Showing posts with label Wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wars. Show all posts

20 February 2022

The Battle of Parabiago

When Visconti fought Visconti for control of Milan

One of the bronze doors of Milan cathedral, sculpted by Giannino Castiglioni, includes a scene from the battle
One of the bronze doors of Milan cathedral, sculpted by
Giannino Castiglioni, includes a scene from the battle

One of the bloodiest battles of the 14th century took place on this day near the village of Parabiago, about 20km (12 miles) northwest of Milan.

The Battle of Parabiago in 1339 saw the armies of Azzone Visconti, the ruler of Milan, defeat an attempt to unseat him by his exiled uncle, Lodrisio Visconti, leader of a mercenary army named the Compagnia di San Giorgio - the Company of St George.

In 1311, Lodrisio had helped Matteo Visconti and his son Galeazzo regain the rulership of Milan from the Della Torre family, who had previously held power in the city but was later instrumental in imprisoning Galeazzo and his son, Azzone, as part of a power struggle. When Galeazzo and Azzone ultimately escaped, Lodrisio fled.

Initially holding up in his castle at Seprio, about 38km (24 miles) northwest of Milan, near the city of Varese, he was besieged by soldiers led by Azzone, who destroyed the castle but failed to capture Lodrisio.

In exile, Lodrisio became a condottiero - a mercenary military leader - and found employment with the Della Scala family of Verona, also known as the Scaligeri, who controlled much of the area that today makes up Veneto, with the exception of Venice, as well as the key strategic cities and surrounding territories of Brescia in Lombardy, Parma in Emilia-Romagna and Lucca in northern Tuscany.

Azzone Visconti, Lord of Milan, who died soon after his army's victory
Azzone Visconti, Lord of Milan, who
died soon after his army's victory
The Scaligeri were the enemies of the Visconti but Lodrisio had no qualms about working for them and became wealthy in the process, bestowing upon himself the title of Lord of Seprio.

With the help of the Scaligeri, Lodrisio assembled an army of 6,500 men, made up of 2,500 mainly German knights, 1,000 Swiss halberdiers, and infantry and militia supplied by the Scaligeri. In 1339, the army was named the Compagnia di San Giorgio. Its first contract was to capture Milan for the Della Scala family, who had a score to settle with Azzone Visconti after he supported Venice in an earlier conflict against Verona.

Azzone, who was in poor health, ruled Milan with the help of two uncles, Luchino Visconti and Giovanni Visconti, the Bishop of Milan.

Lodrisio’s army set out for Lombardy in late January, 1339. They met resistance from the Milanese in Rivolta d'Adda, Cernusco sul Naviglio, Sesto di Monza and Legnano but each time had the numbers and the expertise to prevail.

In the meantime, with Azzone confined to Milan because of gout, Luchino had assembled a force comprising his citizen militia and 700 knights from Savoy, led by the Bolognese commander Ettore da Panigo. 

Luchino's army into two corps, one of which established a camp just outside the village of Parabiago. It was here, on 20 February, in deep snow, that Lodrisio launched an attack. Fierce fighting entailed, with heavy casualties on both sides, but ultimately Lodrisio’s company claimed victory, capturing Luchino.

There were more casualties as the Milanese force retreated but amid the confusion of the battlefield, not helped by the weather conditions, remaining elements of Luchino’s militia offered more resistance, delaying Lodrisio’s progress towards the city.  This bought enough time for Azzone to organise reinforcements.

Luchino Visconti was captured and then freed - perhaps by the saint
Luchino Visconti was captured and
then freed - perhaps by the saint
Meanwhile, bolstered by a militia force from the nearby town of Rho, Da Panigo’s knights surprised the 400 troops Lodrisio had left behind at Parabiago to guard the captured Luchino. These were quickly overcome and Luchino freed.

Da Panigo and Luchino were now able to join Azzone’s reinforcements in launching a violent assault on Lodriso’s remaining German knights and what followed was a rout. 

