The first historical documentation of Vicobarone dates to the year 833 in full medieval era.
At that time, “Vici Baruni” was one of the possessions of the Monastero Colombaniano of Bobbio, according to the written documentation of the Abbot Wala, cousin of Carlo Magno and Prior of the Monestary from 833 to 835. 42 possessions are listed in the document today known as “Carta di Wala” conserved in the archives of the Institute of Medieval history in Rome.
The name of this town most probably dates to the Romans. In 1651, P. Maria Campi wrote in Historia Ecclesiastica di Piacenza that the name comes from the latin Vicus Varroni, which literally means Village of Varrone, in honor of an influential roman.
The presence of Romans in the area is amply proven by numerous archeological findings such as coins discovered in Albareto and bricks found in Poggio di Ziano.
For sure, the territory of Vicobarone became a feudal possession of Lanfranchino Malvacini Fontana in 1345.
During the preceding centuries, the town was not involved in the conflicts between Ghibellines, faithful to the German emperors and allies of the city of Pavia, and the Guelphs faithful to the Church and Pope and allies of Piacenza. Conflicts took place between the territories of Pavia and Piacenza, along the Via Postumia which connected Piacenza to Genova and passed through Pavia. The castles of Seminò, Corano and Ziano were often besieged and at times destroyed by imperial troops.
Only in 1314, Vicobarone was invaded by the troops of Galeazzo I Visconti, Lord of Milan. His troops, commanded by Oberto del Cairo and Nello di Massa, attacked Vicobarone on May 8th, conquered the fort and took possession of over 600 cows, sheep and pigs.
The same day, 94 years later, May 8, 1408, Francesco & Antonino Malvicini were assigned the Title of Marchesi of Vicobarone by Gian Maria Visconti Duke of Milan. The territory included Nibbiano, Tassara, Stadera, and Genepreto. The title was confirmed by Galeazzo Maria Sforza in 1467.
The Malvicini Fontana ruled Vicobarone for over three centuries, and two members of this nobel family are worthy of mention. Erasmo II and Erasmo III Malvicini Fontana.
Erasmo II was one of the most famous warlords of his era, ambassador of Farnese to Emperor Rodolfo and pope Pio V, Governor of Verona and Brescia where he died in 1569.
Erasmo III built the Oratorio di San Rocco in Vicobarone and founded the “Doti di San Rocco” in favor of young poor married women of impeccable morality and virtue. Many young women of Vicobarone benefitted from this endowment, on average 20 per year, without interruption until the beginning of the 20th century. Erasmo III died in 1718 without direct male heirs, and thus Vicobarone passed to Sforza Fogliani and afterwards to Serafini. The last Marchese Serafini of Vicobarone died in Parma in 1814
After the fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Piacenza territory including Val Tidone and Vicobarone passed under the reign of Maria Luigia d’Austria. She reorganized her possessions politically by creating the figure of Podestà named directly by her and assisted on the territory by a Council of Seniors.
The above mentioned Oratorio di San Rocco was built in 1625 in romanesque style, with a single nave and a bell tower with three bells. The main alter is dedicated to San Rocco illustrated in a painting in the apse where Marchese Erasmo III Malvicini Fontana also appears kneeling on the right side of the saint. The side chapels are richly decorated with baroque stuccoes. The left side chapel is dedicated to the Madonna with a statue in a central niche. The right side chapel is dedicated to the SS.Crucifix painted on an altarpiece surmounted by the emblem of the Marchesi Malvicini Fontana.
A second oratory is present in the parish territory of vicobarone. Dedicated to the Madonna delle nevi, it is situated in the small village of Casa Sgarioli in the municipality of Santa Maria Della Versa. During a pastoral visit of bishop Ludovico Loschi in 1828, the relics of Saint Atanasio, Saint Apollonia, Saint Pasquale Bylon, Saint Colombano, Saint Anna, Saint Massimo and Saint Benedetto were found.
