Piacenza (Placentia in Latin, Piasëinsa in the local dialect of Emiliano-Romagnolo) is a city and comune in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Piacenza. Modern forms of the name descend from Latin Placentia. The etymology is long-standing, tracing an origin from the Latin verb, placēre, "to please." It is thus a "pleasant abode" or as James Boswell reported some of the etymologists of his time to have translated, "comely." This was a name "of good omen."
Strategically the city is at a major crossroads at the intersection of Route E35/A1 between Bologna, gateway to eastern Italy, and Milan, gateway to the Alps, and Route E70/A21 between Brescia at the foot of the Alps and Tortona, where branches lead to Turin in the north, a major industrial city, and Genoa, a major coastal port. Piacenza is also at the confluence of the Trebbia, draining the northern Apennines, and the Po, the major waterway of northern Italy, draining to the east. Piacenza right from its foundation has been of vital interest to political powers who would control northern Italy, more than any other city there. In peace it is a cultural center; in war, a focus of conflict. Piacenza also host one campus of the Politecnico di Milano.
Before its settlement by the Romans, the area was populated by other peoples; specifically, most recently to the Roman settlement, the region on the right bank of the Po River between the Trebbia River and the Taro River had been occupied by the Ananes or Anamari, a tribe of Cisalpine Gauls. Before then, says Polybius, "These plains were anciently inhabited by Etruscans", before the Gauls took the entire Po valley from them. Although Polybius says the Etruscans were expelled, he meant perhaps selectively, as Etruscan culture continued in the area until assimilated to the Roman. The Etruscans were well known for the practice of divining by the entrails of sheep. A bronze sculpture of a liver called the "Liver of Piacenza" was discovered in 1877 at Gossolengo just to the south of Piacenza complete with the name of regions marked on it which were assigned to various gods. It has been connected to the practice of haruspicy, which was adopted by the Romans; certainly, the liver dates to the middle Roman Republic.
Piacenza and Cremona were founded as a Roman military colonies in May 218 BC. The Romans had planned to construct them after the successful conclusion of the latest war with the Gauls ending in 219 BC. In the spring of 218 BC after declaring war on Carthage the Senate decided to accelerate the foundation and gave the colonists 30 days to appear on the sites to receive their lands. They were each to be settled by 6000 Roman citizens but the cities were to receive Latin Rights; that is, they were to have the same legal status as the many colonies that had been co-founded by Rome and towns of Latium.
The reaction of the Gauls in the region was swift; they drove the colonists off the lands. Taking refuge in Mutina the latter sent for military assistance. A small force under Lucius Manlius was prevented from reaching the area. The Senate now sent two legions under Gaius Atelius. Collecting Manlius and the colonists they descended on Piacenza and Cremona and successfully placed castra there of to support the building of the city. Piacenza must have been walled immediately as the walls were in place when the Battle of the Trebbia was fought around the city in December. There is no evidence either textual or archaeological of a prior settlement on that exact location; however, the site would have been obliterated by construction. Piacenza was the 53rd colony to be placed by Rome since its foundation. It was the first among the Gauls of the Po valley.
It had to be supplied by boat after the Battle of Trebbia, when Hannibal controlled the countryside, for which purpose a port (Emporium) was constructed. In 209 BC Hasdrubal crossed the Alps and laid siege to the city, but he was unable to take it and withdrew. In 200 BC the Gauls sacked and burned it, selling the population into slavery. Subsequently the victorious Romans restored the city and managed to recover 2000 citizens. In 198 BC a combined force of Gauls and Ligurians plundered the whole region. As the people had never recovered from being sold into slavery, they complained to Senate in 190 BC of underpopulation, at which the Senate sent 3000 new settlers. The construction of the Via Aemilia in the 180's made the city easily accessible from the Adriatic ports, which improved trade and the prospects for timely defense. Although sacked and devastated several times, the city always recovered and by the 6th century Procopius was calling it "the principal city in the country of Aemilia".
The era of Late Antiquity in Piacenza (4th/9th centuries AD) was marked by the expansion of Christianity, with the presence of several martyrs. Before the year 286 AD Piacenza was not overtly Christian. In that year the co-emperors of the late Roman Empire resolved once again on an attempt to eradicate Christianity, the senior emperor, Diocletian, relying this time on the services of a subordinate emperor, Maximian. The latter intended to suppress the Christians of Gaul with fire and sword. He ordered the garrison of Thebes, Egypt, to join him in Gaul for that purpose. It is not clear whether he knew that the entire legion, having been recruited in a then intensely Christian region, was Christian.
Judging from the trail of saints, the legion must have landed at Rimini and have traversed the Via Aemilia to Piacenza. From there they entered the Alps north of Milan. In the vicinity of St. Moritz they discovered the hitherto secret orders and ceased to cooperate. The emperor forced a confrontation by ordering them to conduct national sacrifices and then decimated them when they refused. The legion drew up a manifesto stating that they would obey any other command of his but the authority of God took precedence and they would not sacrifice or kill Christians. As much of the legion as was present: 6666 men (perhaps a mystical number) were massacred, becoming the legendary Theban legion, which was declared to be saints in toto, St. Moritz, the site of the massacre, being named after the commander.
Not all individuals and units of the legion were present. Maximian ordered that all other members of the legion were to be tracked down and offered the same choice: sacrifice or die. A company that had reached southern Germany perished in this way. The legends of Saint Antoninus and others across northern Italy can only be explained as being of individuals left behind for various reasons in the passage of the legion. As Diocletian had a long reign and remained anti-Christian the government caught Antoninus in 303 AD and he was beheaded (as had been St. Moritz) at Travo in Val Trebbia, but not before he had had a chance to establish Christianity in Piacenza.
