A guide to the discovery of medieval village of Bobbio, a jewel in Emilia Romagna | Bellarome

A guide to the discovery of medieval village of Bobbio, a jewel in Emilia Romagna

Bobbio is an Italian town of 3.544 inhabitants in the province of Piacenza, in the Trebbia valley, in Emilia-Romagna. The territory, inhabited since the Neolithic with Celto-Ligurian settlements, became Roman in 14 BC and in the 4th century the fortified village of Castrum Bobium was formed, but its history is identical to that of the Abbey of San Colombano founded in 614.

Throughout the Middle Ages it had a political, religious and cultural role of European significance, and its royal and imperial feudal possessions, since the Lombard and Carolingian ages, ranged in vast areas of central and northern Italy. On February 14, 1014 it had the title of City, becoming Diocese, Episcopal County, Municipality and encircling walls; first independent as Imperial fiefdom, a short parenthesis as Lordship of the Malaspina, then under the Duchy of Milan as the autonomous imperial county of the Dal Verme, and finally in the Kingdom of Sardinia under the Savoy. Free commune from the beginning of the XII century, it fought with the Lombard League against Barbarossa in Legnano. Genoese province until the unification of Italy, until 1923 it was part of the province of Pavia, then passed to the province of Piacenza. It was a bishopric until 1986.

The city is home to the new Union of Municipalities: the Trebbia and Luretta Valleys Mountain Union. It is a tourist destination known for its past of art and culture. The historic center has kept intact the characteristics of the medieval village. The symbol of the town is the Ponte Gobbo (or Ponte del Diavolo), a stone bridge of Roman origin, which crosses the Trebbia river with 11 irregular arches. It dominates the Sanctuary of Santa Maria in Monte Penice, which is located on the top of the homonymous mountain.

The history of this small center is lost in the mists of time, in fact, the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but becomes an important center starting from the Roman colonization when the portion of the bridge now known as the Ponte Gobbo is built, to become in the early Middle Ages one of the most important centers of western monasticism. In fact, just in Bobbio, the Irish monk San Colombano founded a monastery which in a short time developed one of the most important and prestigious libraries of all Christianity and where some of the most ancient and valuable Latin manuscripts in history are still preserved today.

Bobbio is a small town, but the density of art and culture that you will find is something unique and you will fall in love with the cobbled streets and brick buildings of this medieval town.

Bobbio is perfect to visit in any season of the year: in winter the city is often whitewashed by snow, offering a magical and fascinating atmosphere; in spring and summer the luxuriant nature of the Apennines gives their best by offering a fresh refuge from the heat of the Po Valley, autumn, finally, gives the woods around the town an incredible variety of colors ranging from coppery to red for panoramas truly breathtaking.

Let’ see in detail the wonders of this beautiful medieval village!


Ponte Gobbo

Ponte Gobbo (also called Ponte Vecchio or Ponte del Diavolo) is an ancient bridge with an irregular profile, which crosses the Trebbia river in Bobbio in the province of Piacenza, and is the symbol of Bobbio.

Ponte Vecchio di Bobbio, 273 meters long, has been called Ponte Gobbo for the particular irregular profile with 11 unequal arches between them and placed at different heights.

This bridge, of Roman origin, is formed by 11 long irregular arches that give it an original and suggestive appearance, which is also at the origin of the legends about its name. In fact, it is said that the bridge was built with this aspect by the devil himself to frighten the monks of the monastery of San Colombano and prevent them from crossing the river.

There are three pairs of shrines or crosses above the main spans. In the two above the main arch (called della Spessa) there are two statues, which represent San Colombano and the Madonna dell’Aiuto.

The period of construction of the Ponte Vecchio, called hunchback for the irregularity and the hump of its arches, cannot be dated, but dates back to Roman times and it can be assumed that it arose after the Roman conquest of the then Ligurian-Celtic village; it underwent numerous remakes in the following ages.

Traces of an older bridge below have been found which may be considered high medieval, prior to the arrival of San Colombano. The building above dates back to the seventh centuryby. In the Bobiense Historical Archives, there is a document dated 6 April 1196 which testifies to the maintenance of the bridge.

For the settlement of Bobbio, it was vital to have a secure connection with the various activities on the right bank of the Trebbia: the thermal salt pans, the Roman and Longobard thermal baths, the furnace of the Rio Gambado and the road connecting with the Genoese and the Lunigiana (where the Bobbian monastery had numerous possessions). Due to the torrential nature, the Trebbia has sudden and devastating floods with frequent movement of the gravel bed, which makes wading problematic especially in the winter months.