Legend has it that an apparition of Sant’Ambrogio (Saint Ambrosius), the patron saint of Milan, descended on horseback from a cloud to lead the Milanese troops in the decisive moments of the battle, and caused their enemies to panic.  A variation on the same story is that Sant’Ambrogio had intervened to untie the ropes binding Luchino to a walnut tree.

Although the victory belonged to Azzone and Luchino, there was a heavy price in bloodshed. It is estimated that 2,300 Milanese soldiers were killed, and at least 4,500 members of the Compagnia di San Giorgio.

Lodrisio was taken prisoner and locked up in an iron cage at the Castle of San Colombano al Lambro, southeast of Milan between Pavia and Piacenza. Although Azzone died soon after the battle, Lodrisio was not released until after Luchino’s death in 1349, when Archbishop Giovanni, who succeeded Luchino as Lord of Milan, granted him his freedom.

To give thanks for the successful defence of Milan, Giovanni Visconti had a church and an abbey built on the site of the battle in Parabiago, called Sant'Ambrogio della Vittoria - St. Ambrose of the Victory. Until 1581, a procession from Milan to Parabiago took place in February each year to remember the victory.

The campanile of the
church of Sant'Ambrogio

Travel tip:

The Parabiago of today falls within the boundaries of the greater Milan metropolitan area. After the battle it remained a relatively obscure village but began to grow in the 18th century and expanded quickly with the Industrial Revolution, becoming a centre for textile manufacture and shoe-making. After the first shoe factory was opened in 1899 and others followed, it became known as La Città della Calzatura - the City of the Shoe. It enjoyed a further boom in the 1960s and now has a population of almost 28,000. The original Chiesa di Sant’Ambrogio della Vittoria was demolished and another built in its place in the 18th century.

A snowy scene at the Castello Visconti di San Vito
A snowy scene at the Castello
Visconti di San Vito
Travel tip:

The castle to which Lodrisio Visconti originally fled following his exit from Milan may have been what is now the Castello Visconti di San Vito at Somma Lombardo, a town about 22km (14 miles) southwest of Varese that in mediaeval times came under the jurisdiction of the nearby town of Arsago Seprio, then an important political centre. The castle’s origins are said to date back to the ninth century. Development of the castle into a palace was started in 1448 by the brothers Francesco and Guido Visconti. In the 1950s, the castle complex came under the ownership of the Marquis Don Alberto Visconti of San Vito, a descendent of Francesco Visconti. Nowadays, it hosts meetings, seminars and banquets and is a popular venue for weddings. 

Also on this day:

1549: The birth of Francesco Maria II della Rovere - the last Duke of Urbino

1778: The death of ground-breaking physicist Laura Bassi

1816: Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome

1993: The death of car maker Ferruccio Lamborghini


6 August 2018

Battle of Meloria

Naval loss that sparked decline of Pisa as trading power

An artist's visualisation of the Battle of Meloria
An artist's visualisation of the Battle of Meloria
The decline of the Republic of Pisa as one of Italy’s major naval and commercial powers began with a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Meloria on this day in 1284.

A fleet of 72 galleys was routed by the forces of the rival Ligurian Sea port of Genoa in a confrontation fought close to the islet of Meloria, about 10km (6 miles) off the coast, near what is now Livorno.

More than 5,000 Pisan crew were killed with 10 galleys sunk and at least 25 captured before other vessels fled the scene and the Genovese claimed victory.

Pisa and Genoa had once been allies, joining forces to drive the Saracens out of Sardinia in the 11th century, but subsequently became fierce rivals for trade, particularly from the eastern Mediterranean and the Byzantine Empire.

The city’s participation in the Crusades secured valuable commercial positions for Pisan traders in Syria, and thereafter Pisa grew in strength to rival Genoa and Venice.

A scene from the battle displayed in a commemorative plaque in Diano Castello, Liguria
A scene from the battle displayed in a commemorative
plaque in Diano Castello, Liguria
However, in the 13th century, Genoa conquered numerous settlements in Crimea, establishing a colony at Caffa. The Byzantine Empire granted free trading rights to Genoa, increasing their wealth and simultaneously reducing commercial opportunities for Venice and Pisa.

