The Roman presence in Valle Camonica
The testimonies of the Roman period are all concentrated in the area between Breno e Cividate Camuno. These are two countries a few kilometers away from each other. They are also connected by a cycle-pedestrian street. It flanks the course of the river and passes by some important finds from the Roman era such as the Sanctuary of Minerva, located in a rural area just before arriving in Breno.
In the Roman itinerary of the Camonica Valley, the main sites are all within easy reach of the river. The cycle-pedestrian path that connects the two countries, in addition to allowing you to enjoy nature and its peace, seems almost designed specifically to allow a mix of cultural, natural and sporting aspects.
Starting from Sanctuary of Minerva or, vice versa, from Park of the Theater and Amphitheater, it is possible to visit all the places of interest of the Roman itinerary. It is the best way to spend a day dedicated to sport and culture.
Here is a possible itinerary to discover this stretch of the Valle Camonica, an itinerary that starts from the town of Breno, passes by Cividate Camuno and ends under the banner of relaxation at the Terme di Boario. An important and well known stage in Valle Camonica. The baths of Boario, in fact, became a reference point for relaxation and well-being around the end of the eighteenth century, thanks to "magnesium and vitrinolated iron waters", as Antonio Bazzini wrote in the "Cronaca di Lovere" at the beginning of the eighteenth century ". The baths of Boario are still so famous that they are included in the 6 best spas to visit in Lombardy according to a recent post from Expedia.
Let's move on to the stages of the Roman itinerary ...
1 - The Breno Castle
Although it is not a testimony of the Roman era, I believe that the Breno castle is a splendid beginning of the itinerary that cannot but be mentioned, even if not related to the Roman era.
Valle Camonica is from a cultural point of view a complete territory. In addition to the Roman and Camunian routes, it is possible to walk and discover the medieval route through its fascinating castles. That of Breno is one of the best medieval expressions of the Camonica Valley. It was built on a rocky outcrop near the town in a highly strategic place. The valley at this point almost forms a funnel allowing better control over the entire area below.
To visit the castle, from the town center it is necessary to take an uphill cobbled road that leads to the entrance in a few minutes. The climb is steep but once you get to the top, although inside it is bare, the view pays off all the effort made to reach it.
2 - The street art of the goddess Minerva
The Italian artist Ozmo wanted to pay homage to the sanctuary of Minerva with his visual art through a huge work of black and white street art visible from the main square of Breno. A representation of Minerva that seems almost vigilant over the whole country.
3 - The Sanctuary of Minerva
Probably the most interesting Roman find in the entire Valle Camonica.
Not far from Breno, in the locality Spinera it is possible to discover this sanctuary which was built in a particular position: on the banks of the main river of the valley, the Oglio river. Its construction took place following the foundation of the nearby Cividate Camuno which at the time was the most important city in the Camonica Valley. It was dedicated to Minerva, the "protector of human enterprises", which fit perfectly with the location of the site as it was an obligatory point of passage to cross the Alps.
There is not much left of the sanctuary. There are still some beautiful mosaics and the statue of Minerva, which however is nothing more than a resin reconstruction.
The original statue is housed in the neighbor National Archaeological Museum of the Camonica Valley. The site is not crowded with tourists, and I think this is an added value. Thanks to the panels with computer reconstructions, you look around trying to imagine what it was like during its heyday.
When I visit places like this I always stop to think how probably every day we walk over an indefinite number of archaeological finds that have yet to be discovered and maybe will come to light only by chance. The same sanctuary of Minerva it was discovered in 1986 during excavations for the laying of public pipelines.
Visit the Sanctuary of Minerva
The management of the site is entrusted to volunteers who open the Sanctuary of Minerva on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 to 12 and from 14.30 to 18. During the rest of the week it is closed. Despite this, if you were to pass by on a midweek day, it is possible to see a good part of the Roman site even remaining outside the delimited area.
Getting to the sanctuary by car it is not difficult but you have to pay attention to the few indications on the main road. Moving towards Breno from Cividate Camuno you reach a point where the road passes over the river Oglio, at that point there is an indication to the left to turn for the parking lot.
The site of Minerva is only a few hundred meters from the parking lot, it is enough to walk only a stretch of cycle-pedestrian walk and you will reach the Roman site. Vice versa, coming from Breno, the car park is on the right, immediately after crossing the bridge over the Oglio river.
4 - The cycle-pedestrian up to Cividate
The first part of the itinerary is concentrated in Breno and ends with a visit to the Sanctuary of Minerva. The other Roman testimonies were found in Cividate Camuno. Here you can visit the National Archaeological Museum of Valle Camonica and the park of the Roman Theater and Amphitheater.
Cycling or a nice walk are both the perfect way to reach Cividate. What better way than to take the cycle-pedestrian that passes alongside the Oglio river? An excellent alternative to the car, ideal for those who love to practice slow tourism.
For the sake of completeness of information, this is only a section of the cycle-pedestrian that begins in its entirety at Capo di Ponte and ends near Pisogne.
5 - A culinary stage: the spongada
A self-respecting itinerary also requires the culinary component, which is even more valid after having traveled the cycle-pedestrian from Breno to Cividate Camuno.
La spongada, in my view, it is one of the most interesting typical products of the Camonica Valley. I would eat them all the time. On the other hand, when butter, eggs, flour and sugar come together, something extremely good can only come out. So here's the spongada, a sweet loaf of about 150 grams sprinkled entirely with sugar. I recommend you to look for a bakery and take a sweet break in the town of Cividate and then proceed to the interesting visit of the Theater Park and the Roman Amphitheater.
6 - The Archaeological Park of the Theater and Amphitheater and a visit to the Museum
A few meters from the center of Cividate Camuno it is possible to visit the Archaeological Park of the Roman Theater and Amphitheater. Admission is free.
Of the amphitheater and the theater the structures that gave the typical elliptical shape to the amphitheaters are very evident, but the structure of the stands is no longer visible. Panel reconstructions help to understand what this place was like during the Roman era.
The panels also provide information on what the amphitheater was for the Romans, how it was managed and what the main attractions were inside. Its maintenance, among other things, greatly affected the coffers and accounts of the city. To visit this Roman site in complete tranquility 30/40 minutes are enough.
At the exit you have to remember something very important. Although admission is free, both in this park and at the Sanctuary of Minerva it is necessary to sign an attendance register. In this way they can attest to the number of people who visit the archaeological sites each year. A very important thing in my opinion.
7 - The National Archaeological Museum of the Camonica Valley
Of great depth, the National Archaeological Museum of the Camonica Valley preserves and enhances all the Roman finds from Cividate Camuno and from the whole Camonica Valley. It is thelast stop on this itinerary through which it is possible to discover the Roman remains of the Camunian territory. Inside you can follow various thematic routes to discover the Roman era. Among all the findings, the original statue of Minerva, found in the nearby Sanctuary, stands out.
The Museum, both from a conceptual and logistical point of view, it represents the point of connection between the Roman site of Minerva and the park of the Roman Theater and Amphitheater which is just over 1 km.
The Museum is free, it is closed on non-holiday Mondays. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 8.30 to 19 and on Sunday from 8.30 to 14.00.
More information on the contents and thematic itineraries can be found on Site of the Archaeological Museum.
8 - At the thermal baths of Darfo Boario
Ok, I told you that the first one was the last stop on the Roman itinerary. By stage, I meant a cultural stage… When we speak of “ancient Roman” we can only associate it with Roman baths concept. So, since you will be very close to the Terme di Boario, why not add a relaxing day to your weekend in Valle Camonica?
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