The high Alps snake down towards Venice, and in their curling embrace lie many small towns and villages. They face to the sun here, for the winters are cold and icy. Most are built either side of a torrent, canalized to make sure the houses are safe from flooding during the spring thaw and autumn tempests. Vittorio Veneto is such a place, nestled in a curving river just above a broad plain that the new town has spread into.
The town is historically two – Ceneda and Serravalle – both ancient settlements with storied histories. The Ceneda bit is the part that looks like the old town centre, while Serravalle is the country village to the north, with its watermills and high barns. High over both towers, a Lombard-built sentinel of a fortress called the Castello di San Martino.
The centre is delicate – narrow columns, fine arches, and filigranoed frescoes. Even the forested hills behind want to boast their lacy leaves and bright small flowers. Through the centre, the river has been canalized not once but thrice – the main course and two side courses. It looks like some of the wealth of Venice was brought here as many palazzi have the same style and look, a summer hill station from the humid summers of the plain.
This is a town to stop by and walk a while in its streets. It has the distinctive style of another Italy, the one creeping up to the high passes into Austria, with the mixing of styles that is always evident in border regions. Just a few miles south and you have Italianate Treviso and Padova, a few miles north and you are in the Alpine fields of Belluno. The road between these two worlds is lovely.
Best times to be there: Every year the national competition “Trofei Città di Vittorio Veneto” takes place; the best choirs from all over Italy compete. The city is also host to a violin competition.
Interesting places nearby: Treviso, Belluno, Padova
A little bit of history
This place is old, going back to before the Romans with its origins in the Celts and Veneti peoples. The Romans laid out their military road to the north and built their usual ‘castrum’ – i.e. ‘fort-and-village’ – nearby. Christianity got here early too, with a chapel already in use during the time of Constantine.
The name comes from two events: the first when Venice was joined to Italy in 1866 and the two villages of Ceneda and Serravalle were joined in celebration, to make Vittorio; the second when the last battle between Italians and Austro-Hungarians was fought close by in 1918, and when the Hungarians left during the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the Austrians stopped fighting, the subsequent armistice was celebrated as a victory in the Veneto.
So Vittorio Veneto was born.
Ceneda and Serravalle follow the history of the Alpine region: lost to Rome then Byzantium, they fell to Lombards then Franks, only to squabble with neighbouring Treviso before electing to be part of the growing Venetian Republic. From then on Venice’s fortunes were theirs also.
Lorenzo Da Ponte was born here. He was Mozart’s librettist, writing the operas Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte and Marriage of Figaro. After many adventures of his own, worthy of a movie (one has been made), he finally wound up in New York to found the first opera company in the United States.
Article © Carl Ottersen