Top 10 Facts: Pavia

One of the major European settings in In Light’s Delay is the northern Italian city of Pavia, located about thirty miles south of Milan along the banks of the Ticino River.

(Click Pavia's Ponte Coperto to the left to see a map of the city's location in Italy: 141 kb)

• The Ticino, which flows from Lake Maggiore, is a tributary of the Po, which it joins not long after passing through the city. Pavia, incidentally, also appears in Ron's next thriller, NINE DAYS IN OCTOBER.


Lago Maggiore (photo: Ron Terpening)

• As a town, Pavia has an ancient and glorious history. A military camp under the Romans, it was later sacked by Attila the Hun during his brief incursion into the upper reaches of the peninsula in 452. The descriptive phrase by which Attila is best known—"Flagellum Dei" (the Scourge of God)—derives its origin from a 1500-year-old fresco on the walls of a monastery in Pavia.



• In 568, another barbarian people, the Longobards invaded and established themselves in northern and central Italy, with their capital at Pavia. At the time, and for centuries to come, Pavia was more important than Milan.

Baptistry of St. John (6th c.), Lomello, Pavia

The Longobard monarchy lasted almost 200 years.





Ratchis, King of the Lombards (A.D. 744)

• In the late 8th century, the Franks invaded Italy and deposed Desiderius, the last of the Lombard kings. Charlemagne (724-814) had himself crowned King of Lombardy in Pavia.






Charlemagne's soldiers raise him on a shield to signify his accession to power

• In the 10th century, the Kingdom of Italy eventually fell into the hands of Otto I, a German elected as Holy Roman Emperor in 962. Ottonian control of Italy did not last long. Following the death of the German emperor Henry II in 1024, the people of Pavia burnt the royal palace, thus signaling an end to the Kingdom.




Otto I the Great

• Pavia’s 11th-century Lombard Romanesque architecture includes the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore at nearby Lomello and its own San Michele, noted for its sculptural ornamentation and pale-colored sandstone.



Left: San Michele, Pavia

Right: stone capital

• Pavia’s monasteries and churches, and the nearby Certosa, six miles to the north, all have relics and art of interest. Giangaleazzo Visconti founded the Certosa (which became a Carthusian monastery) as a family mausoleum and is entombed there in the south transept.



St. Augustine’s tomb is in San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, consecrated in 1132 and mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy. Note the arcades at the very top of the facade.



From the beginning of the 11th century down to the middle of the 12th, Milan’s population grew from 45,000 to 90,000 inhabitants, and the town rivaled and eventually surpassed Pavia in importance. The average distance between communes in north and central Italy was something like 20 to 25 miles, so there were many disputes over territory.

Rose window, San Marco, Milan (photo: Ron Terpening)

• The fortunes of the two cities are reflected in two castles, the construction of which carries us into the Renaissance. The Visconti family built their castle in Pavia in the 14th century and their successors as rulers of Milan, the Sforza, built their castle in Milan itself.

Above: Visconti castle, Pavia
Left: Sforza castle, interior courtyard
Below: Sforza castle from Milan's Duomo (all photos: Ron Terpening)

The greatest of the Visconti was probably Giangaleazzo. He ordered the building of Milan's main cathedral, begun in 1386. He also built the Naviglio, a canal from Milan to Pavia, and fostered dairy farming and commercial agriculture.
His deeds are typical of the political cunning of the Visconti. He got married at the age of nine in 1360 to Isabelle of Valois, a French princess, daughter of King John II, and had his first child by 14. He was equally precocious in battle and diplomacy. To solidify his power, he had to compete with his uncle Bernabò, who had a reputation for brutality and violence.

Milan, Duomo (photo: Ron Terpening)

Under Bernabò, crimes against the state were punished with 40 days of torture. He forced the peasants to take care of his 5,000 hunting dogs. At one point Bernabò received a papal bull of excommunication, delivered by two Benedictine abbots. What did he do? Initially he refused to accept the document and asked the two abbots to accompany him to the covered bridge, arching high over the Ticino (see the first photo on this page). And then he asked them rather brusquely if they wanted to eat or drink. They look down, see the rushing water, and afraid of drowning say they want to eat. So Bernabò makes them eat not only the papal bull, which was written on pergamena or parchment, usually made from calf or goat skin, but also the ribbon and the wax seals. And that was his answer to the pope.
Bernabò succeeded in obstructing a second marriage of Giangaleazzo, whose first wife had died and who wanted to marry a Sicilian princess. Instead, in 1380, Bernabò forced his nephew to marry Bernabò’s own daughter, Caterina. Giangaleazzo took his time, studying, reading, adorning his palace in Pavia, until finally in 1385 he set out with a large entourage on a pilgrimage. The number of his bodyguards didn’t surprise anyone, especially his uncle, because everyone assumed Giangaleazzo was timid. When he reached Milan, a city controlled by his uncle, he hesitated to enter the city, out of fear assumed most. So his uncle and cousins, pleased at this sign of deference, rode out to meet him. After an affectionate greeting, Bernabò and his men were taken prisoner. Giangaleazzo entered the city in triumph, where he was welcomed as a liberator. This bold deed was widely admired; even Chaucer refers to it at one point.

• The Cathedral in Pavia (seen above), built by Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci, has the third largest cupola in Italy. The 11th-century municipal tower standing next to the Cathedral in this photo taken by me during my student days collapsed in 1989, killing several people. Contrast its austere simplicity to the Gothic spires of Milan cathedral (left).

(photos: Ron Terpening)

• Pavia’s university is one of the oldest and most famous in Europe, having been founded in the 11th century. Its students have included the poet Petrarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Cesare Beccaria (author of the influential 18th century treatise On Crimes and Punishments), and the Romantic poet Ugo Foscolo (not to mention Ron, whose room at the Collegio Fraccaro overlooked these three towers).





University of Pavia (photo: Ron Terpening)

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