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Between the Alps and the Apennines

Piedmont, located in north-western Italy, borders France and Aosta Valley to the west, Switzerland to the north, Lombardy to the east, as well as Liguria and Emilia Romagna to the south. The provinces that compose it are Alessandria, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Turin, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, and Vercelli. Piedmont is surrounded to the north-west by the barrier of the Alps and to the south by the Apennines. While the Po remains the essential part of the region’s soul.

Piedmont along the Po river

Around the course of the Po, the hills that have always been a land of farmers descend towards the Po valley. The spectacle of the flooded rice fields in the plain is one of the characteristics of the westernmost provinces. In addition to rice, these areas are major producers of wheat and maize. But the noblest and celebrated cultivation is certainly that of vines, with very precious grapes and respectable wine production. Other food products are also not to be underestimated, such as the hundred traditional kinds of cheese and the precious and celebrated Alba truffle. Furthermore, Piedmont remains the most important production center of chocolate in Italy.

Historical background

Under the Roman Empire

Already colonized by populations of Ligurian origin, in the 4th century BC Piedmont sees a migratory movement of Celt and Gaul populations. Between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC, Rome manages to take control of all of Piedmont, including the wildest and least accessible valleys. In this way, Rome ensures control over the most important passes in the region and in the nearby Aosta Valley.

The Roman colonies in Piedmont

There were many Roman colonies founded at the foot of the Alpine barrier. First of all Augusta Taurinorum (today’s Turin) in the year 28 BC, then Augusta Proetoria Salassorum (Aosta) in 25 BC. Moreover, we find Hasta (Asti), Iria (Voghera), Dertona (Tortona), Eporedia (Ivrea), and the foundations of the network of communication routes are laid. For centuries that followed, these roads connected Piedmont with the regions beyond the Alps, with the south and with the Ligurian Sea.

Augustus administrative subdivision

In the Augustus administrative geography, part of the Piedmontese territory was included in the Regio IX, which is of Liguria. While the northernmost area of the Piedmontese valleys is incorporated into the Regio X Transpadana. The word Piedmont will derive from the medieval definition of “ad pedes montium” towards the middle of the thirteenth century.

Piedmont and the barbarian invasions

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire (which was established in 476), Piedmont underwent several barbarian invasions like all other regions of both eastern and western Italy. The invasion of the Lombards dated to 568 deeply marks the history of the region. In 661 the Duke of Asti, the noble Ariperto, became king of the Lombards. The event demonstrates the solid control of Piedmont by this population.

The Franks and the feudal order

In 773 the Lombards were defeated by the Franks of Charlemagne at the Chiusa di San Michele. A new conquest of Italy begins which will lead to a notable fragmentation of local power with the spread of the feudal order. As happens in this period throughout medieval Europe, the temporal power of the church is also affirmed in Piedmont. The birth of large monastic centers, abbeys, and convents will control vast portions of territory with their powerful abbots.

The Savoy family in Piedmont

Humbert Whitehand was born in 1048, the forefather of the Savoy dynasty in Piedmont that lasted until 1946. During the first centuries after the year 1000, there is a development of Piedmontese municipalities such as Asti, Biella, Casale, Vercelli, and Turin. Eager for political and economic autonomy, they come into conflict with temporal power. The emperor Frederick Barbarossa repeatedly tried to quell the struggle for independence, but in 1176 he is defeated in the battle of Legnano.

The Visconti

On the death of Frederick II in 1250, after brief domination by Charles I of Anjou in southern Piedmont, Thomas III of Savoy conquered Turin. Subsequently, the region undergoes a confused period characterized by long local wars. In the 14th century, the Visconti (lords of Milan) settled in numerous Piedmontese cities such as Vercelli, Tortona, Bra, Alessandria, and Alba. The Duchy of Milan clashes with Amedeo VI and his successor Amedeo VII (Counts of the House of Savoy). The latter expands the possessions of his family up to Nice.

The unification of Piedmont

The fifteenth-century saw alternating French and Spanish occupations. Only after the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) Emmanuel Philibert (Duke of Savoy) and his successors were able to start the process of unification of Piedmont with the annexation of Sardinia in 1720. The definitive control of Piedmont by the House of Savoy was completed in 1748 with the Treaty of Aachen.

French Revolution

Towards the end of the 18th century, the French Revolution re-exploded the war between the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Savoy who fled to Sardinia in 1798. Piedmont was annexed to France, while the whole Novara area became part of the newly formed Cisalpine Republic.

The House of Savoy and the Italian unification

With the restoration of 1815, the Savoy obtained all their possessions and Genoa where the Republic ceased to exist. In the period between the Congress of Vienna (1815) and the Capture of Rome in 1870, Piedmont and the Savoy monarchy will have great importance in Italian unification. Furthermore, the Capture of Rome on September 20th 1870, with the famous breach of Porta Pia, marks the end of the Papal State and the temporal power of the Popes.

Piedmont map