Known as the “cradle of the ancient Veneti”, the ancient Ateste, the most populated city of Northern Italy among those having a major ancient civilisation, was founded starting from X century B.C. Its population settled near the banks of the Adige, to which the great river owes its name (Athesis, Ateste, Este), having run alongside the settlement until the flood of 586 A.D. [In the photo: Duck-shaped vase – late IX early VIII century B.C. – National Museum Atestino of Este]
Already allied with the Romans, Ateste transformed itself from a municipium (a community with a degree of autonomy) into a colonia (colony) when veterans of Augustus, who survived the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., were rewarded with the granting of those territories. Roman civilisation started to spread peacefully. Many important consular roads were built (Via Annia and Via Aemilia-Altinate that led to Aquileia) as well as public and private districts being built. [In the photo: Golden Medallion of Augustus – front/back – II century B.C. – National Museum Atestino of Este]
Currently, in the Archaeological Area of Via Tiro a Segno remains of Roman residences are visible, also having commercial character, within one of the residential districts of Roman Este of I century A.D. [In the photo: Mosaic of the swimmers – second half of I century B.C. – National Museum Atestino of Este]
The great river returns to be responsible for the destiny of the city when it causes the relevant hydrogeological upheaval, causing the city to lose its physiognomy and reducing it to a small agricultural centre, provoking on more than one occasion the depopulation and abandonment of the city in the long centuries that follow the Roman era (III-IX century A.D.). [In the photo: Vaso Alfonsi – late VI – early V century A.D. – National Museum Atestino of Este]
It would be the feudal lord Azzo II, of the Obertenghi dynasty, to give way to the rebirth of the city, building in the mid XI century a first defensive castle on the hill upon which stood the remains of a Roman castrum. In the following centuries the family saw a constant increase in its power and its territorial domains and consequently also the castle was enlarged and transformed into a fortress of significant proportions, as can be seen by the long walls that have survived intact to the present day. In 1249 the castle of the Marquis of the Estensi, who had taken the name from the town of which they had become the lords, underwent devastating destruction because of the siege it was subject to by its fiercest enemy Ezzelino da Romano, who had already seriously damaged it in 1238.[
It would be, however, the Padovani family to definitively push the Estensi family from the city several decades later, forcing Azzo VII to seek refuge in Ferrara (city of which he had already become the Lord) and to settle where the dynasty of the Estensi would know greater fame. With the family of Princes that had brought so much prosperity, well-being and prestige to the city and its territories in the period of its government having exited from the scene, Ubertino da Carrara, lord of Padua, rebuilt and enlarged the castle starting from 1339. However, during the domination of the Carraresi, Este no longer would hold the position as an important political and administrative centre that on several occasions had been decisive for Italian medieval history of the first Estense period.
In 1405 the city surrendered to the Republic of Venice and thus began a fruitful period of peace and prosperity, economic wealth and demographic development. The city was protected by a defensive wall (eloquent traces are recognisable today along the course of the Bisatto Canal) and this period also saw the realisation of some of the most significant secular and religious buildings, in addition to priceless works of art, still visible today.
The production of artistic ceramics in Este obtained the recognition of the ‘Five Elders of Merchants’ of Venice and it experienced its moment of greatest creative splendour. The city also became the preferred site of sojourns of the noble Venetian families, whose residences and works of art are still today part of the city’s cultural heritage.
FROM THE 1800s TO THE PRESENT DAY…
In 1829 the Emperor of Austria granted Este the title of “City”. This was a further boost for the civic, cultural and industrial development and of the services of the Atestino centre. The archaeological discoveries continue, in particular of that of tombs and their furnishings, which shed light on the antique civilisation of the historical Veneti: with the discovery of the Benvenuti Situla in 1876, the funerary vessel which recounts history on embossed and engraved bronze, depicting scenes of everyday life in the antique society of these people, inaugurating the era of scientific excavations that would contribute to compose the exceptional heritage of the National Museum Atestino, delivering to our days also the incomparable necropolis of Santo Stefano, two steps away from the Castle, and the archaeological area of the Roman public district, to the south-west of the current urban centre. [In the photo: Benvenuti Situla with lid – late VII
In 1866 the city was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. Afterwards Este continued to participate as a protagonist in all the most recent vicissitudes of Italian history, in persisting in its development and continuing to be a centre of reference under various aspects, just as it was in its ancient past. [In the photo: Pocket watch and diagram – mid I century A.D. – National Museum Atestino of Este]
The first businesswoman in the history of Veneto, feminist ante litteram, successful single woman and industrious worker: this is what the archaeological findings seem to tell us about Nerka Trostiaia, noblewoman who lived in Este in III century B.C. Her tomb is preserved in the National Museum Atestino of Este: its jewels, accessories and furnishings speak to us of a life that was active, creative and dedicated to the work in which Nerka had certainly enjoyed an indisputable prestige and certain success. Her history emerges from every detail of this sort of home that has been faithfully rebuilt. The bedroom hosts a situla in bronze with the bones of the deceased, as well as fabrics and sumptuous jewellery in gold, silver, amber and bone. The corner dedicated to banquets surprises with vases, cups, jugs, glasses and every sort of table accessory. Then the fireplace with irons and hearth-side implements, and the knife and the axe for the butchering of animals for her banquets. Finally the “workshop” with all the symbolic implements in bronze for spinning and weaving. Of great value is a seat in bronze decorated with galloping horses: among the thousands of tombs discovered in Este and Padua none can compete with the splendour and completeness of the tomb of Nerka. The mystery and charm of this figure are increased by the fact that it seems that there was no man beside her. The Celtic jewellery, the Etruscan vases from the banquet and the Attic krater that is placed externally all speak of the “international” mentality of Nerka, probably a textiles entrepreneur in the perfect Venetian tradition. Was her important workshop perhaps a fashion atelier? Who knows, perhaps Nerka was nothing less than an actual stylist of her epoch.
Not to be confused with the more known, but also more frivolous, woman of the same name (that Beatrice d’Este who lived between the XV and the XVI century in the court of Milan), this Beatrice was defined by the great philologist Gianfranco Folena as “the most celebrated by poets as an example of beauty, grace and virtue without equal”. The daughter of the Marquis Azzo VI and of Sofia di Savoia, Beatrice was, for beauty and sweetness of spirit, the muse of many of the troubadours who were guests of the Este court. Many poets courted her in provençal verses, from Aimeric de Peguilhan of Toulous, to the Bolognese Rambertino Buvalelli, who defined the young noblewoman Beatrice as “flower more beautiful than any other flower”. The poetic homage to Beatrice ceased when the young woman decided to abandon the court to take refuge in the monastery of Santa Margherita di Salarola, near the castle of Calaone; a year later she founded another monastery on Mount Gemola. After five years spent in prayer and penance, she died in May 1226. Today the remains of Beatrice are buried in the Cathedral of Este where they were transferred in 1957 from the church of Santa Sofia in Padua. Angelo Roncalli also attended the translation, and a year later, he would become Pope John XXIII.