Exploring the Grange
Typology: Itineraries in the Rice
Exploring the Grange: medieval corners among the rice fields
The history of Vercelli’s agriculture and the transformation of the territory from lowland forest to rice-growing land can be found in a small strip of plain, located among Vercelli, Crescentino, and Trino, known as the Triangle of the Grange. Through this itinerary, you may visit the locations that first saw the birth of the cultivation of rice, the Grange, which represents a living example of an environment full of history and art. A wonderful journey between the past and the present of rice growing in Vercelli, discovering charming medieval corners hidden among the rice fields.
1 The Abbey of Lucedio
Known as Principato di Lucedio (Lucedio Principality) in 1875, the ancient Abbey, founded in 1123 by the Cistercians at the behest of the Marquis of Monferrato, who granted them the rights over various lands, experienced many changes of ownership over the centuries, thus leading to a fragmentation process that became final in 1818, when Prince Camillo Borghese, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, and Governor-General of Piedmont, split the estate into three parts in order to sell it. Now the Abbey is a modern farm that can be toured, and that was able to preserve its characteristic medieval environment. After having crossed the fortified walls, it is still possible to admire the abbey church, the peculiar bell tower, octagonal at the top but square at the base, and the quadrilateral chapter house.
2 Darola Farmhouse
Located due north of Lucedio, this farmhouse boasts ancient origins. Donated in 933 by the kings of Italy Ugo and Lotario to the marquises of Monferrato, the latter sold it to Lucedio in 1123: it thus became one of the six granges owned by the Abbey. From a structural point of view, it represents an excellent example of a farmstead with a closed courtyard. Also of interest is still well-preserved architectural proof of the fortification process that occurred in Darola in the fifteenth century: the quadrilateral tower with its original carriage door used to travel from one courtyard to the other.
3 Montarolo, Ramezzana, Castelmerlino, Leri and Montarucco
In the past part of Lucedio, the other granges are located near the rural complex. While Ramezzana and Montarolo (the latter located in a panoramic position, near the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Vigne) are located due south of Lucedio, Leri and Castelmerlino are located in the area that extends to the northwest of the principality and correspond to the possessions of the Benso di Cavour family, to whom the minister Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour belonged. In particular, Leri represented for Camillo Benso a "buen retiro”, an environment where even now you can still perceive the atmosphere of the Risorgimento.
4 Forest of the "Sorti della Partecipanza" in Trino
The last remnants of the ancient lowland forest that extended across the Po Valley, a forest of very ancient origins and already sacred to the Romans, was preserved thanks to an extremely strict collective management system known as the "Partecipanza” that dates back to the Middle Ages. After becoming a nature park in 1991, the forest acquired great naturalistic importance for the tree species and habitats therein, and it constitutes an important historical-ecological reserve like few others. The forest features several hiking trails and equipped areas.
5 San Genuario
San Genuario, an agricultural estate that was in the past the site of an abbey, is the most ancient Benedictine monastic settlement inside the forest of Lucedio. Unfortunately, very little of the ancient complex remains, and all that is left as evidence of the original structure was incorporated into Cascina Badia. Also of considerable interest is the Castle dating back to the fourteenth century, which has a magnificent circular tower surrounded by a fortress. Near the village, one can find the marshland of San Genuario, a special nature reserve that safeguards an important system of wetlands fed by springs and fountains where it is possible to admire ancient strips of lowland forest and a remarkable variety of wildlife.
6 Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Vigne
On the hill that leads to the Grange of Montarolo stands the church of the Santissimo Nome di Maria, better known as the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Vigne. The Sanctuary, built in the first half of the seventeenth century over a pre-existing sacred building, is a fine example of Piedmont Baroque architecture. Abandoned for decades, it is a place that inspired many legends and mysteries. The most famous one is linked to the "Spartito del Diavolo” (The "Devil’s score”), a palindrome song considered magical found in a fresco inside the Sanctuary. It seems that if the song is played backward, it can free a demon held prisoner in the crypt of the church at the nearby Abbey of Lucedio.
To learn more: The "Grange”
The granges, literally "granaries”, were ancient residential units and agricultural centers where the lay brothers, or Cistercian monks not part of the convent, carried out land reclamation works on an area covered by lowland forests to make it suitable for agricultural use. The granges represented a key instrument in the process of transformation of an uncultivated area into arable land: when a landowner wanted to transform his property to make it productive, the abbots sent their own monk, a "granciere”, who supervised the reclamation works. Therefore, it is undeniable that the activity carried out by the monks in the Vercelli area represented a decisive factor for the birth and the taking root over the centuries of an agricultural and rice-growing industry: it was the Cistercians, in fact, who introduced the cultivation of rice in the fifteenth century. The granges that arose in the Vercelli plain, and more specifically in the strip of land that extends between Trino, Crescentino, and Larizzate, had their center in the Abbey of S. Maria di Lucedio. The latter, founded in 1123, immediately acquired numerous properties, each of which was headed by a grange.
How to reach the Grange:
From Vercelli: take the SP1 provincial road "Strada delle Grange” toward Crescentino. Take the SP 34 provincial road toward Lucedio.
From Milan and Turin: take the E25 freeway and exit at the tollbooth of Vercelli Ovest. Take the SP1 provincial road "Strada delle Grange” toward Crescentino. Take the SP 34 provincial road toward Lucedio.
By bicycle, it is possible to follow trail No. 5 of the "Risaie Ciclabili”.