The village centre of Pisogne owes its development mainly to an important market, centred in the main square and marina. Its location at the top of the Brescia side of the lake and thus the possibility of organizing easy access to the waters of Lake Iseo made Pisogne, despite the difficult nature of a narrow area between the marshlands of the estuary of the River Oglio, the natural trading point of the Valle Camonica (Camonica Valley).
The most convincing hypothesis as to the origin of its name is perhaps that suggested by the scholar Paolo Guerrini from Brescia , whereby Pisogne derives from –oneis the local name for the Alder tree. It could also be said that the root pis- probably originates from post (just like pos- and pus-, often present in place names). Therefore, the name would indicate a town situated beyond the Alders, thus referring to a forest of this kind which had to be on the flat land to the north of the Lake.
Despite occasional archaeological findings from previous eras, the village centre seems to take on a certain importance only in the Middle Ages. The first known documents relate to the tithe rights of Bishops in Verona during the 9th Century and, subsequently, properties belonging to the San Faustino monastery in Brescia. The baptismal church in an isolation position north of the village probably dates back to the 11th Century. The historical records are of greater significance from the 13th Century onwards thanks to the Bishop’s rule over the territory and subsequent production of documents, preserved today in the archives of the Curia in Brescia. There are already reports of disputes between the Bishop and town of Pisogne in 1195, resolved ten years later with the sale of land beyond the River Oglio to the community. However, the Designamentum (inventory) of episcopal assets in 1299 stands out due to the amount of information it contains, offering a detailed picture of the Bishop’s estates and rights due on the lands of Pisogne. These properties and rights were certainly much older in origin and during this period, as in other rural churches with a baptistery of the Valle Camonica, an attempt was made to reaffirm them, clearly because many factors had begun to put them into question. The Ghibellines of the Valle Camonica had stormed the fortified village of Pisogne just a decade before, claiming the Valley’s independence from the commune of Brescia. The latter had banned various members of the group as a result of this episode.
Studying this document has helped restore the character of Pisogne, gaining a better understanding of its structure. Pisogne looked like a castello (castle) in 1299, a village protected by walls with two gates, an additional inner rampart (the Donjon) and a centre consisting of several buildings that, although destroyed in part when surveyed, were probably the administrative centre of the Bishop’s Curia.
The market place was situated inside the walls in the main square. The tower to the side of the square would have been under construction in 1299 replacing, even as a symbol, the Episcopal buildings damaged by the war. The main square divided the town into two: to the north, along the current via San Marco, a borgo up to the gates of the Hospital; to the south a villa. These two terms refer to different types of settlements with particular characteristics. Borgo in medieval documents indicates residential area with houses side-by-side on both sides of the main road, generally outside the walls and continuing on from the gateway. It could be included in the circle of new wider walls at a later date. On the other hand, villas are scattered residential areas, made up of buildings not necessarily side-by-side, but provided with courtyards, kitchen-gardens and orchards, once again not generally fortified.
In the case of Pisogne, identifying a borgo already included in the walls in 1299 and to the north of the main square probably indicates that the first residential centre, probably with limited fortification, was built during previous eras. In this case the borgo developed along the Valle Camonica route, certainly the most important overland route to Pisogne in those days. The gateway to the Valle Camonica, known as the Hospital, due to the presence of a shelter for wayfarers, was situated at the top of the borgo. It took on the name of Porta di San Marco (St Mark’s Gate) during the Venetian era (15th Century) probably because of the unavoidable lion and thus the name of the street leading towards the main square. No trace of the gateway remains. Along the route towards the valley, the church of Santa Maria della Neve (Madonna of the Snows), famous for the cycle by Romanino, would be built in the 15th Century.
The expansion to the south is likely to be later: the villa looks like a planned extension to the residential area, based on a road parallel to the Lake (via Torrazzo) from which various minor axes descend perpendicularly to the shoreline. Certain houses were built within this grid of streets during the 13th Century, occupying the vacant lots, initially more sparsely than the borgo. An initial section of the wall that was probably at the height of via di Mezzo is recognisable, proven by the remains of the Porta del Pozzo, still visible along today’s via Torrazzo. The old moat, so defined in the 1299 document was linked to this wall. Whereas the new walls extended to the south including other areas for new housing. This time the new gateway was opened eastwards, in an area called Stagnadello, hence the name Porta di Stagnagis (it still exists and is known as Porta dei Monti). The name seems to suggest that even this new part had to be protected by a moat or at least situated next to naturally marshy areas. The village of Pisogne developed mainly in these areas during the following centuries, using up all the available space. In fact, a new extension was necessary, and the contrada of Capovilla had to be built, whose limit is marked by the still visible 18th Century gateway.
The square in the centre was unique to Pisogne. In reality, the 1299 document shows a division between an actual marketplace, on the shores of the Lake, and an inner square, defined as the piazza del Comune (Town Square). These two squares correspond to the current space between the Bishop’s Tower and parish church: the current piazza Umberto I is the result of an expansion that led to the development of the coast line. These squares appear elongated on the 19th Century cadastral maps, stretching from the Lake inland. However, it should be noted that the curtain of buildings extended towards free spaces over time and in particular from the 15th Century onwards thanks to the adoption of arcades: in this way, space was obtained from upper floors however, still allowing the lower floor to be used as a marketplace, probably by community authorities.
This square was originally enclosed by residential or commercial buildings even in the east. Therefore, it was a space delimited on three sides by shops and the marketplace. A small church dedicated to San Rocco is documented in this area in the 17th Century. However, this layout changed, at the turn of the 18th and 19th Centuries, with the construction of the new parish church of Santa Maria Assunta that involved demolishing the eastern curtain and pulling down the walls. This intervention changed the perception of space completely, having now the façade designed by the architect from Brescia, Antonio Marchetti, around 1769, as backdrop.
For more information:
BIANCHI A., MACARIO F., In loco de Pisoneis. Pisogne 1299: il borgo del vescovo, Pisogne 2008.