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Cremona History

The origins and the Roman Age

As the historian Tacito writes, the city was founded during the consulate of Tiberio Sempronio and Pulio Cornelio (218 B.C.), while Hannibal was breaking into Italy, as a bastion against the Gauls that were settled on the other bank of the river Po and against any other threat that could arrive from the Alps. The chosen territory is, geomorphologically, a flat terrace that formed during the last glacial era, higher than the alluvial flat of the river that, at that time, had a more northern course than the current, much closer to the city than now. Cremona was founded as a colony of Latin rights: this means that many pioneers, sent from the south and from the centre of Italy in order to inhabit this area, were bound up with Rome regarding ?foreign policy? and war, although they had self-governed administration. Furthermore, there was the organization and the division of the agricultural territory into big plots of land assigned to the colonists.
After a phase of instability, due to the incursions of the Gauls, the city lived a long period of big prosperity, thanks to the strategic location near the Po river and close to Postumia street, a consular road that, since 148 B.C., had been running through northern Italy, linking the harbors of Genoa and Aquileia. This particular wealth is testified by the archeological excavations, which show the luxurious private houses and the impressive public buildings, and by written sources. Thanks to these sources we know that the city was the centre of the most famous agricultural market of central Padania, and that it combined the richness of rural products, the handcrafts and the trade with a cultural prestige, which caused the immigration of many young students from the surrounding areas: even Virgilio, as an adolescent, moved here for a while from Mantua, before going to Mediolanum.
The prosperity of Cremona results clear from the descriptions that the Latin historian Tacito inserts in the tale about the destruction that the city was subjected to after the 69 A.C. war events.
During that year, after Emperor Nerone?s death, a violent civil war broke out caused by the vacancy of the imperial throne, the contenders were Otone, Vitellio and Vespasiano. Two violent battles were fought near Bedriacum (the current Calvatone, a small town on the Postumia sreet) and Cremona. The latter, guilty of the exulting welcome to Vitellio, was destroyed by the victorious troops of Vespasiano.
After the reconstruction demanded by the new Emperor Vespasiano and during the following decades, Cremona went on without any particular troubles, and it didn?t participate in the important events of history, as, on the contrary, many other northern cities did.
Between the 2nd and 3rd centuries the general crisis of the Roman Empire concerned also the cities of the Pianura Padana, even though the key-role of Mediolanum (one of the four capitals of the late-empire) had positive influences on the surrounding areas.
However the road network, which had no more maintenance, deteriorated, and the cultivated lands were abandoned. Typical of this time are the big ville, that from residences of powerful people became religious centers, from which Christianity spread in the countryside.
During this period and during the following two centuries, Cremona kept its typical urban and defensive structure; the end of the old city generally attributed to the year 603 A.C., when the city was invaded by the Longobard Agilulfo.

The Middle Ages

In 1098 the Cuontess of Canossa donated to some representatives of the church and Town Council of Cremona the island of Fulcheria , the territory comprised between the rivers Adda and Serio close to Crema: on this very occasion and for the first time the city Hall was mentioned and so the City constitution as Free Comune is attributed to this date. During the 12th century Cremona became rather rich and flourished thanks to the river trade development, strengthening, at the same time, different forms of local government. In the same period the political and economical importance of the city brought to building renovation with its climax in the erection of the extraordinary monumental complex city hall square: the unity of the Church and Local Government was sanctioned by the erection, in 1107, of New Cathedral which became the first centre of town life, the place not only for praying but a house for all citizens standards were blessed, oaths were taken, the first meeting of the Town Council members was held there, where the decisions regarding  public life were taken till the Town Hall building was constructed opposite tthe Cathedral in 1206.
Between 1169 and 1187 the town development was completed by the construction of a circle wall, which gave the historical centre the current configuration. The emperors granted to Cremona several privileges as a consequence of the City Council?s pro-imperial policy, followed till the first half of the 13th century: it supported the policy of Federico Barbarossa against Crema and Milan, and though becoming a part of Lombard League in 1167, it was acting as a mediator between the Emperor and medieval republics and no Cremonenses soldiers participated in the Legnano battle in 1176.
The relationship between Cremona and Federico II, Barbarossa?s grand-son, were always characterized by mutual loyalty and support: the town was the head-quarters for the Emperor?s army during the battles against the Lombard town republics and many times it gave its hospitality to the Emperor and its court during his frequent visits. After the Emperor?s death in 1250 a long period of local battles between the opposite fractions of guelfa and ghibellina began in the town. They lasted up to 1334, the year when Cremona was conquered by Azzone Visconti, a prince from Milan; trade and commerce along the Po river benefited from it, bringing positive results for economy which could rely on prosperous agriculture and textile industry as well. Since 1420, after a short crisis of Visconti?s rule at the beginning of the 15th century, the town finally became part of Milan Dukedom, following its destiny till Italy?s Unity. In 1441 the wedding between Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, who brought the city as a dowry, was celebrated. Tradition says that during this event torrone was created and served for the first time. This period brought to Cremona wellness and tranquility, as a benefit from the wise government of Bianca Maria, very appreciated by people: the duchess improved the urban planning with several public works , which involved a lot of rich families of merchants and sumptuous patrician houses were built. In the second half of the 15th century Cremona took on the elegant and refined dignity in a Renaissance style, visible still today in the palaces and in the churches of the town.

