“Feltria perpetuo niveum damnata rigore
Atque mihi posthac haud adeunda, vale“
“Feltria, condemned to the rigor of eternal snows, from me too, who henceforth will scarcely approach you, Farewell!”
Not surprisingly a Roman author, perhaps Cesar himself, uses these words to describe the ancient city of Feltre. The historical town, situated on the southern edge of the Italian Dolomites (in the Belluna Valley) and on the West of the Piave River, still is famous for its proverbial rigorous climate. Since we do love winter, ice and snow, this time of the year seems to be perfect for taking a walk among the characteristic street of the citadel, taking advantage of the fact that quite nobody is around. Despite the cold weather, a few rays of the sun give us that something extra to make our little tour even more enjoyable.
One of the most famous and characteristic access points to the citadel is a stairway which, through a gate in the ancient walls right in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, leads directly to the main square – Piazza Maggiore.
The arched gallery – called “Vittore dal Pozzo” – attracts tourists but, most of all, photographers trying to capture its beauty and chasing the best angle to withdraw it. The path is all made of stone with a wooden roof and, not by chance, it is the only one sheltered access to the old town; in effect, it represented the link between two political and social crucial point of the settlement: the cathedral and the Palazzo della Ragione. Such characteristic walks, along with its being castled on the top of the hill, make me often think of Feltre as a sort of little Minas Tirith, full of cobbled alleys, arches and narrow passageways.
Possibly of Etruscan origins, Feltre’s history dates back to Roman times, when became an import Municipium in 49 BC. Thanks to its strategic position it gained more and more importance during the Imperial times, being touched by the Claudia Augusta – a famous Roman road – that linked Opitergium (Oderzo) to Tridentum (Trento) and the Brenner region; furthermore, the city benefited from the proximity to two important waterways, Piave and Brenta. Being a strategic commercial and military junction unsurprisingly, after the fall of the Western, Feltre was targeted by all the foreign peoples that came from the borders of the empire, to become a Lombard dominion in the VI sec. During the late Middle Ages, it was ruled by several signorie – Da Romano, Da Camino, Scaligeri and Visconti – to be finally conquered by the Republic of Venice in 1404. In 1499, under the Serenissima, Feltre’s defensive structures were strengthened through the construction of a new line of external walls. After this, except for a ruinous destruction in 1509, the city remained under the Venetians until the arrival of Napoleon, in 1797. Finally, we can not fail to mention its key role as war scenario during I and II WW.
From the naturalistic point of view, Feltre is not exception indeed. As we proceed up to the stairway a wonderful view is revealed on our left: a cobbled terrace shows, behind the roofs covered with snow, the mountainside of the famous Monte Grappa, which stands towards the South; in the opposite direction, 20 kilometres North, Belluno is situated with its Dolomites National Park. Feltre lies at the centre of an area of enormous naturalistic interest, offering a wide range of pathways, from the trekking and Nordic walking trails, suitable for everyone, to the more challenging mountain paths, for hiking lovers.
Reached the top of the hill, on our left, we first find the Palazzo della Ragione, a 16th-century, administrative headquarters in the Venetian period and still the Town Hall. Its characteristic feature is the long arcade, attributed to Andrea Palladio. The palace, since 1684, hosts the Teatro della Senna, which was chosen in 1729 by Goldoni for the theatrical representation of two of his plays.
In front of us, the view of Piazza Maggiore square opens, revealing the 17th-century Saint Rocc’s church and the so called “Alboino castle”, traditionally attributed to the Lombard period, as the king’s name shows, and rebuilt in the 11th century. On left stands Palazzo Guarnieri, reshaped in the beginning of the 19th Century by Giuseppe Segusini, who gave the building its characteristic Neogothic features. The square feature also the presence of the beautiful fountains the architect Tullio Lombardo gave to the city in 1488.
At the centre of Piazza Maggiore we can see two statues, paying homage one to two 15th Century outstanding men from Feltre: Panfilo Castaldi – a 14th Century typographer considered one of the fathers of movable type – and Vittorino de’ Rimbaldoni – teacher at the very first Greek language school in Venice. A third statue emerges from the square: the lion of San Marco watches over the entire city.
The street which runs through the square is called Via Mezzaterra and connects the two main gates of the citadel: the Imperial gate and Oria gate. Via Mezzaterra was the artery of the social life: it collects a long succession of noble palaces – most of all dating back to the 16th century – still showing stunning frescoes to the passersby. Because of the magnificence of its frescoed façades, Feltre was indeed called “Urbs Picta“.
Not of minor importance, the citadel also hosts two important museum spaces. The Civic Museum, that features works by important painters such as Bellini and Cima da Conegliano, and the Galleria Rizzarda, a Modern Art gallery mainly displaying artefacts made of wrought iron from the 19th Century, but also owning works by Fattori and Carrà. Feltre also has an important underground archaeological area just under the Duomo, showing some Roman remains, that can be freely visited by appointment.
So our visit is almost finished. Via Mezzaterra ends at the Oria gate; leaving the citadel at our back nothing is lost: still that astonishing landscape surrounds us and we can just and only revel in it.
Green wool dress sewed by me; old boots; vintage wool cape; purple wool hat Koan by Coin; vintage silver stag brooch.
*Pics by Antonio and me*