The cultivation of vines has ancient origins on the hills of Franciacorta, as evidenced by the findings of prehistoric grape seed and the writings of classical authors such as Pliny, Columella and Virgil. Rich archaeological material dating from prehistoric times, such as the remains of stilt house foundations found in the bogs of Sebino, reveal how primitive populations settled here and gradually took over from the Cenomani Gauls, the Romans and the Lombards.
Vine cultivation has been a constant in Franciacorta, where grapes were grown from Roman times to late antiquity and the Middle Ages, thanks to its favourable climatic and soil conditions. Though it experience good and bad periods alike, viticulture in these lands never stopped.
The monastic courts
The history of Franciacorta is strongly tied the presence of large monastic institutions. Even before the year 1000, they had large estates and carried out large-scale work, clearing, reclaiming and cultivating the land. One of the most active was the female monastery of San Salvatore (later called Santa Giulia of Brescia), which was founded in 753 by the Lombard king Desiderius and his wife Ansa. Its properties are documented in the Franciacorta Altarpiece of Santa Giulia, an ancient codex from the second half of the ninth century. Numerous other monastic courts were active during the same period, including those of Clusane (a Cluniac priory), Colombaro (Cell of Santa Maria), Timoline (court of Santa Giulia), Nigoline (court of Sant’Eufemia), Borgonato (court of Santa Giulia), and Torbiato (court of the monasteries of Verona and San Faustino of Brescia).
The first document to mention property located in Franciacorta, which belonged to the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia, dates from the year 766. It is the diploma by which Adelchi, son of Desiderius, donated all the goods he had inherited from his grandfather Verissimo and his uncles Donnolo and Adelchi to the monastery, including some assets from this area.
Between Guelphs and Ghibellines; Dante took refuge in Paratico
During the period of the Signorias, Franciacorta was entirely pro-Guelph, apart from two important centres on its doorstep (Palazzolo and Iseo), which were in the hands of the Ghibellines. The exiled Dante Alighieri found refuge there – at the court of the Lantieri at Paratico and then at Capriolo. These bloody years were full of strife and intrigue, and ended the Signoria of Pandolfo Malatesta. After that, an extended period of stability meant that farming resumed and wine production flourished. The Brescia area’s transition from Visconti rule to Venetian rule once again brought Franciacorta to the fore. It was in Gussago, in fact, that the 1426 conspiracy of Guelph nobles who delivered the city of Brescia to the Venetian Republic was organised. It was in this period that the first high square towers and battlements that still characterise Franciacorta’s landscape were built. Towards the end of the fifteenth century Franciacorta’s territory was divided into three ‘squares’ (a kind of district, each with its own capital): Rovato, Gussago and, in part, Palazzolo.
Historians agree that the first appearance of the name “Franzacurta” can be traced back to 1277, where it appears in the municipal statute of Brescia as a reference to the area south of Lake Iseo, between the Oglio and Mella rivers. Franzacurta or Franzia Curta was then an important area for the supply of wine to the city of Brescia, but also to the towns in the Valcamonica and Valtrompia regions, and to the cities of the Po Valley in the south.
The current geographical demarcation of Franciacorta dates back to a 1429 act by Francesco Foscari, the Doge of Venice. The oldest extant map is from 1469. It was the work of an anonymous author and is now preserved in the Biblioteca Estense of Modena.
Vespers of Rovato
The struggle between Venice and France brought war to Franciacorta once again: in 1509 a rebellion that took on almost legendary status and came to be rather emphatically called the “Vespers of Franciacorta” saw the population revolt against the French. Rovato was the centre of the revolt. Following Napoleon’s victories in Italy, which included the area of Brescia, the Free Republic was proclaimed and the banners of freedom were raised throughout the land of Franciacorta, while the insignia of the Venetian Republic were destroyed. Next it was the turn of Austrian domination, the struggles of the Italian Unification, and annexation to the Kingdom of Italy.
A report from the sixteenth century written by the mayor of Brescia, Paolo Correr, to the Emperor, listed the four territories of Pedemonte, Franzacurta, Asolano and Riviera in addition to the valleys of Valcamonega, Valtrompia and Lasabbio.