Rice fields and grey herons
During mediaeval times Cozzo, an ancient stopping place on the way to Gaul, was protected by a fortress constructed by the people of Milan in 1214 and restored in the 15th century when it came into the possession of the Gallarati family. During this period the castle was amplified with the addition of two drawbridges, another tower, Ghibelline battlements, still present today, and many other adornments including ornate brickwork and graffito frescoes. The work was not yet finished when, in September 1499, the castle was host to King Louis XII of France while guiding his army towards Milan in order to claim the duchy by right of his descendancy from the Visconti family. This occasion was so solemn and important that it was portrayed in a fascinating and evocative fresco in the great hall documenting a historical event and a way of life.
Constructed under the dominion of the Visconti family, the Castle of Sartirana is an imposing structure with the typical quadrilateral form, moat, internal courtyard and four square corner towers. Bartolomeo Fioravanti, one of the architects who contributed to the construction, was shortly after summoned to Moscow by the tsar Ivan II to assist in the construction of the defence of the Kremlin. The castle was entirely raised and the great round tower, now the symbol of the village, was reinforced at the base by a polyhedral structure. Today it houses the Study Centre of Lomellina, an association that produces interesting cultural events, and the Sartirana Art Foundation with a splendid collection of contemporary silver-ware, jewellery, artistic graphics and objects pertaining to the old farming community as well as exhibitions of international interest.
The majority of the exhibits in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo Vigevano (Museum of the Treasures of the Vigevano Cathedral) located in the Cathedral were donated by Duke Francesco Il Sforza (1534). The exhibits include precious corals, missals and codices dating from the late 15th century, a richly ornate pastoral staff in ivory, a precious gold-plated silver reliquary attributed to the Lombardy school of goldsmiths dating from about 1530 as well as many chalices, goblets, monstrances and reliquaries in different styles and from different eras. Visitors can also admire Flemish tapestries, seven of which are in pre-Renaissance style produced by tapestry makers in Brussels in 1520 depicting the parable of the Prodigal Son and the tales of Ester and Joseph as well as five tapestries woven in Ouderarde at the beginning of the 17th century depicting the deeds of Alexander the Great. The museum is further enriched by the standards of religious associations and a 16th century wall hanging embroidered in gold which was used in Monza in 1805 for the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Again in Vigevano, situated in what were once the Duke’s stables, is the Museo della Calzatura e della Tecnica Calzaturiera (Museum of Footwear and Shoe-making Techniques), the only public display in Italy dedicated to the history and the evolution of footwear.
In Olevano an old cowshed with a hayloft and courtyard has been converted into a rich Museo di Arte e Tradizione Contadina (Museum of Art and Farming Traditions). The museum aims to recover and preserve old farming instruments and, wherever possible, restore them to their original environment. Exhibits include equipment used for breeding cattle and a reproduction of a cowshed where evening gatherings were held, as well as machinery dating from the early attempts at agricultural mechanisation at the beginning of the 20th century up to the 1950s. On the ground floor you can see a reproduction of an old dairy while on the upper floor, in what was once the hayloft, there is a collection of tools used for the old, vanished trades such as pork butchers, tailors, knife-grinders, cobblers and carpenters as well as the reconstruction of a humble home with just a kitchen and a bedroom. Together with the 1,500 exhibits you can see manikins, photographs and drawings illustrating country and farming life.
In Gambolò situated in a wing of the Litta Castle is the Museo Archeologico Lomellino (Lomellino Museum of Archaeology) where you can see exhibits brought to light in over twenty years of excavations carried out by the Lomellina Archaeological Association. Over 3,500 finds have been unearthed from the Lomellina area alone and they cover a period of about six thousand years, from the Mesolithic period to the 3rd century AD. The museum also provides a room equipped for audio and visual projections and for conferences.
In Lomello, an antique centre founded by the Celts, visitors can admire the well-preserved religious complex of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, an imposing construction dating from the early Romanesque Lombardy period (11th century) and of the Battistero di San Giovanni “ad Fontes” (5th – 7th century), an antique Longobard building with an octagonal form and the remains of the original baptismal font. In local folklore the basilica is called the “devil’s church”. The legend tells that the building was destroyed by the devil and that Satan himself rebuilt it in just one night of feverish activity, but, when the sun rose, the work was unfinished. That is why today we can see the partially collapsed façade and the two spans without a roof.
Well worth a visit is the Piazza Ducale di Vigevano, one of the most beautiful and harmonious squares in Italy and a true masterpiece of Italian Renaissance architecture. Commissioned by Ludovico the Moor, the square was designed by Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante, creator of the tower of the same name. Started in 1492 and completed in just three years, it is 134 metres long and 50 metres wide with 76 columns crowned with diverse capitals, all dominated by Bramante’s tower reaching to a height of 74 metres.