Until the 16th century, the bridge was composed of a few arches, a large arch on the right bank of the Trebbia with three smaller arches. The floods of the river over the years have inflicted several wounds on the stone bridge, which was always patiently rebuilt even with substantial modifications to improve its safety and robustness.

Around 1590, it began to be extended towards the left bank, designed by the master Magnano from Parma, during the seventeenth century the bridge came to have eleven arches.

For centuries, the bridge was a destination for pilgrims and religious processions with blessings with the construction of crosses and votive images near the banks (today some of them are still visible).


Abbey of San Colombano

The abbey of San Colombano is one of the most important monastic centers in Europe, the last founded in Italy by San Colombano in 614 in Bobbio, in the province of Piacenza. Subjected to his monastic rule and the order of San Colombano, he became a Benedictine around the ninth century.

The abbey throughout the Middle Ages was one of the most important monastic centers in Europe. The whole complex is made up of the Basilica, the Cloister, the Gardens, the cells and the scriptorium.

At the moment, the basilica is a parish of the vicariate of Bobbio, Alta Val Trebbia, Aveto and Oltre Penice of the diocese of Piacenza-Bobbio.  It rises in the center of the town which formed over time around the vast area occupied by the monastery.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the abbey was one of the most important monastic centers in Europe, making it a Montecassino in northern Italy between the seventh and twelfth centuries; in fact it is made famous by the Scriptorium, whose catalog, in 982, included over 700 codices and which after dispersion in other libraries preserved 25 of the 150 oldest manuscripts of Latin literature in the world.

It became the abbey of the monastic order whose power extended in Europe thanks to numerous abbeys and monasteries founded by its monks since the Lombard era. In northern Italy the monastic fiefdom of Bobbio was quickly created, then replaced by the “episcopal county of Bobbio”.

The current abbey complex dates back, therefore, to the end of the 15th-early 16th century: only partially has the structure of the ancient proto-Romanesque basilica been preserved, of which a short section of the circular apse, part of the bell tower and a portion of the splendid mosaic floor; only the area of the refectory remains of the 11th century monastery, now occupied by the City Museum.

In the Napoleonic era, the Abbey was suppressed and many of its assets, including the precious codes, were put up for auction.

Today, what remains of the ancient heritage of the Bobbiense codes, is preserved in various libraries: the Ambrosian Library of Milan, the Vatican Library of Rome, the National Library of Turin and others.

The cloister and the corridor of the abbey are open every day until 20 in the winter and 22 in the summer.

Religious services are held there only on holidays. The annual festival is November 23, the feast of the patron saint of Bobbio.

Today the Abbey is home to the City Museum.


Malaspina Castle

The Malaspina Dal Verme di Bobbio Castle is a fortified structure consisting of several buildings enclosed within the internal stone walls. The fort is accessed from two entrances, both located to the north.

The entrance hall leads to the “Sala delle Marine” and to a lounge with a large stone fireplace surmounted by the arms of the Dal Verme family. On the wall along the staircase leading to the upper floors, there is a detached fresco, referable to the 16th century, depicting a Madonna and Child.

In 1360, Galeazzo Visconti donated the Malaspina Castle from Verme to his daughter-in-law Isabella of France, wife of her son Gian Galeazzo. We will have to wait until 1436 to witness the passage of the castle among the assets of the Dal Verme counts.

The current structure of the castle seems to be due to the will of one of his descendants, Pietro Dal Verme, who intervened in the mid-fifteenth century.

The transformation of the ancient, austere manor into an elegant residence, which the sources date back to 1545, is due to Gian Maria Dal Verme himself. A substantial campaign of works should go back to the middle and slightly beyond the sixteenth century. In fact, the difference in level between the current access and the support surface of the scarp wall, about 3 meters high, may suggest that some rooms that were no longer viable were originally present on the ground floor.

In 1973, interventions were carried out which entailed the reconstruction of all the plasters, the floors, the roof, the consolidation of the structures and part of the staircase. The Malaspina dal Verme di Bobbio Castle is a state-owned asset managed directly by the Superintendency for architectural and landscape heritage for the provinces of Parma and Piacenza.

Today the castle can be visited by the tower from which to admire a breathtaking view of the Val Trebbia.

Museum of the City

Located in the premises of the former refectory, kitchen, hand basin and cellar of the San Colombano monastery, the City Museum offers an introductory path to the history of the Abbey and the city of Bobbio. The setting, with multimedia audiovisual workstations, addresses issues related to the life of San Colombano, the activity of the Scriptorium, the history of monasticism and tells the main stages that have characterized the history of the city.

