Zavattarello: the green pearl of Oltrepò Pavese
Zavattarello is a small Medieval borough in Oltrepò Pavese in the high valley of the Tidone river.
In a strategic position since ancient times, this town is situated in that part of Northern Italy called "Four Regions", because it's the meeting point of four different regions: Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Liguria. Those valleys have the same traditions, typical dishes and shared common historical events.
In the heart of Zavattarello, dominated by the Dal Verme Castle, the stone houses preserve their ancient athmosphere: this is the Medieval borough, which the inhabitants call "Su di dentro" ("the Inner Village") because it was surrounded by strong fortification walls. Outside, you can see the modern town, cut in half by the provincial road that links the Valtidone road (SS412) and the Penice road (SS461).
The borough is about 600 m above the sea, surrounded by an uncontaminated nature, which healthy air is uniquely pure.
Nowadays it seems incredible how such a small village, with less than one thousand inhabitants, can be both the reign of tranquillity and the reference point for any kind of events, thanks to the unceasing activity of the Town Hall and local associations.
Zavattarello is therefore the ideal place if you love peace and silence, but also if you look for a living place with a rich cultural offer and entertainments.
Brief guide to the visit of Zavattarello
The Medieval borough: the "Su di Dentro"
The most ancient part of Zavattarello is situated on the hill slope at the foot of the Dal Verme Castle. You can enter the Medieval borough from Piazza Dal Verme, passing under the stone arch of a Medieval entrance tower.
The sandstone arch is impressive for its conservation. Other three similar towers used to be the core of the "Su di Dentro" defensive system, together with the fortified walls still visible walking outside the borough.
The one you see today as a narrow street used to be the main road of the town, leading to the fortress on the top of the hill. On the left, after the entrance tower, you can see the sentinels' place.
The first road on the right, after a modernised building that used to be district prison in the 19th century, is the Abbot Alley, one of the most peculiar perspective of the "Su di Dentro". Its name comes from an ancient monastery, unfortunately now lost.
The visit of the ancient village can give you pleasant discoveries: the careful observer will sure notice, above the door lintel of an ancient house, a terracotta relief representing Mary with Jesus child, a fine artwork by an unknown 17th century artist. Below this relief, in the middle of the door lintel, you can see a typical cross, as you can find on other lintels of the most ancient houses in town.
Places of interest in the more recent part of the town
Also the more recent part of the town has its own attractives.
The main square, surrounded by the typical stone houses, is dominated on one side by a large 19th century palace: in origin a Dal Verme dwelling, it became the Town Hall in the 1970s, then the middle school, and now is the location of the Municipal Library and the cultural associations of the village.
Up on the right, before the road leading to the castle, an imposing 17th century building used to be the magistrate's court and prison, used up to the midlle of the 19th century.
At the entrance of Piazza Dal Verme, you can find the 14th century St. Roch Oratory. In origin it was part of a Cistercian monastery, unfortunately now lost, whose buildings probably included the current Town Hall. The main altar is in gilded wood, with a late Baroch altarpiece: Ambrogio Corona (in "Zavattarello pearl of Oltrepò") called it "a Baroque masterpiece".
The Parish Church of St. Paul is almost at the town borders towards Varzi, on a little hillock. Recent studies say that, before the building of the church, here stood an ancient Pagan sanctuary. They say the most ancient name of Zavattarello came from Saturn, the deity here worshipped: Sarturanum.
Now we can see the church as it was after the 16th century restoration, even though this building is more ancient than the castle itself. In this church stopped the monks from Bobbio in 929 during their journey to bring the remains of St. Columba to Pavia, along the path known as Via S.ti Columbani ("St. Columba's path").
Behind the church you can't miss a glimpse to the 17th century octagonal cemetery, where you can also find the Dal Verme family tombs.
Going a bit further along the provincial road, you can see the Memories' Museum "Magazzino dei Ricordi", where a route along everyday life lets you discover centuries of traditions, a cultural heritage with ancient roots. Here you can feel the long, multifaceted, suffered history of labor and outliving in the past of our valley. You should not miss the school activities and the experimental initiatives for children and adults.
Curious? Want to know more?
The town coat of arms
It represents a dragon chained to a red apple tree to be its guardian. Below a Latin motto reads:
"Praeda vigil vigilataque poma"
("The prey is watching and its fruits are guarded")
This coat of arms originated from the wall painting over the entrance to the Dal Verme Castle, where it warned enemies that the fortress was well guarded.
The origin of the town name
It is now well known that the name "Zavattarello" comes from the most practised activity during the Medieval ages, the job of the shoemaker: the ancient italian savatarellum indicates the place where they made a particular type of shoes (the savatte).
But it is less known that, before the early Middle Ages, the town was instead called "Sarturanum". Recent researches tell that the origin of this name comes from an ancient sanctuary dedicated to Saturn, which was where St. Paul church now stands.