History of Monza


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The origins of Monza are very old, and recall a time when the Celtic invaders sent away the Etruscans from Northern Italy. Apart from a few finds of the Bronze Age, we have no local archaeological evidences, except for the following period when local people came into contact with the Roman Civilization.

There are over twenty tombstones from Roman times, which indicate the time when Monza was a "Vicus" ("Village") of the tribe of "Modiciates"; among these, of particular importance are the inscriptions on the Altar dedicated to Hercules (mentioned in the inscriptions as "Hercules Modicianus") and ascribed to some young aristocrats taking part of a "Collegium" funeral-religious rite.

Monza in the Roman era

This archaic Roman centre had a considerable importance, not only because of the presence of the religious “Collegium”, but also because it was a key station for changing horses along the road leading from Milan to the north, and which in "Modicia" crossed the Lambro River with the bridge of "Arena", which is the most important artefact here of Roman times.

The presence of the Romans also gave origin to a curious etymology, according to which "Monza" resulted from “Magonza” ["Mainz"], since the city was founded by veterans coming to live here from Mainz. Monza is first mentioned during the Lombard domination, and its name is linked to that of Queen Teodolinda (died 627),  wife of Authari (540-590).

Monza in the Early Middle Ages

Teodolinda, as Paul the Deacon (720-799) narrates, built the Church of St. John the Baptist:

"[...] Queen Teodolonda built in 'Modoetia (Monza) the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, for herself, her sons and daughters, for her husband and all the Lombards, because St. John the Baptist interceded before God for all the Lombards [...]".

According to a legend about the building of the Church of St. John the Baptist, it is to Queen Teodolinda to whom the 'invention' of the name "Modoetia" is attributed; she was indeed looking for a suitable place for the church, when she heard a voice saying: "Modo" ["now"], and she replied: "Etiam" (yes); hence, from the place where the church was located, was born the term "Modoetia [m]."

Next to “Modoetia”, we often find in medieval documents dating back to the 10th century, the ancient name “Modicia”:

"[...] One of them drawn in 'Modicia', concerned some properties such as a ''in castro qui est posito in villa 'Modicia ' ("Castle located in Villa' Modicia"); in April  934 people mentioned 'abitantis castro Modica' ("residents in the Castle Modica"); and in December 943 the 'estimator' (“valuer”) is a 'habitator castro Modicia' ("an inhabitant of the castle of Modica")" [1].

With the name "Modoetia" the city is mentioned in other documents of 1278 relating to the income of some Churchs of Monza, where they said:

"[...] In the name of God, 1278. This is the inventory compiled by the Priests and Canons of the Church of St. John of ‘Modoetia’” [2].

The advent of the Lombards in the territory of Monza (585) coincided with a period of great building and cultural development,  thanks to Queen Teodolinda who built the Basilica of St. John the Baptist and in which now is kept his crypt and other precious treasures, including the famous "Iron Crown", which encircled the head of many emperors (Charlemagne [742-814], Frederick Barbarossa [1122-1190], and Napoleon [1769-1821]).

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, in the 12th century, helped the city to escape the domination of Milan, and thus Monza became independent, continuing to prosper and increase its economic importance, based around crafts and wool. In this period the so-called “Arengario”, the symbol of political power, was built but the death of Emperor Barbarossa caused the loss of independence and Monza was again subjugated to Milan.

Monza from the late Middle Ages

During this period Monza was also torn by internal struggles between two powerful families of the Torriani and Visconti. In 1322 it was conquered by the Visconti, who built new walls and the castle. Matteo Visconti (1250-1322) wanted to rebuild the cathedral and new churches were built, such as “Santa Maria in Strada”, “Santa Maria del Carrobiolo” and St. Maurice.

Under the rule of the Visconti and then of the Sforza, Monza continued to grow culturally and artistically, but from the first half of the 16th century, it suffered from Spanish rule.

Monza also suffered from the consequences of a serious plague that decimated the population, but that did not stop the artistic activity of the city; in fact, during this period the bell tower of the Cathedral and the Baptistery were built, designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi (1526-1596, a painter who suffers the influence of Giulio Romano [1499-1546], Michelangelo [1475-1564] and Mannerism) and numerous villas were built in the country.

Under the Austrian and French rule Monza developed its craft industy and agriculture and numerous villas were built such as Pertusati, Rampini, Uboldi, and the famous “Royal Villa”, an example of neoclassical architecture, which was built in the 18th century by the will of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1772-1807).

The Royal Villa, located within the Park of Monza, holds the apartment houses, Royal Chapel and Rotunda, frescoed by Andrea Appiani (1754-1817, who studied at the Academy of Brera (Milan) and who became the "premier peintre" ["the first painter"]  of the emperor Napoleon. His style is distinctly Neoclassical, and he is also a painter remembered as portraitist).

In this period several factories for processing of the silkworm were also built, a textile business that lasted at Monza until the early 19th century.

After the "Risorgimento", the city became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Today Monza is universally known for its famous “Autodrome”, located inside the Park of Monza, of great and ancient tradition, inaugurated at the beginning of the 1920s.

 

Origins of the name Monza

Frisi, very cleverly, studied the evolution of the name of Monza through wills, concluding that "Modoetia" was the last city name before its final name, "Monza". He wrote that in fact the city, over the centuries, was called:

"[...] 'Modoicum', 'Modoicio', 'Modica', 'Modoecia', 'Modoetia', the last name of Monza [...]" [3].

But what is the etymology of "Modica" - "Modoetia? Frisi, who believed little in etymology, which he considered entirely fanciful, commented on some of them with much irony, noting that for some scholars "Modicia" derives from "a modicitate census" [“humble state of life”]; for others  from “modica Civitas " [“humble Town”]; and for others from the fact that it would be "close to the mountains" (hence "Mon-za”), being the city “near at the foot of the hills of Brianza” [4].

And today? Today, the proposals of the scholars are certainly less "imaginative" than those of the 19th century, but are not certain. G.B. Pellegrini notes that the name of Monza could be connected to:

"[...] 'fluvius Mordula' ('Mordula River') and we could go up to the Celtic term "Morga-Murg" ("river"), 'swamp', or the Gallic term 'Morga' ('border'), but these assumptions do not seem entirely sure [ ...]" [5].

Around 1960 A. Polloni [6] linked the name to the Latin-Germanic term of feudal origin "Munda" (French 'mund', i.e. 'legal protection'), or "the territories under the protection of a feudal lord."

We conclude the question about the etymology of Monza with the words of Mirabella Roberti, who, referring to the idea of Polloni, concluded that, as was the case for "Mediolanum” (Milan), the etymology of Monza “is a mystery” [7].

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References

1. See G. Vismara, “Per una Storia di Monza e della Brianza”, in “Scritti di Storia Giuridica” [" For a History of Monza and Brianza, in "Writings of legal history"], Giuffrè, 1987: 242

2. See A.F. Frisi, “Memorie Storiche di Monza” ["Historical Memoirs of Monza”], Milan, in the printing of Gaetano Motta, 1794: 200

3. Frisi, page 7, first column

3. Frisi, page 7, column 2

5. G.B. Pellegrini (“Toponomastica Italiana”, [“Italian toponymy”], Hoepli, 1990: 126

6. A. Polloni (“Toponomastica Romagnola” [“Toponomy of Romagna”], Olschki, 1966:137)

7. See M. Mirabella Roberti, “Archeologia e storia a Milano e nella Lombardia Orientale” [" Archaeology and History in Milan and East Lombardy”], Cairoli, 1980:51-52