The parish church dedicated to Saint Colombano can be traced back to 1143. It was built on the highest hill and dominates the town. The present church was rebuilt in 1854 and is considered of historic and artistic importance by the authority for environment and architectural assets.
On both sides of the altar, there are two neoclassic marble angels, above a wooden alterpiece painted by Bernardino Pollinari (1813-1896) represents Saint Colombano protecting Vicobarone. Pollinari was quite famous, especially as a portrait painter, and his works can be found in the Ricci Oddi art gallery, in the church of Saint Raimondo in Piacenza and in numerous private collections.
Even more important and precious is the painting by Camillo Scaramuzza (1803-1886) located on the right side of the church which depicts the Immaculate Conception. This painting, pervaded by intense mysticism, is so described by the famous art critic Vittorio Sgarbi: “in the foreground, the virgin, like the more spiritual and indefinite models of guido reni, stands out: her body dominates the world, her foot crushes the serpent. But behind her, the sky is full of angels in a poetic vision, ghosts with good hearts (…) in Vicobarone, Scaramuzza directly paints souls. Making the virgin’s body float, softer and more like Correggio in style, against pure forms of light, that illuminate and melt, pointing to the triangle of God in the luminous center, so dazzling as to impede the perception of the forms, like the scheme of mystic estasy.”
Another important painting is in the left transept and represents the dream of Saint Joseph by Paolo Barbotti (1821-1867) where an angel incites Saint Joseph to flee to Egypt. Other works of Barbotti can be found in Pavia in the church of Santa Maria in Betlemme, and in the church Santi Primo and Feliciano and in the civic museum.
The fourteen stations of the via crucis are the work of Candida Luigia Bozzini (1853-1932) and her signature is on the last station dated 1879. In 1881 she took her vows as a nun of the Orsoline di Piacenza, where she left some of her works. Other works can be found in the gesuit seminary in Roncovera di Bettola.
The majestic staircase that leads to the church dates to the year 1882. There are three groups of 12 steps to represent the trinity and the twelve apostles. Two statues representing faith and charity are at the top and were donated in 1970 by the three Allegri brothers, Carlo, Antonio and Annibale. The statues were carved by Ettore Cedraschi (1909-1996) above all famous for his works for the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano from 1958 to 1970 where he carved seven statues for the interior of the Duomo and two for the exterior.
The Castle and the Malvicini Fontana Palace
Vicobarone has at least two important historic, artistic and architectural buildings.
The first, next to the parish church, is the Castle of Vicobarone restored in 1803.
There is no proof that it is the same construction conquered by the troops of Galeazzo I Visconti. But the manuscript that describes the restoration is detailed and full of information: “on the lower floors there were kitchens, pantry, cellar; above a magnificent grand hall fully painted, a loggia facing east, three apartments also painted and various other rooms with frescoes.” The castle today is privately owned.
The second historic building is that which remains of the Malvicini Fontana palace probably built during the XVII century and divided in the following centuries. The palace is horse shoe in shape and one side leans against a stone tower built centuries before. Today the palace is the property of the azienda agricola Podere Casale. In the main dining room there is a grand fireplace with the marchesi Malvicini Fontana emblem in bas relief. This is proof that the palace was one of the residences of the Malvacini Fontana. It is said that during the feudal era, the tower had a bladed pit to deathly punish evil deeds.
Today the remains of a secret underground passage connecting the castle and the palace can still be seen. There has been a lot of fantasizing over this mysterious passage. Today a well conceived tunnel, about two meters high and a meter and a half wide, with cotto pavement and walls, runs from the castle to the oratorio di san rocco, but for only four meters. The end has been closed by a wall recently built.
Vittorio Sgarbi, Piene di Grazia. I volti delle donne nell’arte. Bompiani 2011
Antonio Allegri, Profilo storico di Vicobarone, Banca di Piacenza e Cassa di Risparmio di Piacenza e Vigevano 1989
Carmen Artocchini e Serafino Maggi, I castelli del piacentino nella storia e nella leggenda, Collana Civitas, U.T.E.P., Piacenza 1967