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Between the Alps and the Po Valley

Lombardy is a region of north-western Italy. It is located between the Alpine arc that borders Switzerland to the north, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto to the east, Emilia-Romagna to the south, and Piedmont to the west.

The regional morphology

Under the morphological appearance, the region is divided into four areas. From the north, the strictly alpine region that borders Switzerland. Then the Prealps and the hills that reach the flat area divided into Upper and Lower Valley. And finally, a region that includes also an area located in the south of river Po.

Lombardy between mountains, hills, and plains

Beyond the three classic areas of mountains, hills, and plains, Lombardy is also flanked and crossed by rivers of considerable flow such as the Ticino, the Adda, the Oglio, and the Mincio. All tributaries of the river Po which, for a long length, marks the natural border with Emilia Romagna. And the region is bathed by very suggestive stretches of water such as lakes Maggiore, Lugano, Como, Iseo, and Garda. All of which are among the best known and most popular places in the Italian landscape.

Historical background

Longobardia, medieval denomination

Longobardia, known today as Lombardia, is a designation of medieval origin. It was first used by the Byzantines to indicate the territory dominated by the Lombards. At that time, it was a geographic area extended in a large part of Italy following the Lombard conquests. A domination that was then established to a restricted area of the Po Valley and the Veneto.

Milan as the capital

The regional capital is Milan, a city considered the economic capital of Italy. One of the 12 provinces of Lombardy, Milan becomes a metropolitan city established on January 1, 2015. The other 11 provinces are:

  • Bergamo
  • Brescia
  • Como
  • Cremona
  • Lecco
  • Lodi
  • Mantua
  • Monza and Brianza
  • Pavia
  • Sondrio
  • Varese

The Cisalpine Gaul

Milan already existed as a small center of the Celtic Insubres, probably arisen at the beginning of the 4th century BC. In 224-220, the region was conquered by the Romans who assign the name of Cisalpine Gaul (Gallia Cisalpina) to almost all of northern Italy. The Via Flaminia-Emilia establishes the most effective communication from Rome to the Po valley. The whole territory is reclaimed, new inhabited centers are built, the lands are divided into centuriations. At the time of Augustus, in the administrative division of Italy, the region was annexed to the Regio XI Transpadana.

Saint Ambrose

At the end of the 3rd century AD, Milan becomes the capital of the Western empire. Constantine published in 313 the famous edict which grants Christians freedom of worship. Then Saint Ambrose intertwines religious works and political initiatives, reaching an important authority. His ecclesiastical jurisdiction extends from Aquileia (in Friuli) to Ravenna, Nice, and Regensburg. In 387 Saint Ambrose baptized Saint Augustine in Milan.

Lombardy and the barbrians

At the fall of the Western Roman Empire (which is established in 476), the barbarians dominate the Italian lands including Lombardy. First came the Heruli of Odoacer (476-493), then the Ostrogoths of Theodoric the Great (493-553). Later Lombardy returned to be part of the Roman Empire (this time of the Byzantine Empire) until 568 when the Lombards conquered a large part of Italy, placing their capital in Pavia.

The Franks of Charlemagne

After a period of continuous violence, under the reign of the Lombards there is a new economic and social rebirth. The distances between winners and losers diminish and part of the Lombards converted from Arianism to Catholicism. But this progress clashes with the conquest of the Lombard territory by the Franks of Charlemagne which begins in 774.

The feudal systems

Under the Franks, feudal systems took shape in Lombardy. The church participates more and more actively in political life. Once the Carolingian Empire collapsed, the bishops obtained political-military functions in Friuli and in the Lombardy region during the invasions of the Hungarians. King of Italy since 961, Emperor Otto I defines the episcopal power by creating the bishops-counts.

Lombardy and the Carroccio

In 1038 the Carroccio was born and the power of the upper and middle bourgeoisie grew, leading to the birth of the municipal regime in Lombardy. The season of the Communes, quarrelsome, economically and civilly flourishing, began with the eleventh century. In 1176, the militias of the municipalities, united in the Lombard League, defeat the emperor Frederick Barbarossa in Legnano. This is an important episode exalted by the historiography of the Risorgimento. The regional prevalence of Milan in the communal age was consolidated with the Visconti and then with the Sforza (14th and 15th centuries). This was the age of lordships and principalities.

The dismemberment of the duchy

With the death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti in 1402, the dismemberment of the Duchy of Milan begins following the Venetian, Swiss, and Savoy conquest. From 1450 Lombardy found a period of peace with the Sforza. But with the beginning of the sixteenth century, new clashes break out between the most important monarchies of the time. What remained of the Duchy of Milan, the richest land in Italy, is disputed by the monarchs of France and Spain. Lombardy passes under the crown of Spain, domination that has repercussions on the whole peninsula.

Lombardy under Napoleon and the Austrians

In 1714 (war of the Spanish succession), the Habsburgs of Austria succeed those of Spain. In 1796 Napoleon enters Milan and in ’97 the Cisalpine Republic is created with the tricolor flag. In 1815 Napoleon was defeated, and the first riots began in Milan. The Austrians return in 1814-15 (Kingdom of Lombardy-Veneto) and remain until 1859 when they are driven out by the Franco-Piedmontese victories of Magenta, San Martino and Solferino, and by the Garibaldian campaign.

In the Kingdom of Italy

In the Kingdom of Italy, (proclaimed by parliament on March 14, 1861), Lombardy was from the beginning one of the most advanced and active regions. It has or soon reaches the primacy in industries, financial operations, in trade. The years 1830-60 were particularly fruitful for textile and mechanical companies. The traditional silk industry finds a new impetus in the large-scale application of steam. Overcoming some periods of crisis, the regional economy continues to rise towards the grandiose developments of the early 1900s.

Lombardy map