History and etymology of Triora

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Early history of Triora

According to a widely accepted hypothesis, the small fortified village of Triora and its castle were founded in the early period of the Lombard domination in Liguria and served as a refuge for diverse indigenous populations, and which provided protection from the ravages made into Liguria by the Lombard King Rothari in the seventh century.

Triora was located in the county of Ventimiglia, under whose feudal lords it remained until 1261, after which time it came under the jurisdiction of Genoa.

In 1260 the Marquis Boniface of Badalucco sold it to his brother-in-law named Ianella and a solicitor of Genoa:

"I Boniface , Earl of Badalucco, son of the late Count Oberto, sell, grant and entrust you, solicitor Ianella, my brother-in-law, the castle of Triora" (1).

Further back in time, a bull of Pope Adrian IV, 1154, quoted the "Ecclesiam Sancti Martini de Triola" (2). We can turn the clocks back as far as 1145 when the church of St. Martin was mentioned in a "Privilegium Eugenii Papae" (3). This is a church that belonged to the Benedictine monks from time immemorial, and who were probably the real "founders" of the village of Triora.

From the 8th to the 11th century it was part of the Arduinic March and in the 12th century it belonged to the Counts of Ventimiglia (4). Except for the two documents that cited the church of St. Martin, a surviving document dating from 1162 expressly referred to Triora as "Tridoria." This was published in 1905 by G. Rossi, who explained that the document was penned in Triora:

"In presence of the Emperor Frederick’s Nuncios : The document was written in Triora, on October 15 of the year of Our Lord 1162" (5).

It is difficult, almost impossible, to find other information about Triora prior to the mid-12th century. However, because Liguria was inhabited since prehistoric times and was also deeply Romanized, there are conflicting opinions about the antiquity of Triora. The matter is still very fluid, but before continuing let me give a brief presentation of the "status quaestionis."

Locating ancient Triora

According to the studies of L. Gambaro, archaeological data refer to the stable population resident in “Mulini di Triora”, a village situated lower than Triora, while in the higher areas settlement was more sporadic and depending on contingent reasons, such as the grazing lands and a useful purpose at a particular historical moment. The ancient Ligurians lived in villages that were more or less important, called "oppida", "castella" and "vici".

The Ligurian tribes of this area were the “Intemelii” and the “Ingauni”. Regarding the “Ingauni”, they settled around “Rocca di Drego” ( Mulini di Triora),a settlement documented from the Roman times (6). L. Gambaro also pointed out that even for the most important “oppida” it is impossible to establish with certainty their original locations. However, according to some historians, Triora already existed in Roman times, and the village was one of several "castella" which Livius mentioned but without indicating the names of places in the country.

The name of "Triora" should recall, almost by homophony, the ancient Ligurian tribe of the "Triullati", mentioned by the ancient sources, and in particular by the well-known inscription of La Turbie (south-east France), which contains the names of various Ligurian tribes. The great German geographer Albert Forbiger, in his monumental work on the ancient geography, wrote:

"Triulatti were settled around Triola [Triora] in the valley of the 'Rutuba' river today called Roya" (7). N. Peitavino, a local historian, asserted, with self-assurance, that Triora was their capital: "The Triullati, who lived in the Argentina valley [...], had Triora for their capital city" (8).

On the contrary, G. Oberziner, in 1900 and basing himself on the famous inscription of La Turbie, stressed:

"Forbiger sacrificed the most basic historical criteria of verisimilitude in locating [...] the 'Triullati' around Triola, in the valley of the Roja river. The ‘Triullati’ follow, in the inscription of La Turbie, the ‘Ecdini’, who did not live very far from them, so I think that the ‘Triullati’ can be located in the valley of the Cians river […] and the neighbors ‘Gallirae’, in the upper valley of the Var.” (9).

G. Oberziner was broadly in agreement with G. Allais, who placed the ‘Triullati’ in "the valley of the Cians river":

" […] They are after the ‘TRIULLATI’ or ‘Triulatti’, that I, with the guidance of the inscription of La Turbie, do not hesitate to place in the Cians river valley " (10).

