As I continue to take my leave of Piacenza I am reminded of a few things. These come in no particularly order.
Piacenza was always the preferred crossing point of the Po River from northern Italy to the middle and south. That is part of the reason the Romans located the city here. It meant the city was on the front line, the frontier, of various jurisdictions for many years. Romans advanced north and pushed out local tribes. Romans retreated during the decline of the empire and tribes from Eastern Europe pushed in. The French, Spanish, and Austrian empires fought back and forth over the city. Factions rode through and factions rode out. It has a long and contentious history. It was also the site of the first bridge across the Po River. Interestingly the bridge came down in a flood the spring before I arrived in 2009. The new bridge, the replacement is due to be completed any minute and was inaugurated on Saturday.
Piacenza was also the site where the Pope, if not declared, then intimated the call for the first crusade at a council of 30,000 who met here. Since the city could not have even had 30,000 people in it at that point I guess once the hostels were full, the rest of them had to camp out.
Piacenza did have lots of hostels during the Middle Ages and over 50 churches. Being that primary crossing point for the Po meant that it was a major city on the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route to Rome and Jerusalem from northern Europe.
I was reminded today by a display in the local library that Piacenza is considered the primogenita of Italy (and was awarded a medal with that declaration), that is, the first born of the nation-state we know as Italy. There have long been various attempts to unify the peninsula but finally in the mid-1800’s the Savoy dynasty out of Turin and the piedmont made a strong effort. This would eventually mean battle action as other powers such as the Austrians had long held power in parts of Italy. In April 1848 Piacenza unanimously voted to join with the piedmont to become the genesis of the Italian state. The newspaper at the time declared ‘Piacenza e libera’, Piacenza is free (the daily newspaper today is called ‘Libertad’). Italy finally became a state (much to the disgust of the Pope of the day) in 1861 and celebrates its 150th year in 2011. Can’t wait to see what God has in store for it. . . more shaking maybe.
And shaking leads me to another topic. On Tuesday I travelled to Mantua, a city about 100 km east of Piacenza along the Po. It was a cold and foggy day but I’m glad I went. However, the trip back was difficult. The electricity had gone out in Cremona just at (and only at) the track lines. Really. So while the station and city had lights and power, no trains could go through. It made for an epic 5 hour journey (what should have been under 2 hours) and involved changing trains in the dark in wee deserted stations, depending upon strangers to translate the confused explanations and plans of conductors, often at variance with one another, and conversations with fellow stranded travelers. At one point a fellow apologised to me for Italy, this is how Italy works he said, it is more like Africa than Europe. That is a saying I’ve heard before meant to explain and apologise for the lack of efficient functioning of almost any system here.
But it reminded me that indeed Italy is part of Africa and as well as Europe. In terms of tectonic plates part of Italy is an appendage that sticks out of the Africa plate and part is of the Eurasian plate. It is also the place where 3 plates come together and grind together – the African plate, the European/Asian plate and the Anatolian plate (the Middle East). The movement of the plates means that in Italy the mountains are being made low, that is the Apennines are subsiding. That is what causes the earthquakes here.
I’ll let others interpret the meaning of all these things – I’ve got packing and praying to do. Yes, much prayer as the weather has brought travel chaos to Europe. I will take a train to Milan on Dec 29th (no problems please) and then fly from Milan to Gatwick. On the 30th I will fly Gatwick to Toronto. Okay, going through the UK seemed a good idea in the fall. So much prayer. . .