‘Oltre’ Magazine is a monthly publication that focuses on the Oltrepò, the region to the south of the River Po, where the regions of Lombardy, Liguria, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna all meet – and where Edward II may once have lived. The magazine is rich in stunning photography of the area, and the article in this month’s edition by Auramala Project researcher Elena Corbellini is no exception. It seeks to answer the question ‘how long have people lived in the Staffora Valley’? And indeed, one of the most ancient artefacts in the whole territory lies just a few kilometres from Cecima, the town named in the Fieschi Letter. It is the ‘Nikarà’, a large tumulus on a spectacular ridge-top, which most likely dates back to Neolithic times. What is so curious, however, about this tumulus is the name it has acquired: as Elena Corbellini explains, local people call it ‘King’s Niche’. As you will see, Elena Corbellini brings her life-long studies of comparative philology, ancient Greek, Latin and history to bear with a healthy dose of critical thinking. Here is an exerpt from her article:
What is Nikarà?
It comes naturally to me to spell Nikarà with a ‘k’, because it made me think of ancient Greek when I first heard the word. Something similar to “nike(a) ra”, meaning ‘an easy victory’, or, more likely, ne(i)kria, meaning “place of burial”. In the Apennines there are quite a few toponyms of Greek (Byzantine) origins, and it may date back to sixth century, to the time of the Gothic War. But that is just a theory.
The people at Serra del Monte [the nearest hamlet, ed.] ‘translate’ the word as ‘King’s Niche’, a kind of folk-etymology which is perhaps linked to an adjacent wood called ‘The King’s Valley’ (Vol du re). In any case, the presence of a king in local oral tradition is confirmed. In fact, when Anna of Pizzocorno informed us at Il Mondo di Tels of the existence of Nikarà, as we were looking for traces of King Edward II of England in our area, we understandably became excited, and expeditions to the site were mounted. But which king? Barbarossa, the most famous? Edward II Plantagenet, the penitent king of the abbey? King Lambert? Or earlier still, Totila, who destroyed Casteggio in legend…?
Corbellini’s tantalizing rhetorical question at the end of this paragraph is just one of many we have had to ask ourselves while investigating the oral tradition of the king in Valley Staffora. We will debate the evidence and possible doubts in full in later posts, however. For now, I leave you with an intriguing list of toponyms featuring the suffix/prefix ‘re’ (‘king’) that are all concentrated in the immediate vicinity of Cecima:
Pian del Re (The King’s Plateau) – Zanrà (Saint King?) – Vol du Re (Valley of the King) – Nikarà (Niche of the King)