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The Siege of Canelli

Chiara Rigoli, All about Langhe, Monferrato and Roero in the heart of Piedmont


The Siege of Canelli, free admission with "military pass"

Visitors can immerse themselves in the medieval magical atmosphere, even if only for one day, without losing sight of the significance of this historic event.

This celebration dates back to a well known historical event during the wars of succession which took place in the Duchy of Monferrato. It began in 1612 when Francesco Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantova, who had claims on Monferrato, died. His death gave way to many a controversy for the rights of succession. With the stated aim of defending the age-old interests of the House of Savoy, Carlo Emanuele 1, Duke of Savoy and grandfather of Gonzaga's only daughter, decided to resolve the issue by taking to arms.

Canelli, on the border between Monferrato and Savoy and completely fortified, was subjected to endless disputes and forced to endure numerous incursions and attacks. In June 1613, Carlo Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers, succeeded in crossing the river Belbo and besieged the town with both a cavalry and infantry regiment and numerous guns, thinking to take advantage of the lack of soldiers at the "Canellesi" fortifications. The troops from Monferrato attempted to enter Canelli by various means, but the small garrison left in charge was supported in a truly determined manner by the local population who, in sacrificing themselves, reacted defiantly and with such resolve that they succeeded in holding out against all the attacks levelled against them. The enemy was forced to retreat with the loss of some important knights, captains and soldiers.

Many were wounded. Others fled in such fear that they abandoned weapons, guns, spears and other equipment all over the field of battle. To show his gratitude for their loyalty and bravery, the Duke of Savoy rewarded the people of Canelli by exempting them from the payment of taxes for the following thirty years.

The siege of Canelli is not only a mere historical commemoration. It is the feast of the "Canellesi" who want to express their identity by recreating their past and by revoking their origins, as these represent the genuine spirit of every community. They make history and valiant deeds live again. The most distinctive feature of this historic event is that is undertaken by the local people themselves. They are totally involved in the recreation from start to finish and it is they who succeed in creating a mood which is not easily found in any other pageant. It is a celebration without embellishment.

History is always at the forefront. It lives and breathes in the deeds and the expressions of the people walking in the streets, in the shadows and in the stones of the old City. For two days more than one thousand "Canellesi" wearing the traditional costumes of the period and always acting as if they were actually taking part in the most crucial events of a siege, re-create the atmosphere and the reality of a town under siege.

The visitor becomes both protagonist and witness of the events, actor and spectator mingling with the officers and soldiers or with the farmers and their animals, sitting in inns and taverns often haunted by evil-doers and beggars, starting at the sudden bursts of the enemy artillery, swerving and ducking while walking, to avoid colliding with the carts laden with goods rumbling and thundering along the cobbled streets.

The visitor, like the soldiers and the common people, must expect to be subjected to the strict conditions imposed by the pass. He or she must accept the possibility of being interrogated by the guards doing their rounds, being searched, even being put in the pillory if found to have imbibed a drop too much in the inns. Everywhere the smell of gunpowder pervades, drums beat, commands are bellowed.

There are unexpected inspections, moments when there is nothing much happening followed by bursts of excitement, displays of arrogance, sorrow and despair. Surprise and never-ending suspense, a continuous barrage of emotions: this is the siege of Canelli!

When: 19/06/2010 - 20/06/2010,
Where: Canelli, Centro storico

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