"Water lands”… what more real and atmospheric picture could possibly describe the plain of Vercelli? When one uses the words "water lands”, it’s hard not to remember another fascinating and closely linked reality; a setting steeped in history, art and evidence which is still visible today: the granges.
The granges or "granaries”, were traditional houses and farming centres in which the lay brothers, Cistercian monks who had abandoned their monastery, carried out work to improve a territorial area covered by planitial forest (the only remaining example of which is the Bosco delle Sorti della Partecipanza di Trino) in order to make it suitable for agricultural use. The fulcrum of the granges built on the Vercelli plain and, more precisely, on the strip of land that stretches between Trino, Crescentino and Larizzate, was the Abbey of Santa Maria of Lucedio: founded in 1123. It immediately acquired numerous estates, each of which was managed by a grange.
The granges represented a specific instrument in the process to transform an area which, up until the year 1000 had been wild, into arable land: when a landowner intended to transform his estates to make them productive, the abbots sent one of their monks, the granger, who directed the improvement works until the task was completed. It is therefore undeniable that the work carried out by the monks in the Vercelli district was fundamental to the birth and consolidation over the centuries of an agricultural rice-growing vocation: indeed, the Cistercian monks were responsible for introducing the cultivation of rice from the 15 th century. Lucedio Abbey alone possessed no fewer than six granges: Montarolo, Montarucco, Leri-Cavour, Castelmerlino, Ramezzana and Darola.
Itinerary 1 – Trino: Lucedio Abbey
Denominated Principality of Lucedio from 1875, the ancient abbey, founded in 1123 by the Cistercian monks, commissioned by the Marquis of Monferrato who granted them several pieces of land, changed hands numerous times over the centuries and this had a considerable effect upon its fragmentation process, which was finalised in 1818, when Prince Camillo Borghese, Napoleon's brother-in-law and then Governor General of Piedmont, split the property into three parts to sell it. Now the abbey is a modern farming estate, but nevertheless, it has succeeded in retaining its characteristic medieval aspects, opening them to the visitor who wants to discover all its charm. Inside the fortified walls, it is still possible to admire the parish church, the abbey, the singular bell tower which is octagonal at the top but square at the bottom, and, naturally, the quadrilateral chapter house, divided by four columns, which always takes visitors by surprise.
Itinerary 2 – Trino: Cascina Darola
Positioned north of Lucedio, this farmhouse boasts ancient origins. Donated in 933 (when it was still known by the name of the Auriola Court) by the kings of Italy, Ugo and Lotario, to the marquises of Monferrato, it was then handed over to Lucedio in 1123, thus becoming one of the six granges possessed by the abbey. From the structural viewpoint, it represents an excellent example of a closed yard farmhouse; also worth admiring is the interesting and still well preserved architectural beauty of the fortification process to which Darola was subject in the 16 th century: the quadrilateral tower with the original cart gate, used to move from one yard to the next.
Itinerary 3 – Montarolo, Ramezzana, Castelmerlino, Leri and Montarucco
Once belonging to Lucedio, they are found near the rural complex. While Ramezzana and Montarolo (the latter set in a panoramic position near the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Vigne) lie south of Lucedio, Leri and Castelmerlino are in the part of the territory which stretches north-west of the principality and correspond with the estates of the Benso family of Cavour, to which the illustrious figure of the minister Camillo Benso Count of Cavour belonged. Leri in particular represented a " bueno retiro” (good retreat) for Camillo Benso and even today is a place where you can sense the atmosphere of the Risorgimento.
Itinerary 4 – Along the "road of the granges”
Following the road that leads from Larizzate to Crescentino, known affectionately as the "road of the granges”, one reaches Lignana and the splendid Veneria Estate : this rural settlement, which perfectly represents the model of the grand single-estate yard, was the setting for the Italian neo-realist film Riso amaro directed by Francesco De Santis. Continuing along the same road, one comes to Castell'Apertole , a group of buildings erected in 1774 by the Savoy family and used for breeding horses. In the immediate vicinity of Castell'Apertole lies Cascina Colombara , a farming estate which is still operational and represents another splendid example of closed yard farmhouse, and this estate too has retained and exploited its original settings. Continuing along the "road of the granges”, before arriving in Crescentino, one stumbles across San Genuario. A farming estate which was once home to an ancient abbey, San Genuario is definitely the oldest Benedictine monastic settlement in Lucedio forest. Unfortunately, little remains of the complex and everything that bears witness to the original structure has been incorporated into Cascina Badia; still of considerable interest is the spire of the castle, which has an admirable round tower surrounded by a stronghold, while the original abbey was replaced by the current parish church, which dates back to the 17 th century and has conserved the apse and bell tower of the first church. Continuing, one reaches the ancient town of Trino, with the church of San Michele in insula , the town's most important historical monument, and the parish church of S. Bartolomeo , the seventeenth century restoration of the church built in the 13 th century, destined to take the place of S. Michele.