The Brenta Valley
The valley’s prehistory is certainly linked to the presence of human settlements on the Asiago plateau, the closest of which can be identified in the stone quarries of Vallastaro (10,000 years ago) and at the Cave of Ernesto site (on the north eastern edge of the plateau, in the municipality of Grigno, Trento) frequented by our hunter-gatherer ancestors between 9,100 and 8,200 years ago.
Further north, in the Passo del Redebus (Valle dei Mocheni, in the Municipality of Pergina Valsugana, Trento) a system of smelting ovens was operating between the second and first millennia BC, activity that suggested a “distribution” network of artefacts that certainly went beyond regional boundaries.
Palaeo-veneto communities also occupied the plains, depending on cultivation of grain and rearing goats, sheep and cows, and at the opening of the Brenta valley, at San Giorgio delle Acque (Bassano), a large necropolis was discovered housing numerous cremation burial sites, dated between the 6th and 8th century BC – accompanied by various objects like brooches, clasps, necklaces, rings, and other items that demonstrate that the site was of primary importance in the circulation of metal between the Veneto and Trentino areas. The Brenta valley was thus also an ascending route for the transhumance of flocks towards the Prealps, and at the same time a descending route for trade in metal objects.
The historical development of the valley happened at the same time as the founding of the Santa Croce di Campese monastery (Bassano), between 1124 and 1133 by Abbot Pontius of Cluny, on his return from the Holy Land, and the link with the powerful Ezzelini da Romano dynasty. The Benedictine presence and the power of the noble family was a driving force behind the colonisation of the territory.
Before it, there were several known settlements from the Roman era and the development of the Lombard age, the most spectacular testimony of which seems to be the Covolo di Butistone fortress which took advantage of a natural rock chamber between Cismon and Primolano. The fortress was then used in the Carolingian era. The Brenta valley received another considerable boost from the Republic of Venice which was supplied with timber for its naval fleet sourced from the forests of the Asiago and Primiero plateaus, using the waters of the Brenta and the Cismon rivers to transport its cargoes down to the lagoon. Valstagna, the valley’s main town, owes its importance to this trade traffic from Val Franzela via the Calà del Sasso mule track that was especially constructed at the end of the 14th century. The Brenta valley sided with the Republic on the lagoon, warring against the French, Spanish, Swiss and Germans and receiving administrative privileges in exchange.
Thus when Napoleon arrived (1796) to put an end to the power of the Doges (1797), the valley lost all of its privileges. And so, to remove itself from under French rule, it went over to Austria in the hope of an improved fate. What happened instead was a continuous and conflictual coming-and-going of French and Austrians, until 1866 when it was annexed to Italy, and then the Great War, during which the valley paid an extremely heavy toll in the loss of lives and general devastation.