The Renaissance and the Spanish rule

In 1449, the control of Cremona passed from Milan to Venice  thanks to an agreement between Louis XII  and the Venetian people. However,after the Venetian army had lost the battle of Agnadello in 1450, Cremona became part of the Milanese territory again.Between 1509 and 1535, Cremona and the entire Italian peninsula underwent a difficult period.  France and Spain were fighting to gain control over Italy consequently thrusting the peninsula into a state of constant violence, depredation, epidemics and high taxes imposed by each occupant . As a result, Cremona and its countryside became poorer, trade was sluggish, and the population significantly declined.  Change came in 1535 with the victory of Spain.  Peace was once again established, economy began to flourish again, and Cremona became the second most important city in the Milanese territory. It became rich and prosperous with a population of about 37,000 people and the most widespread activity was linked to the textile field, which had been popular since the Middle Ages.In 1585, Antonio Campi from Cremona published "Cremona fedelissima", the first history of Cremona in vulgar language(the former Italian language), rich in historical, artistic and literary information that makes it possible to re-construct the history and culture of Cremona from its origins until 1535. Antonio Campi belonged to a family of great painters: his father Galeazzo, his brothers Giulio and Vincenzo, and Antonio himself left a lasting footprint on the local artistic culture with art works that can still be seen in some churches of the area or in the Civic Museum "Ala Ponzone". In his "Cremona Fedelissima" Antonio Campi describes all the artists who were active in Cremona between the 13th and 15th centuries including painters, sculptors, architects and men of science.  Some examples include doctor Realdo Colombo, who was an expert in anatomy, and the skilled Janello Torriani, the maker of clocks and extraordinary mechanisms, who was even invited to the court of emperor Charles V and his son Philip II.In 1630, the plague Alessandro Manzoni describes in his "Promessi Sposi" struck Cremona. Its disastrous consequences brought Cremona into a deep economic crisis which harmed both agriculture and commerce, and caused a dramatic decrease in population. Once the plague was defeated, the population started growing in every town within the Milanese territory except in Cremona.  The city was stuck in an irreversible and critical state and only two centuries later did it finally reach the same demographic level as before the plague. Meanwhile, during the 16th and 17th centuries, Cremona distinguished itself for its musical activity and luthier production which brought to the creation of stringed instruments.The violin-makers from Cremona reached impressive technical results which made them famous all over the world.  The first artist to distinguish himself in the 16th century was Andrea Amati, the oldest representative of a family of well-known violin  makers. His grandson Nicolo' was probably the teacher of the progenitors of two other families, the Guarneri and the Stradivari. Violin makers belonging to the two families worked in the area around Cremona during the 17th and the first half of the 18th century. Among these violin-makers, two became really popular: Antonio Stradivari, who is considered the best violin-maker of all times, and Giuseppe Guarneri also called "del Gesu'" (of Jesus). Some of their creations are preserved in the Civic Collection "Gli archi di Palazzo Comunale". Claudio Monteverdi, a composer who worked for the court of the Monzaga's in Mantua, for Saint Mark's Chapel in Venice and who is considered the inventor of melodrama, is also from Cremona.

From the austrian domination to today


Following the events of the Spanish Succession War, Milan passed from the Spanish ABSBURG to the Austrian Absburg in 1707: this was the beginning of the Austrian domination, which,  except for the parenthesis of the French rule from 1796 to 1814, went on until the Unification of Italy in 1859.
The most important achievement of the Austrian domination in Lombardy was the Land Registry Office, which started in 1718 and became effective in 1760, thus imposing a new tax system.
In 1773 a new important reform was introduced: the abolition of the medieval guilds.
These reforms had very positive effects on the economy of the  region as it could recover and flourish again.
It was in this atmosphere of renewed fervour that  Cremona saw the birth of its first theatre on December 26th (the third opera theatre in Italy) and the  foundation  of the public Library   in 1780.
Moreover, since the end of the 18th century the city had started to change its appearance following the suppression of churches, the closing of monasteries and nunneries  and the consequent confiscation of  their properties as well as the progressive dismantling of the defensive wall system.
The city changing process went on in the 19th century with the reform of the private housing according to the neoclassical principles of order and decoration, together with the rearrangement of the urban furnishing  and the institution of the public lighting  with oil lamps in 1816.
In 1814 the Restoration put an end to the twenty years of French domination : the Austrian domination was restored until the second war of Independence in 1859 after which Milan passed under the Savoyard monarchy.
In 1922 the Fascist party seized the municipal administrations of the whole areas around Cremona , where Roberto Farinacci  became a leading figure as the founder of the local fascist party, which became more and more influential dominating its social and political life until 1945.
In that period an important town planning scheme was carried out ,which consisted in the isolation of the Cathedral that is in pulling down all  the buildings and shops surrounding it in order to have a global view of the monument as it appears today.
Furthermore, part of the city centre was radically changed thanks to the demolition of preexisting buildings to build new public and private ones.
In the postwar period, we witness the creation of a body whose aim was the revival and development of the old traditional agro-zootechnic industry : in 1965 the Trade Fair Board was born, which   grew  into a  joint-stock company  in 2003: CremonaFiere S.p.A .
Since then it has been a benchmark for the national trade fair and a magnet for agriculture and zootechnics in Italy and Europe.