In addition to restoring the monastery’s oldest rooms to public use, the City Museum traces the history of one of the most important centers of culture and spirituality in medieval Europe and prepares for a visit to the abbey and the city of Bobbio.

The museum layout, made up of transparent displays, in which the issues related to the life and work of San Colombano are addressed, the geopolitical situation of Longobard Italy and the activity of the famous Scriptorium has been transferred to the monastery corridor.

Above the entrance portal there is a warning of the rule of San Colombano: Ne quid nimis (nothing too much, no excess) which reminded the monks of being parks towards food. On the upper sides of the portal there are two apotropaic heads, one original from the XIII century, the other opposite in copy.

The first section is dedicated to the life and works of San Colombano, to relations with the Lombard court and ties with Ireland while in the second room the abbey complex is described from an architectural point of view and the activity of the scriptorium that he made di Bobbio the largest center for the diffusion of culture in northern Italy.

Inside, you can admire a wonderful 12th century terracotta decoration, the remarkable almost intact recovered floor, and a 15th century fresco depicting the Crucifixion with San Colombano and San Benedetto.

The museum layout has recently been renewed: it is possible to enjoy an introductory video on the city of Bobbio in an immersive environment.


Cathedral of Bobbio

The cathedral of Bobbio or co-cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is a parish church of Bobbio in the province of Piacenza, cathedral until 1986 of the diocese of Bobbio, subsequently, until 1989, co-cathedral of the archdiocese of Genoa-Bobbio, now co-cathedral of the diocese. Piacenza-Bobbio and seat of the vicariate of Bobbio, Alta Val Trebbia, Aveto and Oltre Penice.


It rises in the center of the urban fabric of the town, which formed little by little around the vast area between the Abbey of San Colombano and the Piazza del Duomo: it is the medieval village called “intrinsic village”, today’s historical center, which retained the original name of Bobium.

It has a modern decoration in the three naves and an eighteenth-century one in the presbytery and in the dome of the transept. In the chapel of San Giovanni, which is accessed from the right transept, you can admire a wonderful fresco from the second half of the fifteenth century, depicting the Annunciation.

In addition to the cathedral church, the complex of the cathedral is made up of various buildings, the Episcopal Palace with the Diocesan Museum of the Cathedral, the gardens and the oratory, and the Old seminary which today houses the historical Archives of Bobiense with the seventeenth-century cloister.

Adjacent to the cathedral, there is the 11th century bishop’s palace which houses the Cathedral Museum.

The exhibition runs through ten rooms, with works that illustrate the history of the diocese of Bobbio, the episcopal palace and the cathedral. The entrance hall tells the story of the diocese through maps, documents and testimonies of the last bishop Msgr. Pietro Zuccarino. The next room, on whose walls you can admire the large fresco with portraits of the bishops of Bobbio, houses pastoral and episcopal vestments. In the third room, the treasure of the Cathedral is exposed, consisting of wooden carvings, silverware and fabrics.

The itinerary includes the fresco room (room IV) which houses an eighteenth-century mural painting depicting the Adoration of the Magi, the room of the Archive (room V) which preserves the original wooden furniture intact and the bishop’s chapel with a painting by Domenico Buonviso of 1624 (VI room). Testimony of popular belief are the reliquaries displayed in the adjoining room (VII room), while the last rooms are dedicated respectively to furnishings from the parishes of the diocese (VIII room) and pictorial works (IX room). The tour ends with a room dedicated to Sant’Antonio Maria Gianelli with documents and synodal acts that belonged to him (X room).

The cathedral is open every day with continuous hours.


Monastery of San Francesco

The monastery of San Francesco, together with its church, is a former ecclesiastical building in Bobbio in the province of Piacenza.

It stands near the hamlet of Corgnate (ant. Codognarum), once outside the center of the urban fabric of the town, as for the Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Aiuto: it is the medieval village called “extrinsic village”, next to the today’s historic center, which retained the original name of “Bobium”.

The facade of the church opens in the homonymous Piazza San Francesco, next to the tourist office and the new public parking.

The monastery of San Francesco and the church were built around 1230, in fact the construction would have started on a land donated by the monks of San Colombano to the same San Francesco who came to Bobbio to make peace to one of the numerous disputes that arose between abbot of the monastery and the bishop of Bobbio, on the ancient monastic land attributions.

In a document of 1756, the ancient existence of a church and a small monastery with a cell-dormitory occupied by Saint Francis himself is mentioned. What without exact historical documentation is traditionally remembered as the “passage of St. Francis of Assisi to Bobbio”, could prove less imaginative given the actual fulfillment of a journey by the saint to northern Italy between 1210-12.

