Bassano del Grappa
August 23, 2014
Bassano del Grappa, named for nearby Monte Grappa, is a medieval town with a stunning location on the Brenta River. It is at the foothills of the Venetian Prealps in the Valbrenta – ‘Brenta valley and so your eye is led by the river to the mountains on the horizon.
Northwest of Venice, in the province of Vicenza, this part of the Veneto region is dotted with 15th and 16th century Venetian villas. As the name suggests it is famous for inventing the spirit Grappa. Grappa is a traditional after-dinner drink made from pomace, the discarded grape seeds, stalks, and stems.
The symbol of the town is the covered wooden pontoon bridge.
It was designed by the architect Andrea Palladio in 1569. But a wooden bridge has existed there since at least 1209. The bridge was destroyed many times, the last time during WWII when the city was held by the German forces. The Alpini have always revered the wooden bridge and Bassano del Grappa. After the destruction of the bridge, they took up a private collection and had the bridge completely rebuilt. It is known also as the Ponte degli Aplini and has been romanticized in a song sung by the Alpini. A song that talks of holding hands, last kisses and heading off to war.
It starts something like this but this not an exact translation:
On the Bassano bridge, there we will hold hands, there we will hold hands and there we will share a kiss.
Sul ponte di Bassano,là ci darem la mano, là ci darem la mano ed un bacin d’amor.
The city was likely founded in the 2nd century BC by a Roman called Bassianus, as an agricultural estate. Much later in its history, in 1404, it was acquired by the Republic of Venice and the city became home to a flourishing industry producing wool, silk, iron and copper, and ceramics. The original name of the town was Bassano Veneto. During World War I Bassano was in the front area. After the terrible battles on Mount Grappa in WWI, where thousands of soldiers lost their lives, a decision was made to change the name of the town. In 1928, the name was changed to Bassano del Grappa, meaning Bassano of Mount Grappa, as a memorial to the soldiers killed.
There is also a connection to Ernest Hemingway as he spent time there as an ambulance driver (A Farewell to Arms ).
We walk through the two small piazzas that flow into each other – the Piazza Libertà and Piazza Garibaldi.
They are lined with arcades, a similar feel to the ones in Pordenone actually. The winged lion of Venice is ever-present on top of a column. The buildings have a Venetian look to them, some with the wide horizontal strips, the azure blue astronomical clock, the water spouting fish on top of the fountain, the yellow and coral pastel colors. But with lots of Paladian windows, maybe the feeling is more a country estate version of Venetian architecture. There is also a more medieval feel to some of the buildings too, less ornate maybe more sober terra-cotta colors, and to the white church with the peeling faded frescoes.
There are people out shopping, sitting in the caffes, children running about. A picture perfect summer afternoon spent enjoying life – and surrounded by buildings that have seen many centuries of every day life and beautiful summer days.
The shops are now of course all the globalised brand name. Gelato and pizza places abound. I pass by a book store and am drawn in by the low wood beamed ceiling. The feeling in side is warm, tactile with centuries old wood ceiling. The walls are lined with bookshelves, tables holding the best sellers as in all book stores but at one end of the store there are two wide glass doors. We step outside into a walled garden and looking back towards the bookstore we can see that at some point this must have been a summer villa doubtless for some Venetian family.
We make our way to the bridge degli Alpini.
It is a perfect pedestrian walkway, wooden roof overhead with Italian flags running down the central beam, two rows of bright red geranium planters running down each side of the bridge, and alive with people. There is a grappa distillery right at the beginning of the bridge. You go in and order an aperitivo made with grappa. The glasses are all lined up and ready for a final spritz of soda water. We take our drinks outside and sip on them while trying to take in the scene. The people all around are chatting, walking their dogs, enjoying a gelato, enjoying an aperitivo. I can’t get enough of the view of the pastel colored houses running along the blue-green river, all attached, all covered with flowers and all with their shutters wide open to let in the summer breezes. And all leading the eye to the rounded peaks of mountains.
It was hard to leave this enchanting spot.