In 1971, René Liautaud, in his turn basing himself on the studies of P. Casimir (11), wrote:

"[...] The ‘Triullati’ inhabited the valley of the Cians river, while the ‘Ectini’ the upper valley of the Tinea river] (12).

Additional considerations on the antiquity of Triora refer to the Ligurian tribe of the “Epanterii”, who belonged to the so-called “Montani,” a Ligurian people only mentioned by Livius (59 BC-17 AD). So G. Serra wrote that "The ‘Epanterii’, were located where today is Triora" (13). On the contrary, N. Lamboglia, a great historian of Liguria, said that " It’s pointless to look for the residence of the ‘Epanterii’, whose name could also be corrupt in the only source that keeps them [ that is Livius] (14).

Most likely origins of Triora

Instead, the events of the conquest of Liguria by the Lombards (15), suggest that the fortified village was founded during this period close to a Benedictine monastery. On the other hand, the Benedictine monks traditionally founded monasteries and villages in these places.

The Benedictines of Pedona obtained the valley of Taggia from the Church of Genoa: this is demonstrated by the Bull of Pope Innocent IV (1195-1254) on December 2, 1246 in Lyon. The Benedictines settled in Taggia at the end of the 7th century. Liguria at the end of the 7th century was almost certainly wild, especially after the violent raid of King Rothari. The inhabitants of the coast escaped the massacres and began to move north, and their houses were built near the Benedictine Monastery: so both Taggia and Triora arose (16).

In his turn, G. Rossi stressed: "The Benedictines had gotten that territory as a gift by the Countess Adelaide in 1029. The inhabitants of Triora were educated in religion by a group of Benedictine monks who had taken to live in the region making here his priorship" (17). Moreover, according to G. Rossi, "In the documents of the twelfth century Triora was called "Tridoria" (18). The small village was also called 'Triola' in 1202 and in other documents (19).

In fact, "Triola" is mentioned in 1202 in the "documents of the Republic of Genoa" with the name of "Triole" (20).

“Tridoria”, “Triola”, “Triole”: what is its etymology?

With such confusion over the original name of Triora, a difficult problem occurs when explaining the etymology...

According the some scholars, the village derives its name from the Latin verb “terere” [=to grind] and from the past participle "tritum" (21). Moreover, according to some local traditions, the name refers to the Latin "tria ora," that is the “three mouths of Cerberus”, or to the “three streams of Triora”, that is Corte, Capriolo and Argentina.

As we can see, the presence of Cerberus, the three-headed dog, did suggest a possible etymology of Triora. However, it is much more likely that the "three mouths" refer to the “three streams” of Triora.

Let's say that the Heraldry does not help us much, because we do not have a Medieval coat of arms of Triora. Our impression is that the presence of Cerberus in the coat of arms of the village is purely symbolic, built entirely "ex post", and which presumably has nothing to do with the etymology of the ancient village.

All the most famous ancient authors, from Virgil to Cicero, speaking of Cerberus, used the expression "tria ora" [= with three mouths]. Cicero, for example, regarding Cerberus, used a very significant expression: "TRIA CERBERUS ORA." This expression seems almost to refer to the coat of arms of Triora, where we can see, at the center, "Cerberus Rampant" and the name of the village. It is true that Cerberus was widely represented in several coat of arms in the Middle Ages and often on the helmets of the knights, but in the case of Triora presumably the figure of Cerberus was not part of the coat of arms of the village in the earliest period and was inserted in the 18th century by a Latinist.

The man who “invented” the present coat of arms of Triora, that today we can observe in the pavement of the central square of Triora, chose the animal that "best represented" the name of the city, that is Cerberus, known for its "TRIA ORA" [three mouths]. Triora certainly did not lack for Latinists. For example, G. Casalis cited Giovanni Battista Faraldi, poet and author of a Latin history of his small village (22). And F. Ferraironi added:

"Triora has always maintained in the past centuries a noble tradition of culture and its leading families (especially the Capponi, Stella, Velli, Gastaldi, Barelli, Faraldi, Alberti) left doctors, notaries, lawyers and eminent individuals of secular and regular clergy and behind the Latin school of the Velli" (23).