The works ended in 1233 and Bobbio is the oldest Franciscan settlement in the north of Italy, built in a city of enormous monastic fame and a destination for pilgrimages along the Via Francigena and the Via degli Abati. In 1436, the monastery of Santa Chiara, now the municipal seat, and the hospital of San Lazzaro destroyed in 1472 will also rise in the Franciscan town.

The monastic complex was surrounded by mighty walls, demolished in 1800 after the monastic suppression

In the 15th century the monastery, which remained until now independent, passed to the congregation of the minor friars of Bologna.

In 1710 the church underwent significant changes and was re-consecrated in 1722.

In 1783 there was the passage to the minor friars of Turin.

The monastic building was occupied by the Napoleons in 1802, after the Franciscan monks were expelled the church underwent considerable changes becoming a warehouse.

Subsequently, the Marquis Malaspina acquired the entire complex by renovating it.

The cloister of the fifteenth century is suggestive, supported on three sides by squat pillars which support four spans on each side covered by cross vaults, above which runs a loggia with a wooden roof with columns with medieval capitals.

There is currently a private architectural recovery project for the monastic part, while the church was donated by the owners to the municipality. For the church there is currently a project of architectural recovery and transformation into a city auditorium.

Sanctuary of Santa Maria in Monte Penice

The ancient sanctuary of Santa Maria in Monte Penice is located at the summit of Mount Penice at 1,460 m., Is a non-parish ecclesiastical building in the municipality of Bobbio in the province of Piacenza, on the border with the province of Pavia. Dedicated to the Madonna, it dates back to a primitive seventh century building then enlarged several times. Located in a particularly panoramic point, from its square you can enjoy a wide view not only on the Trebbia valley and the Staffora valley, but on the entire Emilia and Pavia area and on particular days even the snow-covered Alps are visible.

The summit of Mount Penice can be reached by means of a road about 4 km long, which climbs from the Penice pass to 1149 m., Where the provincial road former state road 461 of the Passo del Penice (Bobbio-Voghera) passes. The location can also be reached through the Val Tidone via the former state road 412 of the Val Tidone (Castel San Giovanni-Romagnese-Passo Penice).

Its origins are lost over the centuries. Historical sources attest that on this peak the Madonna has been venerated for more than 1350 years, for a promise made by Saint Colombanus to the queen of the Lombards Theodolinda in the seventh century. From the Lombard rulers the Irish missionary saint had the territory on which he founded the abbey of San Colombano in 614. It appears that the building was built on a Celtic-Ligurian pagan temple.


In fact, an artifact dating back to the I-II century was found, now preserved in Genoa in the castle of Montegalletto. The artefact is a 96 mm bronze statuette depicting a priest offering a pagan deity.

In 622 the Lombard king Adaloaldo, who took over from his father Agilulfo, with his mother Teodolinda who came to Bobbio to visit Colombano’s tomb, went up to the top of Mount Penice in prayer, before going down to the city.

In the 11th century, the sanctuary already exists in its present size. The church has the ancient title of Mother of God which later became “Santa Maria in Monte Penice” or more commonly “Madonna del Penice”.

In 1073 the original building was renewed, and other restoration works date back to 1619

For centuries the sanctuary belonged to the numerous possessions of the monastery of San Colombano, together with the parishes of San Cristoforo, Dezza and Ceci then until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when it passed to the diocese of Bobbio becoming the main Marian cult center of the area.

In the early 1900s the front porch was built (a postcard owned by the Diocesan historical archive Piacenza – Bobbio dated 1904 still shows the church without a portico), while the statue of the Redeemer was placed on October 14, 1900; the new bell tower was built in 1967. On September 12, 1927 the 3 km carriage road that leads to the summit from the Penice pass was completed.

The stone building has undergone several renovations. In recent years it has been completely renovated: on the outside you can admire the exposed stone, inside the structure has recently returned to its original splendor. New the altar and the ambo. The sacristy was also recovered and the premises used for the public were redone. Inside the building you can admire the precious wooden statue of the Virgin with the Child on her lap which dates back to the period between the end of the 1500s and the beginning of the 1600s. Also worthy of note is the statue of San Bartolomeo, original from the 18th century .

In 2009, by the rector Don Angiolino Bulla, the interior of the church was decorated with precious oriental icons.

The summit of the mountain and the sanctuary are the destination of numerous excursions both on foot and on horseback, once but also to this day they were processions of pilgrims. There is also an ancient, largely dirt track that climbs from Bobbio called the medieval path to the Sanctuary of Monte Penice.