Chivasso - Historical background

Last update 4 October 2017

Chivasso, main town in Southern Canavese, lies to 14,29 miles northeast of the chief town of Turin. Its wide territory is level but it borders on Monferrato and Turin green hills at its southern side, beyond the river Po: that's why the settlement's name, according to P. Massia (1909), derives from the late - Latin term clivaceus, which means "place facing the hill".
Chivasso is a great meeting point between Turin and Milan and it is situated among Canavese, Monferrato and Asti hills, at the boundary of three different provinces, i.e. Turin, Asti and Vercelli.
The ancient name Clavasium indeed focuses on its geographical position between Cisalpine Gaul and Lombardy.

History and Art

Chivasso escutcheon consists of two keys, a white one on red field and a red one on a white field. According to local tradition, two keys preserved in his church were placed on the sick (especially to those suffering from rabies) to enhance recovery. The red and silver colours are Aleramic lineage ones, Lords of Chivasso and marquises of Monferrato. Chivasso suffered many sieges throughout the years, and for this reason it was offered, by the Dukes of Savoy, two branches of palm, symbol of martyrs for the cities which suffered sieges. Moreover, Chivasso escutcheon reminds us the Francigena way's last halting place, i.e. Rome and Vatican's armorial bearings.
Besides two milestones, dating back to 337 AD, represent an important evidence of the Canavese town existence in Roman times, during emperor Constantine's dominion, even though the main historical reference concerning such municipality dates back to 843 and it is contained in one of Lotary the 1st "privilege", where above - mentioned Clavasium turned out to be Chivasso identifying name.

From 1164 to 1695

Apart from the milestones and the hint included in Lotary's privilege, nothing else is really certain about Chivasso during Roman times and High Middle Ages, as well.
As a result, our brief historical report begins in 1164, remarkable date for the Canavese town: in fact the poor village of fresh - water fishers gathered round San Peter's primitive collegiate church, was subjected by emperor Frederick Barbarossa to the Aleramic lineage, marquises of Monferrato.
Such dynasty could profit by the strategic position of the new feud, which turns out to be placed along the ways leading to Rome through Lombardy, the ones which leave from France and cross alpine passes.
Chivasso was provided with a superb castle, Aleramic court frequent abode, with fortifications and guard towers, one of which, dating back to 1019, is still up at the Cathedral close proximity.
In 1307 prince Theodore the 1st ordered the building of a mint with the licence to issue golden and silver coins, whereas his nephew, Theodore the 2nd, began the works of Saint Mary's collegiate church, strengthened town's walls and the so - called "Cerche", i.e. two wide and deep moats starting from the Po as far as stream Orco, thus surrounding the town itself at the East and North boundaries through artificial canals called "rogge" (irrigation channels), designed to reclaim and irrigate neighbouring fields; in this period the town was allowed the licence to hold fairs and markets.
When Chivasso passed from Paleologi dynasty (who took Aleramic place in the town's rule a hundred years before) to the House of Savoy, in 1435, it didn't stop playing its growing role as a meeting place for merchants and craftsmen: in fact in the late 15th century the still young art of typography emerged and developed thereinafter, and at the same time many other activities came out to be really blooming: modellers, silversmiths, carvers and above prestigious painters. In particular, talented Defendente Ferrari's and Giovan Martino Spanzotti's works are to be remembered: while the former's family had local origins, the latter was from Casale Monferrato. Both kept shop in Chivasso since the early beginning of the 16th century, whose first half was unfortunately marked by plagues and pillages undertaken by Swiss mercenaries and Lansquenets. As though it hadn't been enough, French troops occupied the area in 1536. Six years later the transalpine invaders destroyed every single borough off the town's walls.
Some years after peace of Chateau - Cambresis (1559), Chivasso was back under Savoy's rule, whom it remained really faithful to even during the adversities mentioned right above: that's why it was elevated to the rank of Town by the Lords of Savoy in 1690 and was given the title of Countess of Castelrosso in1695.

From 1705 up to today

In 1705 the town, without losing its strategic and commercial importance, heroically withstood French troops' siege, thus enabling Turin, the State capital, to get ready for the self - defence against the invaders and avoiding its taking by storm.
In 1753 Chivasso inhabitants celebrated their fellow citizen Angelo Carletti's solemn beatification, Franciscan observant who lived in the 15th century, commonly known for the drawing up of a manual meant for confessors, called Summa Angelica. Nowadays he is Chivasso patron saint.
In the 1770's horse - breeding grew in importance in Chivasso countryside, thanks to the constitution of Mandria (Herd), royal estate at the northeast of the build -up area.
During Napoleonic period, the town was ruled by French and included in the Dora Department: ancient fortifications began to be demolished, thus originating the following years avenues, still existing nowadays therein.
After Congress of Vienna (1815), Chivasso came back under Savoy's dominion and in the middle of the same century its railway network came out to be more and more important; the following decade saw the building of the monumental Cavour Canal which currently begins from Chivasso. In 1870 a masonry bridge was built across the river Po which divides the build - up area from the hill villages: it was destroyed by 1994 tragic flood and replaced by the current concrete bridge.
In the second half of the 19th century Chivasso increased its key role as a commercial site, hence inns and hostels flourished therein. Skilled painter Demetrio Cosola (1851 - 1895) was able to faithfully describe his contemporaries' lives as well as bourgeoisie habits. Piazza d'Armi, at the western boundary of the downtown, was the ideal place for the development of the cattle market in the late 19th century, but in the following decades such trading found its more suitable seat in the area of Foro Boario.
Moreover, another reason why Piazza d'Armi should to be remembered is Tesio Palace, whose wonderful 18th century facing brick façade looks onto it: in 1943 the so - called "Chivasso Charter", a relevant document concerning alpine valleys autonomy, was signed therein.
Since late 50's in the 20th century, a period of economic growth has begun, matched to a similar increase in demography and housing. Apart from the small - seized already operating industrial plants, i.e. textile manufactures, distilleries and tanneries, ENEL thermoelectric plant and, above all, Lancia huge automotive factory were built (1963). After the latter had closed and reconverted, the town has been partially recovering by investing more and more on services sector.

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