria (1420) and – following a brief interlude of indipendence under the Terzi princedom (1404-09) – to the Sforza (1440-1500), which ruled the area through various noble families (Pallavicino, Rossi, Sanvitale and Da Correggio).
These powerful dynasties reintroduced a feudal form of particolarism, strengthening their seats of local power by acquiring land and building castles, creating rural dominions to which the central authorities were forced to grant privileges and immunity.
Sharecropping, a practice that had been widespread since the 14th century, was seriously threatened as these dominions took root. Vast tracts of land were to all intents and purposes indipendent states.
From 1257 to 1682 the Landi family governed the Upper Taro and Ceno valleys with the magnificent strongholds of Bardi, Compiano and Borgo Val di Taro (from 1551); the Pallavicino family, which had gained Borgo San Donnino (Fidenza) in 981, occupied the whole western band of the present-day province from the hills to the Po, and set up capital in Busseto.
Curiously, the feudal control exercised by these families in the area around Parma for centuries survives in some cases to the present day. Apart from the Landi family in the Apennine and foothill regions, the Fieschi family controlled Albareto (12th century-1547), Borgo Val di Taro (13th century-1547) and Calestano (until 1650), the Rossi family Corniglio (13th-17th century), the Pallavicino family ruled over Solignano (1249-1805) and Scipione (16th century-1776), and the Sanvitale family over Sala Baganza and Fontanellato (14th – 18thcentury). Down in the plain the Torelli family held Montechiarugolo (1406-1612),the Meli Lupi Soragna (dal XV secolo fino ad oggi), the Sanseverino Colorno (1458-1612), the Rossi family also controlled San Secondo(14th – 19th century).
The Church too held vast areas of land for centuries, including the valleys and courts of Monchio (from 941 to 1805) and Mezzani (from the early Middle Ages to 1763). Between the 15th and 16th century Parma was the theatre of various European conflicts: Fornovo, for example, was the scene of the famous battle between Charles VIII of France and the Italian League forces commanded by Francesco Gonzaga (5-6 July 1495).
The city was ruled by the French from 1500 to 1521 (with a brief interlude of church control from 1512 to 1515), followed by another period of church rule until 1545.
The Farnese duchy
In 1545 Pope Paul III made the new political region of Parma and Piacenza over to his favorite son Pier Luigi Farnese in an attempt to create a buffer region between the Church State and Spanish power in Lombardy. It was the beginning of a dominion which, thanks also to the family’s enormous wealth, lasted for two centuries.
Pier Luigi moved the capital to Piacenza, but was assassinated in 1547 and the two cities were occupied in the emperor’s name. Duke Ottavio successfully won back first Parma in 1550, and then Piacenza in 1556. Ottavio II (1547-86) did much to consolidate the state and limit the power of the nobles, and also carried out radical structural reforms to make the city worthy of its status as a capital.
Duke Alessandro I put the governing powers into the hands of Ranuccio I (1592-1622), under whom the structure of the state was established. In 1594 the constitutions were drawn up by the powers of the Council of Justice; the university expanded and the College of Nobles was founded. The war against the petty feudatories continued, culminating in 1612 in the execution in Parma’s main square of Barbara Sanseverino and six other nobles accused of conspiring against the Duke.
After taking control of the domains of the Pallavicino family in 1588 and those of the Landi family in 1682, the House of Farnese had taken over the entire Parma region by the end of the 17th century. One of the projects begun under their rule was the radical transformation by Ferdinando Bibiena of the Sanseverino family’s castle in Colorno, which became a sumptuous residence.
The Bourbons and Marie-Louise of Austria
With the death of Antonio in 1731 the Farnese family died out and Parma fell into decline. The rightful heir to the duchy was the spanish infante Carlo, son of Elizabeth Farnese and Philip V. After setting up court in Naples in 1734, Carlo transferred most of his mother’s wealth to the Royal Palace there, completely stripping Parma of the fabulous art collections in the ducal palaces of Parma, Colorno and Sala Baganza.
When peace was signed at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, Charles I’s brother Philip, who went on marry Louis XV’s daughter Louise ELizabeth, became duke of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, adding much of the Reggio plain to the duchy’s possessions. Thus Spanish influence gave way to French control.
The reformist policy of the highly enlighted Bourbon dynasty gave the duchy a new lease of life. After 1759 the determined efforts of prime minister Guillaume du Tillot turned it into a modern state based on civil organization and an industrial economy. Tillot also waged a fierce battle against the privileges of the Church, eventually breaking away from italtogether in accordance with the wishes of Duchess Amalia, daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria and wife of Duke Ferdinand.
Parma subsequently enjoyed its period of greatest splendor, with new elegant neoclassical architecture, urban structures and important institutions, such as the Biblioteca Palatina (a library), the Royal Printing, works run by Giambattista Bodoni, a rudimentary Museo Archeologico (displaying finds from excavations at Velleia), the Quadreria, (picture gallery) and the Botanical Gardens. Tillot’s policies continued up to the time of Napoleon (1802-14), when the new Taro departement was created.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 awarded the duchy to Marie-Louise of Austria, the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte (1815-47).
During her absolutist rule from 1816 to 1847, with the aid of ministers brought in from other countries, the city grew further, welfare structures and public works were developed and improved on, architecture programs were implemented and communications improved with the creation of the main Parma-La Spezia road.
The ducal residences were also modernized: extensions were made to the Hunting lodge in Sala Baganza, the Ducal Gardens, in Colorno the Ducal Garden in Parma opened to the public.
The popularity of Parma’s “beloved sovereign” was such that the duchy felt little if anything of the moves toward unification in the early years of the italian Risorgimento. In 1847 Marie-Louise died, and the duchy was returned to the Bourbons, whose last ruler Charles III was stabbed yo death in the city in 1854, leaving a widow Luisa Maria Berry.
On 15 September 1859 the Bourbon dynasty was declared to be at an end and Parma became one of the provinces of the Emilia region, governed by Carlo Farini. In 1860 it was decided byplebiscite that Parma would be annexed to Piedmont and subsequently to the Kingdom of Italy.
Toscanini natal room
From unification to liberation
When a unified Italian state was established, Parma had to come to terms with its new, much humbler status as a mere provincial capital, and was plunged into social and economic depression. Reorganization of local infrastructures involved the construction of the Piacenza-Bologna railway line in 1859 and of new roads to Fornovo and Suzzara in 1883. Intense trade union activity in the second half of the 19th century led to the creation in 1893 of the Camera del Lavoro, or Trades Union Organization.
The protest and violent strikes in the years that followed culminated in the general farm workers’ strike from 1 May to 25 June 1908. Opposition to Fascism came to a dramatic head in early August 1922, when Italo Balbo tried to enter Parma’s working-class Oltretorrente district.
Residents organized themselves into a movement known as the Arditi del Popolo and fought off the Fascist action squad. This event, which came to be known as le barricate, was the first episode of Resistance in Italy.
World War II air raids brought untold damage, destruction and death to the area, and there were endless clashes with Partisans who had established free zones in the upper Taro and Ceno valleys. Peace finally returned with the Liberation of 25 April 1945.
Courtesy of Parma Tourist Office