Going up the Camonica Valley, the villages on every plateau on the slopes, where stone towers and bell towers rise, often attract our attention.
Inaccessibility was the main defense of the furnaces and the blacksmith’s hearths, which existed before the Romans arrived.
To this activity, which sprouted from the nearby mines with water and wood necessary for production, is owed the prosperity that provided for the decorating of the churches with surprising works of art.
A magical religiousness, which lasted for eras, from solar rites of the Camuns who engraved the rocks, to the cult of the Roman divinities and to a Christianity that was greedy for miracles as well as for witches to burn.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The numerous rock engravings scattered throughout the valley relate its prehistory. The people of Camonica Valley were subjugated in 16 BC by Proconsul Publius Silius, who went up the valley along the Valeriana road and made Cividate the center.
In 774 Charlemagne (VIII cent.) entrusted the valley to the monks of Tours, whose presence is recorded by the numerous churches dedicated to St. Martin.
Since remote times, the extraction of iron ore and other metals fueled the blast furnaces and workshops which exported their products worldwide.
During his descent to Italy, Redbeard passed through Tonale, finding support from the passionate Ghibelline nobles from the Camonica Valley. Venice, after taking possession of the valley in the XV cent. must have had little trust in them, since it ordered the destruction of many of their castles.
In 1809, Napoleonic soldiers in the northern valley stopped rebel Tyrolese troops led by Andreas Hofer. On the snowfields of Adamello, in 1915-18, they fought an exhausting trench war.
The bridge over the river reminds us of a millennia of events
The small church of the Oratorio next to Montecchio Bridge contains an art treasure – The fortresses that once controlled the valley now watch the tourism of the thermal springs – The rediscovery of “The archangel Michael’s Fight” in Artogne
Its strategic trading position helped to increase quickly Darfo’s importance, which before the year 1000 became a Royal court of the Emperor Henry III and in XII C. had to account for six thousand inhabitants.
The first supporter of the Boario thermal springs was the writer Alessandro Manzoni, who, from 1845, drank it daily.
The most important monument at DARFO BOARIO TERME is the Chiesetta dell’Oratorio (see box on the page 8) in the hamlet of MONTECCHIO, which is opposite the apse (with a single lancet window, 1300-1400’s) of the parish of Santa Maria Assunta.
Not far is the risky span of the so called Roman ponte (bridge), of which the granite and “simona” stone structure was designed by Francesco Cifrondi (1686).
The hamlet of ERBANNO, of which the historical center has been well preserved, is indicated on the road by a Romanesque bell tower with double lancet windows of the Chiesetta di San Martino, reduced to a cemetery enclosure which one enters by way of a portal made of “simona” stone and dated 1465. In the chapel, there are frescoes from a period antecedent to Da Cemmo (the complex is presently inaccessible due to restoration).
Going up to the town, we see the 1500’s Palazzo Federici, with two trilobite windows on the top floor.
The church of Santa Maria del Restello, north and higher elevated, is from the beginning of the XVI C. Here is an admirable series of frescoes, done 1530-40, by Callisto Piazza. In the presbytery at the rear are the Assumption, St. Giorgio and the Princess and on the left, the Decapitation of St. Giovanni Battista.
Going up the road to Angolo Terme, just before the hamlet of GORZONE, you can turn left to the Parco di Luine, a hill where prehistoric rock engravings have been discovered (free entry, closed Mon).
On the external wall of the parish of Gorzone is the sarcophagi of Uson Federici (1336). The Castello Federici, protected high up, is not far from the hamlet; built around 1160 and of long strategic importance. Today, the towers and wall have disappeared and there remains an imposing elegant residence.
The thermal spring vocation goes back to the early 1800’s in ANGOLO TERME and was concretized for tourists in the 1950’s. The parish of San Lorenzo is rich with XVII century wood sculptures, of which the portal wings are noteworthy, by the Fantoni school: fifteen sculptures tell Episodes of the life of Christ. The Sanctuary of San Silvestro has a great view of the country and valley; built between the XVI-XVIII centuries with an elegant arcade.
Going back towards Darfo, we turn off left to the hamlet of MAZZUNNO.
Next to the parish is the small church of San Rocco which contains frescoes from the 1400-1500’s by the Pietro da Cemmo school. For a visit, contact the parish priest (tel. 0364/548062) or the nuns in the near institute.
From Darfo going towards Brescia we come to GIANICO. On the impending mountain with a broad view of the valley, is the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Monte (or of the Nativity), constructed in XVIII century on the small church erected in 1536 to invoke protection against the frequent floods. The main altar piece of the Nativity of Mary is by Palma il Giovane.
In ARTOGNE it is worth a stop at the Church (1400-1500’s) of Santa Maria Elisabetta on the old Valeriana road. The vault of the presbytery has frescoes recently restored from sleep under the whitewashing of the time of the plague: it is about a Fight of the archangel Michael against the forces of evil, dated 1568. Other 16th century frescoes can be seen in the nave. The canvasses of the Via Crucis deserve attention, said by Pitocchetto, author of another canvass which is now preserved in the parish, attributed to Giacomo Ceruti.
The small rustic church of Sant’Andrea (XV C.) on the outside presents some frescoes dated XVI-XVII centuries. Inside, are 15th century votive frescoes. For a visit to these two Artogne churches, ask at the gates of the nearest houses.
PIAN CAMUNO boasts of a rather original XV century construction complex: Santa Maria della Rotonda has in fact an arcade in front of the presbytery, supported by a column made of “simona” stone. From behind a wooden grill in the arcade the nuns used to watch church functions. The XV-XVI century frescoes are by the Da Cemmo school. For a visit, contact the parish priest, tel. 0364/591506.
Not far from here, the small Santa Giulia church (XV cent.) preserves the Romanesque absidioles and the squat bell tower from the original building. The Medieval Tower near the center of the town has a square plan, with a roof with two slopes and is on the corner of a wide building.
AT THE DOOR OF THE BRIDGE
The bridge, which was once made of wood, gave access to the fortress which was probably already on Monticolo before 1000 AD. Its possession was disputed, not only because of a toll – that is why the bridge was fitted with a door – but because it gave access to the nearby market. In 1168, “before the Montecchio door”, an oath of peace was issued, before the Brescia consul, by the inhabitants of Borno who had constructed a palisade to direct the Oglio River water to their advantage, and by those of Esine. In the long fight, eleven men were killed among which five were vavasours.
A small jewel of painting
The Chiesetta dell’Oratorio (or of the Dead) was originally a portico entry to the cemetery where flood victims were buried (1471). The village was destroyed. In following, the walls were raised, recovered with frescoes by the Pietro da Cemmo school.
At the center of the vault is Christ surrounded by Apostles, Evangelists, Doctors of the Church, Martyrs, Deacons, Confessors, Founders of Orders and Patriarchs. Towards the entry there is a Madonna of Mercy who protects the praying under her mantle. The Universal Judgment unfolds on the left arch of the contra facade. On the far wall, there is a Madonna on the Throne and other Saints. On the right wall, an opened window damaged a grand Crucifixion. The church is usually open.
Where to eat
Darfo – Ristorante Gabossi, recommended by Slow Food
Text in part Courtesy of APT Provincia di Brescia, Brescia Official Tourist Board www.bresciaholiday.com/