In our opinion, it is also possible that the coat of arms had been taken from a drawing by Giovanni Maria Capponi, Canon of the Collegiate Church of Triora, a cultured man and a skilled cartographer, who was also remembered by G. Rossi:

"Gio Maria Capponi, canon of the collegiate church of Triora was an eminent cartographer [...] In the home of Ms. Capponi widow Lanteri are still preserved in good condition two precious documents, in one of which is reproduced faithfully the topography of the country and the vast territory of Triora, where we see the coat of arms with the dog Cerberus [...] and with the following title: “A very new map of Triora and its territory emended with extreme care" (24).

In conclusion, the inclusion of Cerberus in the coat of arms of Triora was probably a “bright idea” of the Canon of the Collegiate Giovanni Maria Capponi.

F. Ferraironi, a very famous historian of Triora, pointed out that during the excavations in the square of Triora was found a coat of arms on the old fountain called “Soprana” [ The Soprana fountain is the oldest in Triora] with two dolphins (symbol of water), and that "in vain" people looked for the image of Cerberus:

"In the pavement of the square of the Collegiate Church [...] two dolphins (symbol of water) were discovered […], which had no coat of arms (in vain people looked for the image of Cerberus, the coat of arms of the town" (25).

History of Triora in and after the middle ages

As we said above, Triora belonged to the Aleramic March and then it was ruled by Arduino d'Ivrea (955-1014). Around the12th century it became a possession of the Earl of Badalucco and then of the Republic of Genoa. The document dating back to 1261 sanctioned the passage of Triora as a new fief of the Republic of Genoa, becoming a “Podestaria” [the office of podesta], which ruled the neighboring villages [in Latin “Potestatia Triorae”] (26).

Anyway the life of the village, as happened in medieval and modern times, was often marked by constant bickering for seasonal exploitation of the pastures with the neighboring villages, of which the historical sources and contemporary studies give ample testimony (27).

From the strategic and military standpoint Triora was always a town of great importance, thanks to the creation of walls and ramparts that made it an almost impregnable fortified village, which gave serious trouble even to powerful armies such as the Spaniards in the16th century. This century was an important period for Triora, which was endowed with new statutes and was also at the center of a controversial witchcraft trial. Regarding the statutes, G. Rossi said:

"This old and mountainous country, located at the bottom of the Argentina valley, owns the statutes of the 16th century, of which we were able to obtain a copy thanks to the courtesy of our dear friend cav. Pier Domenico Capponi" (28).

As we said, in the second half of the sixteenth century, Triora was also the site of a famous witchcraft trial that was widely reported, and still is a source of curiosity and interest by scholars and enthusiasts of the matter.

During the Napoleonic era Triora belonged to the French department of the Alpes-Maritimes , and after the Congress of Vienna in 1814 it became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Triora suffered severe damage during the Second World War, but today is a village that offers great things to do from the folklore, art and nature standpoint, being immersed in a landscape of mountains of great charm.

Visit our Triora travel guide for tourist and travel information.

Works cited

1) AA:VV: "I libri iurium della Repubblica di Genova”, Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali, Ufficio centrale per i beni archivistici, 2002, Volume 1-8, p. 22 and E. De Bona-C. Perogalli, “I castelli della Liguria: Provincia di Imperia …”, 1974, p. 139.

2) “Mémoires de l'Institut impérial de France”, Paris, 1892, Tome 34, p. 120.

3) " Polyptyque de l'Abbaye de Saint-Remi de Reims", edited by M.B. Guérard, Paris, 1853, p. 112.

4) P. Stringa, “Valle Argentina”, Sagep, 1976, p. 35.

5) G. Rossi, “Documenti sopra il contado di Ventimiglia”, in “Giornale storico e letterario della Liguria”, 1905, Anno VI, Fascicolo 1-2-3, p. 69.

6) L. Gambaro, “La situazione del territorio ligure fino alla conquista romana”, in “La Liguria costiera tra III e I secolo BC”, 1999, pp. 54-55, p. 89 and footnote.

7) A. Forbiger, "Handbuch der Alten Geographie", "Europe", Hamburg, 1877 Dritten und Letzer Band, p. 132.