Matters came to a head in the tense relationship between Pisa and Genoa in 1282 when Pisa tried to seize control of the commerce and administration a part of Corsica then held by Genoa, on the pretext of responding to a call for help after an uprising.

The Genovese retailiated by blockading Pisan commerce near the River Arno and both sides began preparing for war. Pisa recruited soldiers from Tuscany and appointed captains from its noble families. The Genovese leader Oberto Doria massively expanded his fleet, hiring between 15,000 to 17,000 rowers and seamen.

In early 1284, the Genovese fleet acted to provoke a conflict by attempting to conquer Porto Torres and Sassari in Pisan-controlled Sardinia. Pisa responded but the force they sent to engage the Genovese was defeated.

he drawing on which a lunette fresco by Giovanni David in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio of the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa
The drawing on which a lunette fresco by Giovanni David
in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio of the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa 
The Genovese fleet then blocked Porto Pisano, the city’s naval base and commercial harbour, and attacked Pisan ships travelling in the Mediterranean Sea. Meanwhile a Genovese force of thirty ships led by Benedetto Zaccaria travelled to Porto Torres to support Genovese forces besieging Sassari.

Eventually the entire Genovese fleet massed near Meloria, where tactics were employed to draw the Pisan fleet out of the mouth of the River Arno, where they had assembled, and into conflict on the open sea.

This was achieved by the Genovese splitting into two lines of galleys, the first, under the command of Admiral Doria, comprising around 66 ships. The second, commanded by Admiral Zaccaria, was positioned so far behind Doria’s force that the Pisans would not be able to determine whether they were warships or merely support vessels.

The Pisan fleet, under the command of the city’s ruler - the Podestà Alberto Morosini - advanced on Doria’s ships with the intention of ramming and boarding them in accordance with the customary tactics of the time but were taken by surprise when Zaccaria’s fleet arrived and attacked them from the flanks, with the result that the Pisan force was almost annihilated.

Two years later, Genoa captured Porto Pisano, the city's access to the sea, and filled in the harbour. Pisa thus lost its role as a major Mediterranean naval power and its power in Tuscany diminished accordingly. In 1406 it was conquered in 1406 by Florence.

The Basilica of San Piero a Grado occupies the site where Porto Pisano once stood as the port of Pisa
The Basilica of San Piero a Grado occupies the site
where Porto Pisano once stood as the port of Pisa
Travel tip:

After the Battle of Meloria, Porto Pisano, also known as Triturrita, was rebuilt as a port and sold by Genoa to Florence. But it suffered from increasing alluvial deposits, which meant that the Tuscan coastline grew steadily further away. Florence subsequently began to use Livorno as its port and after the 16th century Porto Pisano ceased entirely to be used and disappeared. The site it formerly occupied, now some 9km (4.5 miles) inland from the Marina di Pisa, is occupied by the Romanesque Basilica of San Piero a Grado and a small village of the same name.

Marina di Pisa has become a stylish holiday destination
Marina di Pisa has become a stylish holiday destination
Travel tip:

Marina di Pisa is a seaside town located 12km (7 miles) from Pisa that began to develop in the early 17th century when Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decided to move the mouth of the Arno river in a bid to reduce the effect of silting up, which he believed caused flooding in Pisa. On the left bank, a new customs building was erected and fishermen began to build houses around this structure. The official foundation of the town was in 1872. In June 1892 a steam railway line from Pisa to the Marina was opened, contributing to its rapid growth as a tourist destination, which saw the construction of many beautiful Art Nouveau and neo-medieval villas.

More reading:

How the Battle of Solferino led to the founding of the Red Cross

Galileo Galilei - Pisa's most famous son

The kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

Also on this day:

1519: The birth of the singer and composer Barbara Strozzi

1994: The death of singer and songwriter Domenico Modugno