The port of Castro was probably founded in the first half of the 11th Century as a landing place of the jurisdiction of Bergamo in the northern area of the lake, as opposed to Lovere which was part of the jurisdiction of Brescia. The port operated under a tax exemption scheme, managing the trading of basic necessities destined to the so-called exempt Valleys (alta Val Seriana and Val di Scalve (Upper Seriana valley and Scalve valley) where the bishop of Bergamo in 1026 had acquired new territories, rich in raw materials, but not self-sufficient as far as food requirements were concerned.
To ship the goods out of the port without going through the Lovere area, they built a new road along the ravine of Tinazzo, currently via Corna (Corna street), which surpassed the inaccessible areas with stretches of niches carved into the hard rock or supported by high walls.
In a period of general violence, the port was guarded by military forces. The immediate defence system consisted of a Castrum, i.e. by a fortified wall with a tower and houses inside. The original nucleus of Castrum is today seen in the perimeter of Via Matteotti (Matteotti street), via Papa Giovanni (Papa Giovanni street) (former vicolo della Torre) (Tower alley), via IV Novembre (IV Novembre street), vicolo scaletta (Scaletta alley), where one can see traces of 12 – 13th Century brickwork emerge in the façades of the houses.
The walls of the Castrum towards the port were located on the current wall below Via Matteotti, beyond which the village extended from the end of the 14th Century.
The Rocca (fortress) on the other hand was built in a higher position that was easier to defend, on the hill of San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence), quickly accessible from the Corna road along a steep path with steps cut into the rock.
To avoid circumvention of the Castrum, a portcullis (vertically-closing gate) was positioned at the narrowest point of the road, between the cliffs and the ravine, whose guides are still visible in the rock.
In the second half of the 13th Century, the city council of Bergamo, which had taken over the civil jurisdiction from the bishop, entrusted the commercial rights in the village to a family of citizens related to the Guelph party who, due to the fact that they were strangers to the area, were called Foresti de Castre, and destined to become a the most powerful families of the Lake.
During the 13th Century with the integration of Lovere within the jurisdiction of Bergamo, the importance of the port of Castro declined and the 14th Century statutes of Bergamo attest to the gradual erosion of the ancient commercial monopoly in favour of Lovere, with inevitable clashes between the two villages.
Castro, aligned on Guelph positions like the valleys which it served as a port, endured a blood-shedding raid in May 1380 culminated with the burning of the village. This was followed by fights between the Visconti and Pandolfo Malatesta families which, in 1410, worked in favour of the Castro allies, granting them military protection and tax exemptions.
In 1437 Venice renewed the exemptions for the reconstruction of the tower destroyed by order of the Visconti family.
The 14th and 15th Centuries saw the development of the manufacturing activities related to the diversion of water from the Tinazzo river, that irrigated the plain between the village and the estuary delivering it to mills, wool mills and forges.
A silver foundry is mentioned in 1229 while the forge that constituted the nucleus of the future industrial development of the village is first mentioned in the 1364 documents. In 1453 they forged bells and in 1766 the Capoferri family produced cannons for the arsenal of Venice. The forge was damaged by river flood in 1784, not an isolated incident for Castro which suffered several floods, including one with a disastrous outcome in around 1535.
Until 1742 Castro was not an independent borough, but the district of “Comun da Solto, Ripa de Solto et Union” already mentioned in the Bergamo statutes of 1331 and included the current boroughs of Solto Collina, Riva di Solto, Fonteno, Pianico and Castro, in addition to the territory of Piangaiano currently in the borough of Endine.
The next industrial development in the 19th and 20th Centuries saw the pairing of Castro and Lovere in a supra-municipal pole which headed for a major expansion after the diversion of the river Tinazzo in 1918.
For more information:
A. GUALENI, Vicus oliviferi Castri. Castro tra il 1000 e il 1700, Castro 2012.
Cover photo credits: Linoolmostudio