Postcard from Lombardia: Cremona

Cremona Coat of Arms

Postcard from Lombardia: Cremona

Cremona Coat of Arms, Lombardia, Italy

Cremona Coat of Arms

A Brief History of Cremona

As with most historic Italian cities, Cremona can trace its roots back to ancient times. But perhaps what makes Cremona even more unique, is the city’s ability to trace its beginnings back to the era of the Etruscans. Following the Etruscans, Cremona became an important Roman militaristic stronghold used to fight off Barbarians and Carthaginians. With its fortified city walls, impressive towers and fighting spirit, Cremona officially earned its right as a municipality in 90 B.C. After a period of substantial wealth and cultural flourishing, Cremona fell victim to emperor Vespasian’s troops that sacked the city and left it in near ruins. After succumbing to the attack and losing much of its economic might, Cremona rose from the ashes to once again rebuild and start anew. As time passed, Cremona became a Byzantine stronghold, successfully defending itself against Lombard attacks for over 30 years, until ultimately the city was destroyed by the Lombard King Agilufo. Cremona was once again rebuilt, but this time by the Catholic Church under the supervision of a bishop appointed to the region and installed to rule over the newly rebuilt city. During the city’s papal period the clergy grew very wealthy and began to exude increasing authority over the city’s people, stoking the flames of discontent and eventually leading to a citizen’s revolt. Emperor Conrad along with Pope Benedict IX had to intervene in order to stabilize the city and prevent total civil unrest. The event would further cement Cremona’s reputation as a community that was strong, determined and willing to take up arms against any abuse of power. Perhaps Cremona’s most epic tale of rebellion against authority involves royalty, intrigue and taxes. According to folklore, Cremona’s infamous mayor Giovanni Baldesio was challenged by King Henry IV to a duel in order to settle a city tax dispute. Mayor Baldesio was able to knock King Henry from his horse, thus sparing Cremona from its annual 3 kilogram golden ball tax, which was instead issued to the mayor’s fiance for her dowry. Although the city endured numerous other conquests by powerful entities like the Sforzas, Viscontis, the Venetians, the Spanish and the French, the fighting spirit of the people of Cremona still lives on in every facet of civic life. Even the city’s coat of arms, a raised arm clutching the famous golden ball, is a constant reminder of Cremona’s legendary past. Today the city is a peaceful community nestled along the left banks of the River Po, where citizens place their energy in maintaining traditional endeavors like agriculture, local gourmet foods and violin making. Whether it be working the fertile lands that encircle the city or mastering the art of crafting world renowned violins, the Cremonesi have long demonstrated a strong work ethic and steadfast sensibility that has enabled them to prosper throughout the ages.

Sites, Sounds and Other Curiosities

Stradivarian Museum

The Marco Maria Gastaldi violin shop in Cremona.

The Marco Maria Gastaldi violin shop in Cremona.

The history of the museum dates back to 1893, when a collection of rare violins by Giovanni Battista Cerani and master violin maker Stradavarian was donated to the museum. While the museum’s collection has slowly grown throughout the years, the largest contribution came from count Alessandro Cozio of Salabue whose impeccable collection of violins amassed over years of collecting, became the basis for today’s modern day museum. The museum provides a multitude of unique experiences such as observing how craftsmanship directly influences the quality of sound that a violin emits and learning about the specialized process for crafting the viola in the classical Cremonese style. Additional exhibits include an instrument collection that spans from the mid-19th century to the 20th century. But the pinnacle of the museum’s collection is undoubtedly the Salabue-Fiorini collection, which displays 16 cases containing over 700 pieces from the workshop of Stradivarian.

Il Torrazzo

Cremona's Torrazo and Cathedral

Cremona's Torrazo and Cathedral

Cremona’s Torrazzo belltower, attached to the city’s main cathedral, is the third largest brick belltower in the world standing at a little over 340 feet tall. Built in four phases, the tower’s final spire was placed on top in 1309. The tower also houses one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks from the 1500′s, whose face displays the sun and moon moving through the constellations of the zodiac. A famous local legend even pays homage to Cremona’s favorite tower by identifying the role it played in how the city’s signature torrone nougat candy came to be. According to local legend, when Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza the duke of Milan got married in 1441, they wanted to celebrate the occasion with a confection that had never been tried before.  The dessert not only had to taste extraordinary but also needed to represent the city of Cremona. Local pastry chefs devised a special recipe combining nougat and honey in the form of a torrazzo that would both please the newlyweds but also the citizens of Cremona. The Cremonesi are to this very day still passionate about their deliciously beloved torrone and proudly uphold the title of the torrone capital of Italy.

Sperlari Torrone Store

Sperlari of Cremona

Sperlari of Cremona

You will most certainly throw out any notions you might have about what a candy store should be once you enter the enchanting world of Sperlari. Since 1836, Sperlari’s store has continued to be an impressive ode to all things sugar, remaining the top place for locals to purchase traditional desserts like torrone and mostarda (mustard syrup with candied fruit). The store is a nostalgic throw back to the time of the traditional confectioner, where fine wines and liqueurs are still offered as part of dessert packages. The Sperlari family of desserts even became recognizable to consumers in the United States when the store’s delicacies were exported as far back as the mid 1800′s. Later through a series of acquisitions, the Sperlari brand became part of the Hershey group before being sold back to the European food group LEAF in 1997. But no matter the owner, Sperlari continues its fine tradition of crafting luxurious sweets that bring a bit of Cremonese delight into every home.

About the author

Dejou Marano is Co-Founder of CountryBred and Founding Editor of The Bred Blog. Splitting her time between Los Angeles and Europe, Dejou seeks to bring the imagination and wonder of Europe to all travelers through her never-ending pursuit of undiscovered cultural gems and experiences, which she shares through her travel writing.



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