8) N. Peitavino, Intemelio, Ricci, Savona, 1923 p. 88.

9) G. Oberziner,” Le guerre di Augusto contro i popoli alpini”, Roma, Loescher, 1900, p. 134 and footnote 3.

10) G. Allais, “Le Alpi occidentali nell'antichità: nuove rivelazioni”, 1891, p. 79.

11) Philippe Casimir, "Le Trophée d'Auguste à La Turbie," 1932.

12) R. Liautaud,“Histoire du pays niçois”, Éditions du Rocher, 1971, p.38.

13) G. Serra, “La storia della antica Liguria e di Genova”, 1835, Tomo I, p. 4.

14) N. Lamboglia, “Ingaunia preromana”, “Collana Storico-Archeologica della Liguria Occidentale”, 1933, n. 4, II, p. 10 and footnote 1.

15) R. Pavoni, “La conquista longobarda della Liguria”, in “Atti della Accademia Ligure di Scienze e. Lettere”, 1984, XLI, pp. 335-348.

16) See D. Fornara, “I Benedettini e la Madonna del Canneto a Taggia”, Chieri, 1928, p. 49.

17) G. Rossi, “Storia della città e diocesi di Albenga”, 1870, p. 131.

18) G. Rossi, “Glossario medioevale ligure con appendice”, Forni, 1971, p. 101.

19) N. Lamboglia, “I nomi dei Comuni delle Alpi marittime”, in “Rivista di studi liguri”, 1942, p. 118.

20) “Codice diplomatico della repubblica di Genova”, in “Fonti per la storia d’Italia”, 1942, p. 203.

21) A. Gandolfo, "La Provincia di Imperia," 2005, p. 993 ff.

22) G. Casalis, “Dizionario Geografico- storico-statistico …”, Torino, 1853, Vol. XXIII, p. 325.

23) F. Ferraironi, “Arte e cultura nella montagna ligure: (la zona di Triora presso Sanremo)”, Roma, Tip. Sallustiana, 1960, p. 5.

24) G. Rossi, “Storia della città e diocesi di Albenga”, 1870, pp. 300-301, footnote 2.

25) F. Ferraironi, “Arte e cultura nella montagna ligure: (la zona di Triora presso Sanremo)”, Roma, Tip. Sallustiana, 1960, p. 230.

26) L.A. Muratori, "Scriptores Rerum Italicarum" Mediolani, 1725, Tomus Sextus, Caffari ... Annales Genuenses , p. 598.

27) P. Guglielmotti, “Ricerche sull’organizzazione del territorio nella Liguria medievale”, Firenze University Press, 2005, pp. 94 ff.

28) G. Rossi, “Gli statuti della Liguria”, in “Atti della società ligure di storia patria”, Genova, 1878, p. 182.

29) E. Rossetti Brezzi, “Per un’inchiesta sul ‘400 ligure”, in "Bollettino d’Arte", 1983, p. 14.

30) R. Soprani, “Vite de’ pittori, scultori e architetti genovesi”, Genova, 1768, p. 362.

31) P. Bensi, “Annotazioni sulle tecniche pittoriche nei dipinti mobili di Luca Cambiaso”, in “La ‘maniera’ di Luca Cambiaso: confronti, spazio decorativo, tecniche”, Atti del convegno di Genova 29-30 giugno 2007, p. 109 ff.

32) F.A. De Armas, "Quixotic Frescoes. Cervantes and Italian Renaissance", University of Toronto, 2006, p. 94.

33) G. Spione, “Pittori da Genova e dalla Liguria nel Piemonte Sabaudo tra Seicento e Settecento”, in P. Astrua, A. M. Bava e C. E. Spantigati (a cura di), “Maestri Genovesi in Piemonte”, catalogo della mostra (Torino, Galleria Sabauda, 26 maggio-10 ottobre, Turin, 2004, p. 38.

34) F. Ferraironi, “ Guida e album di Triora: liguria occidentale”, Tip. Calasanziana, 1914, pp. 28-29.

35) E. Tessandri, “La cappella Grifo nella chiesa milanese di Gessate”, in “Kos: rivista di cultura e storia delle scienze mediche, naturali e umane”, 1992, p. 9.