Monday, 11 November 2013

The Beautiful One

The name of the city of Belluno, is frequently mistranslated as 'Beautiful One', though its origin is from a Gallic, pre-Roman name based on bel  and dunum, and indicating a site on a high ground or a fortress.
At the suggestion of his sister Pauline, Napoleon gave Marshal Victor the title of Duke of Belluno - with the Emperor perhaps not realizing the reason for her proposal.  The truth was, Victor had a formidable appetite for wine and his glowing, red cheeks had earned him the title ‘Victor Beausoleil’.    Pauline had said, laughing, after the title had been conferred, ‘He will be the beautiful sun and the beautiful moon, now!’  (A pun on ‘bella luna’.)

A band playing in the Campedèl

The painting above hangs in the Museo Civico di Belluno and is by Alessandro Seffer (1832 - 1905), a local painter whose paintings of scenes in the Veneto (Venetia) region let us glimpse life in towns in the Piave valley as it was in his time.
In the Roman era the site of the Campedèl was a place - a small plateau - where sacrifices were made to the gods.  By the 19th century it was a marketplace where produce from the country areas surrounding Belluno was brought for sale.  Today it is the Piazza dei Martiri, named after the local people who were executed there in WW2 during the fight against the Nazi occupation.

 Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008
The Piazza dei Martiri

Nowadays, in the Piazza dei Martiri, people stroll around or relax on the benches to read the local newspaper or - like my daughter Jenny in the photo above - sit by the fountain.  Most of the buildings described in The Door of Perarolo remain, though the ruined castle which once occupied the SW corner of the Campedèl has completely vanished.  

The Porta Ussolo (renamed the the Porta  Dante after the Unification), from where the sergeant and the sentry watched Fortin's arrival in The Door of Perarolo, can still be found on the south side of the Piazza, as can the more imposing Porta Dojona. Through either we can get glimpses of old Belluno, the ancient walled city.   

The Via Rialto, passing through the Porta Dojona, leads us along to the Piazza Erbe.  Here the fruit and vegetable market comes alive from the early hours.

Photographs © Peter Alexander Gray 2008


Yet Belluno is more than entitled to call herself 'The Beautiful One'.  She is a jewel of a city perched on her plateau over a wide plain that hereabouts is the Piave valley , surrounded by hills - and what hills!

 Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008

The present-day bridge over the Piave 

The stone bridge over the Piave was carried away by flood waters in 1882 and today only a single arch - from where the above photo was taken - still stands.  The river here is, as elsewhere, lined with trees (timber was the lifeblood of the Piave valley for centuries).  In the distance to the south can be seen the hills (though these are as nothing compared to those to the north of Belluno, in Cadore).

  Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008

The cathedral seen from the bridge over the Piave

The cathedral of San Martino can be seen from many miles away, from all points of the compass.  It dates from 1517.  The tourist office - well worth a visit for maps and postcards - is located close by.

Gabriel stands atop the 18th-century bell tower, designed by Filippo Juvarra and built from blocks of white stone quarried at Castello Lavazzo (now renamed, after a recent referendum, 'Castellavazzo') and brought downriver by zattere (rafts) from Codissago. 

                        Photographs © Peter Alexander Gray 2012

The message to the faithful seems to be clearly indicated by the upraised finger: lead a Godly life, or expect a bolt from the blue.  In modern times a lightning conductor has been added as an extra precautionary measure.

Belluno is a city packed with wonderful places to visit and lovely things to see, and this post touches on but a few of them.  Further posts will attempt to fill in the gaps left by this one, but for the time being, for the next post, we will move on to... Codissago and Castello Lavazzo.

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You may examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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