Tortona: little Rome or Little Milano?
No, we have not gone mad. Read through if you want to know more.
The area around Tortona has always been of great interest since prehistoric times. The celts gave it its first name “Derton” (the castle, or the town on the hills) while centuries afterwards it became the oldest roman colony in Piemonte with the name of Dertona. Its status is mainly due to its strategic position, situated as it is at the crossroads of many important roadways of ancient times: the “via del sale” (the salt’s road) which was travelled by merchant who traded the “white gold” from the Mediterranean Sea to the northern countries; the “via Postumia” which was a continuation of the “via Julia Augusta” built by roman emperor Augustus in 13 A.D. and which connected southern France to Piacenza; the “via Fulvia” which connected Tortona to Turin; and the “via Francigena” or “Romea” which connected France to Rome. Under emperor Augustus the town was renamed Iulia Dertona and reached its peak in medioeval times. The town’s motto is “Por tribus doni simil Terdona leonis” meaning: “Tortona is like a lion thanks to its three gifts”, and is faithful to Rome. In fact there have been found parallels between Rome and Tortona, thanks especially to the seven hills that surround Tortona, just like the seven hills of Rome. “Parva Roma” (little Rome) is a title sometimes given to the town. This is something that appealed to the first “tourists” in history, the travelers of the Grand Tour which up until the XVII century would come to Italy and Rome looking for the splendor of the classical times and found here a bit of that taste.
But Tortona has also a claim to be called “little Milano”, thanks to the Madonnina, the golden statue of the Madonna which stands on the top of the Nostra Signora della Guardia shrine, in the heart of the town and which reminds of the famous Madonnina found on the top of the Duomo in Milano. The link to Milano though goes further back into the past, when the bigger town helped the smaller one after it had been destroyed by enemies, like in 1155 when Federico I “read beard” razed the town, tearing down its walls and towers. In later times the town remained under the control of the Milanese families of Visconti and Sforza, and from then to the Savoy family, and finally through the Napoleonic times and the Risorgimento. The rest as they say, it’s history, and it’s up to you to follow the steps and find out more about the creators of the Colli del Bio.
All for one and one for all, this is the motto of the four provinces of the I Colli del Bio. Each of the four is proud of its heritage, of the variety of its recipes handed down from father to son. This area doesn’t have a proper name nor proper borders, in fact the term “four provinces” dates back to the seventies of the last century and though it refers to the whole area surrounded by the mountains, its center is located in the small village of Montegioco near Tortona. The area is home to a long culinary tradition where produces, ingredients, the microclimate, farms, vineyards, all contribute to create a unique wine and food environment which goes from salami to mushrooms and truffle. Each Colli del Bio’s product carries a label written in the local dialect. Here the taste of the inlands meets the air coming from the sea, influencing the climate of the whole area. And although the sea air in Genova is essential to give pesto sauce its peculiar taste, the same air would harm the salame and other salumi (cold cuts) produced in the inland, where only a soft sea breeze arrives, adding to their distinction. The province of Alessandria, the queen of pastry-making art, is nearby; the Oltrepò Pavese is also there, the land of fine selected wines; Piacenza and its cold cuts need no introduction. Now it’s time to let the products speak for themselves: each of them represents the best from Italian wine and cuisine you can get on your table.