Regazzoni - Benaglio Tower
This tower is located in the heart of what once was the centre of the ancient village of Calolzio near the square called Piazza dell’Officio, now Regazzoni, in honour of the last noble family of landowners from Bergamo. The Benaglio family, who ruled in the area of Como and Lecco during the first half of the 13th century, built the tower, along with the palace with the same name, which no longer exists, probably between the 13th and the 14th century.
THE LORDS OF THE VALLEY
The Benaglio family (in ancient times de Bellaij) arrived in Italy from Anjou between the 9th and the 11th century, passing through Burgundy and Piedmont before settling in our territory. According to the documents of that time, Angilberto was the first documented member of the family and is considered the founder of the dynasty. In 1050, he was appointed Count palatine and Count of Treviglio. In our territory the first documented member of the family was Ubertus de Benallis de Leuco who lived in the Rocca di Comeza (now in the town of Malgrate) in 1250.
Filippo was the first member of the Benaglio family who became Lord of the vale in Valle San Martino, starting an important chapter in the history of this territory. In a letter written in 1373 by Bernabò Visconti the vale was even referred to as Valle dei Benaglio: Benaglio’s valley.
As opposed to the Visconti family, the Benaglio family held small fiefs as vassals of the Della Torre family. In spite of their defeat in Desio in 1277, the Guelphs of the area continued fighting the war against the victorious Visconti of the Ghibelline faction, joining forces with other Guelph supporters from Lecco and Como.
Filippo Benaglio himself, together with one of the leading exponent of the Guelph faction in Brianza, Tignacca Parravicini, occupied Lecco in 1282 destroying the palace of the so much hated archbishop of Milan, Ottone Visconti. The following year, the Ghibellines resumed control of Lecco but the Benaglio family continued to rule over the upper valley for the entire first part of the 14th century.
The war lasted until 1296 when Lecco, once again under the control of the Della Torre family, was taken and the ruler of Milan, Matteo Visconti, laid it to waste. In that same year, he conquered Bergamo, laying the basis for the Visconti dominion over the whole Bergamo region.
THE FEUD BETWEEN GUELPHS AND GHIBELLINES
The 14th century in Lombardy was a period of never-ending fighting between Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Visconti family, with Bernabò and later then with Gian Galeazzo, tried to find a way to control Valle San Martino, granting privileges and exemptions to a neighboring area controlled by the Ghibellines that comprised Galbiate, Olginate, Brivio, Oggiono, Missaglia and the parish of Incino.
In 1373, Bernabò Visconti was excommunicated by Pope Gregory XI who set up an alliance against the Visconti family led by Amedeo VI of Savoy, also called “il Conte Verde” (the Green Count). After his victory in Montichiari, the Green Count reached Brivio in order to attack Milan, but then he left the battlefield and retreated to Modena. The war ended and nothing came of it. The Guelph factions of Valle San Martino took part in the fighting and Bernabò sent his own son Ambrogio to fight them, who eventually ran to his death in Caprino on 17th August 1374. Bernabò’s vengeance was merciless and the ruler of Milan occupied the vale and lay waste to the villages of Val San Martino.
The region was in a state of endemic warfare. The battle of Campo Cerese took place on 27th May 1398. During this battle, the Guelphs of Valle San Martino, together with the Guelphs of Valle Imagna, took up arms against the Ghibellines from Olginate and Galbiate.
The Guelphs of Valle San Martino gave vent to their animosity against the Visconti family supporting Pandolfo Malatesta, who, taking advantage of the disarray after the death of the first Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, tried to carve out a territory for him to rule in Eastern Lombardy. His attempt to conquer Milan in 1404 failed but Pandolfo managed to proclaim himself ruler of Bergamo with the support of Brescia and Lecco.
In 1418, to regain control of the territories conquered by Malatesta, the new Duke Filippo Maria Visconti pretended to accept the arbitration of Pope Martin V and during the negotiations gave the order to his army, led by the Count of Carmagnola, to occupy Lecco and conquer Bergamo. Pandolfo had nothing else to do but negotiate terms of surrender for the last city under his control, Brescia, with a substantial financial compensation.
In 1427, the mountain valleys, including Valle San Martino, were under the rule of Venice.
CUNTRADA DI NIGRE
At the time, the village of Calolzio was located between piazza Regazzoni and piazza Arcipresbiteriale. The second residence of the Benaglio family was situated right there, where, in the second half of the 15th century, the church of Saint Martin was built and today the parsonage stands, and was protected by a tower that now serves as the base for the bell-tower. A door closed the passage to the square in front of the church, as we know it today, right at the entrance of Via XXIV Maggio. On Saint Martin’s day, a great fair was held every year on this square, at least since the end of the 15th century.
From piazza Arcipresbiteriale, going up Via San Martino, on the left, there was the Ginami tower, which today is enclosed in the housing complex near the ACLI headquarters and on the right, there was the stronghold and the symbol of the Benaglio’s dominion on the valley.
Right before the stronghold, there is what today is called via Fratelli Cittadini. According to the local tradition, this alley was actually called the cuntrada di Nigre, the district of the black (Guelphs). The origin of the name of said alley can be traced back to the membership of the Benaglio family to the Guelph faction and to their loyalty to the pope, whose most keen supporters where called Guelfi neri (black Guelphs). Via Fratelli Cittadini continues on as Vicolo Fratelli Cittadini, after intersecting Via XXIV Maggio. At this point, near a small square, there is a small arch dating back to the 13th century.
The northern side of the stronghold overlooks Piazza Regazzoni, which once was the place-of-arms where the militia used to gather. Next to the stronghold, where today we see the big arch dedicated to the Virgin, there was a drawbridge that in the past was closed in case of emergency.
FIND OUT MORE
- BONAITI F., DACCÒ G. L., Sotto il mantello di San Martino - Storia di una valle di confine, Comunità Montana Lario Orientale - Valle San Martino, 2012
- BONAITI F., La valle dei castelli, Collona di San Martino, 2010
- DELL’ORO D., Il castello di Rossino, Comunità Montana Valle San Martino, 1994
- NERI I., Minuzzoli di storia e di vita di Calolziocorte, Calolziocorte 1978