The first Bishop of Piacenza (322-357), San Vittorio, declared Antoninus the patron saint of Piacenza and had the first Basilica di S. Antonio constructed in his honor in 324 in downtown Piacenza. It was restored in 903, rebuilt in 1101, again in 1562, and is still a church today. The remains of the bishop and the soldier are in urns under the altar. The theme of the soldier-saint, protector of Piacenza, is well known in art.
Piacenza was sacked during the course of the Gothic Wars (535–552). After a short period of being reconquered by Roman Emperor Justinian I, it was conquered by the Lombards, who made it a duchy seat. After the Frankish conquest (9th century) the city began to recover, aided by its location along the Via Francigena that later connected the Holy Roman Empire with Rome. Its population and importance grew further after the year 1000. That period marked a gradual transfer of governing powers from the feudal lords to a new enterprising class, as well to the feudal class of the countryside.
In 1095 the city was the site of the Council of Piacenza, in which the First Crusade was proclaimed. From 1126 Piacenza was a free commune and an important member of the Lombard League. In this role it took part in the war against the emperor Frederick Barbarossa and in the subsequent battle of Legnano (1176). It also successfully fought the neighbouring communes of Cremona, Pavia and Parma, expanding its possessions. Piacenza also captured control of the trading routes with Genoa, where the first Piacentini bankers had already settled, from the Malaspina counts and the bishop of Bobbio.
In the 13th century, despite unsuccessful wars against emperor Frederick II, Piacenza managed to gain strongholds on the Lombardy shore of the Po River. The primilaries of the Peace of Constance were signed in 1183 in the Saint Antoninus church. Agriculture and trade flourished in these centuries, and Piacenza became one of the richest cities in Europe. This is reflected in the construction of many important buildings and in the general revision of the urban plan. Struggles for control were commonplace in the second half of the 13th century, not unlike the large majority of Medieval Italian communes. The Scotti family, Pallavicino family and Alberto Scoto (1290–1313) held power in that order during the period. Scoto's government ended when the Visconti of Milan captured Piacenza, which they would hold until 1447. Duke Gian Galeazzo rewrote Piacenza's statutes and relocated the University of Pavia to the city. Piacenza then became a Sforza possession until 1499.
A coin from the 16th century features the motto: Placentia floret ("Piacenza flourishes") on one of its sides. The city was progressing economically, chiefly due to the expansion of agriculture in the countryside surrounding the city. Also in the course of that century a new city wall was erected. Piacenza was ruled by France until 1521, and briefly, under Leo X, it became part of the Papal States. In 1545, it became part of the newly created Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, which was ruled by the Farnese family.
Piacenza was the capital city of the duchy until Ottavio Farnese (1547–1586) moved it to Parma. The city underwent some of its most difficult years during the rule of duke Odoardo (1622–1646), when between 6,000 and 13,000 Piacentini out of the population of 30,000 died from famine and plague, respectively. The city and its countryside were also ravaged by bandits and French soldiers.
Between 1732 and 1859, Parma and Piacenza were ruled by the House of Bourbon. In the 18th century, several edifices which belonged to noble families such as Scotti, Landi and Fogliani were built in Piacenza.
In 1802, Napoleon's army annexed Piacenza to the French Empire. Young Piacentini recruits were sent to fight in Russia, Spain and Germany, while the city was plundered of a great number of artworks which are currently exhibited in many French museums.
The Habsburg government of Maria Luisa 1816-1847 is remembered fondly as one of the best in the history of Piacenza; the duchess drained many lands, built several bridges across the Trebbia river and the Nure stream, and created educational and artistic activities.
Union with Italy
Austrian and Croatian troops occupied Piacenza until, in 1848, a plebiscite marked the entrance of the city in the Kingdom of Sardinia. 37,089 voters out of 37,585 voted for the annexation. Piacenza was therefore declared Primogenita dell'Unità di Italia ("First-born of Unification of Italy") by the monarch. The Piacentini enrolled en masse in the Giuseppe Garibaldi's army in the Expedition of the Thousand.
On June 1865 the first railway bridge over Po river in northern Italy was inaugurated (in southern Italy a railroad bridge had already been built in 1839). In 1891 the first Chamber of Workers was created in Piacenza.
World War II
During World War II the city was heavily bombed by the Allies. The important railway and road bridges across the Trebbia and the Po rivers and the railway yards were destroyed. The historic centre of city itself also suffered collateral damage. In 1944 the bridges over the Po became vital for the supply from Austria of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's Gothic Line, which protected the withdrawal of Kesselring's troops from Italy. Foremost among these were the railway and road bridges at Piacenza, along with supply depots and railway yards. In Operation Mallory Major, July 12–15, allied medium bombers from Corsica flew 300 sorties a day, knocking out 21 bridges east of Piacenza, and then continued to the west for a total of 90 by July 20. Fighter-bombers prevented reconstruction and cut roads and rail lines. By August 4 all the cities of northern Italy were isolated and had suffered heavy bombing, especially Piacenza. Transport to Genoa to the south or through Turin to the north was impossible; nevertheless, Kesselring continued to supply his men.
On the hills and the Apennine mountains, partisan bands were active. On April 25, 1945, a general partisan insurrection by the Italian resistance movement broke out and on April 29, troops of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force entered the city. In 1996 president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro honoured Piacenza with the Gold Medal for Valour in Battle.
There was a Prisoner of War (POW) camp located here known as Veano Camp PG 29, Piacenza.