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Avigliana, Province of Torino, Piedmont

Situated amid morenic hills at the entrance of the Valdisusa, one of the most beautiful valleys in Italy, the town has an ancient medieval borough, and was a historic residence of the Savoy family. A couple of miles to the south are the fine, glacial lakes of Avigliana, called Lago Grande and Lago Piccolo.

Info

  • Altitude: 380 m a.s.l
  • Surface area: sq km
  • Population: about 11,000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 10051
  • Phone Area Code: 011
  • Patron Saint: St. Giovanni Battista, celebrated on 24 June
  • Frazioni & Localities: Drubiaglio, Milanere, Mortera, Bertassi

History

The area was inhabited since the Neolithic Age, as shown by traces of stilt houses in the marshes near the lakes. The tradition says that in 595 BC Belloveso, a Celtic chief, founded the town. After the fall of the Roman empire a Lombard fortress was established on mount Pezzulano, where remains of fortifications are still extant. Being near the Via Francigena, a medieval itinerary from Canterbury in England all the way south through France, Rome, and finally the Apulian ports, used for many centuries by pilgrims directed to Rome or Jerusalem in Apulia, Avigliana was a resting place for travellers under the control of the Novalesa Abbey.

From the 8th to the 10th century repeated Saracen raids caused the destruction of the castle of Avigliana, and the reconstruction took place under Adelaide, countess of Moriana Savoy. In the early 12th century Amedeo III Savoy further strengthened the castle, which was however sieged and captured in 1187 by Emperor Henry VI, after whose death again the castle was rebuilt. In 1360 Amedeo VI, the so-called Green Earl, had a son in Avigliana, Amedeo VII, who was later nicknamed the Red Earl. In 1367 he ordered the imprisonment in Avigliana of Filippo II d'Acaja who was executed by drowning in the icy waters of the lake: a legend says that his ghost still wanders over the waters of the lakes.

Other two sieges by the French armies were in 1536 and 1630, both times the castle had to surrender. A final siege in 1690 by general Catinat caused the destruction, and the castle was not rebuilt.

What to see

  • The medieval borough, with 13th century houses around the Piazza Conte Rosso and the Clock Tower, with the most ancient clock in Piedmont and second in Italy.
  • The Church of San Giovanni, with fine paintings by Defendente Ferrari (ca. 1480/85 - 1540).
  • On top of the hill, the ruins of the Avigliana castle, destroyed in the late 17th century, which can be reached on foot.
  • The Laghi di Avigliana park, a natural enclave with many species of water birds.

Events

  • In June, the Palio dei borghi di Avigliana, a re-enactement of a huge feast that took place in 1389 when Valentina Visconti, the daughter of Gian Galeazzo Visconti lord of Milan, passed through Avigliana directed to France to meet her Betrothed, Louis de Turenne, the brother of the French king. The celebrations ends with a tournament and horserace. The Palio takes place among the 8 original boroughs but also groups from other places take part to the games.

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