Auramala and Oramala

The Auramala Project

Cover photo of the novel ‘Towards Auramala’ courtesy of Fabrizio Capecchi. Graphics Betty Cominotti.

Auramala is the ancient name of Oramala, the spectacular castle that dominates the Staffora Valley, in the Apennines of Pavia (known as the Oltrepò), in northern Italy. Here, King Edward II of England is thought by some to have lived in a hermitage after escaping murder in 1326. Auramala Castle is the focal point of the novel ‘Towards Auramala’. In the novel, it constitutes a symbolic, psychological fortress that represents a point of no return for Edward II. Should he pass the threshold of Auramala, he will be forever deprived of a say in his own destiny. Due to this enormous significance, and the haunting sound of the word itself, we have chosen the name ‘Auramala’ for our project.

The word Auramala most probably derives from the combination of the two Latin words ‘aura’, meaning wind, and ‘mala’, meaning bad or ill. Therefore, the location would seem to mean literally ‘ill wind’, no doubt because the castle’s position is exposed to the worst of Winter’s intemperate gales.

Oramala Antica

Auramala Castle as it probably looked in medieval times

Nevertheless, during the 13th century it was frequented by the most famous troubadours of the time, travelling, singing hero-poets from the Occitan (Provence) whose verses still ring with romance and chivalry. They were invited to Auramala Castle by the Marquesses Malaspina, who received lordship over these lands from Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, in 1164.

 The coat of arms of the Marquesses Malaspina of the ‘Spino Fiorito’ (Flowering Thorn)

In the time of Edward II, the Staffora Valley was no remote, lonely territory. It was a key leg of the Salt Roads (le Vie del Sale), which took merchants carrying salt and other products over the hills from the Ligurian Sea toward Pavia, Milan, and the other northern, land-locked cities. The valley was studded with thriving towns such as Varzi, and haunting abbeys, such as the Abbey of Sant’Alberto.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the castle was unfortunately in ruins. During World War II a young partisan, hiding from Nazi and Fascist troops in the cavernous dungeons of the ancient castle, swore that he would one day restore the Auramala to its former glory. In 1985 that partisan, Luigi Panigazzi, bought the castle together with his brother, and restoration work began. Thanks to their dedication, it has now been reopened to the public.

Today, the Staffora Valley with Oramala/Auramala Castle remains one of the most haunting, least known areas of Italy.

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Auramala e Oramala

L’immagine di copertina del romanzo “Attraverso Auramala” foto di Fabrizio Capecchi. Grafica di Betty Cominotti.

Auramala è l’antico nome di Oramala, lo spettacolare castello che domina la Valle Staffora, negli Appennini di Pavia, zona nota anche come Oltrepò. Qui si pensa che il Re Edoardo II d’Inghilterra abbia vissuto da eremita dopo essere fuggito alla sua uccisione nel 1326. Il castello Auramala è il punto centrale del romanzo “Towards Auramala”. Costituisce, infatti, una fortezza simbolica e psicologica che rappresentail punto di non ritorno per Edoardo II. Se passasse la soglia di Oramala, sarebbe privato di qualsiasi decisione su suo stesso destino. Proprio per questo significato importante e il suono accattivante della parola stessa, abbiamo deciso di chiamare “Auramala” il nostro progetto.

La parola Auramala deriva molto probabilmente dalla combinazione di due parole latine “aura”, che significa vento, e “mala”, che significa cattivo o malattia. Quindi, questo luogo significherebbe letteralmente “vento malato”, il che è possibile perché il castello è esposto alle peggiori burrasche nei rigidi inverni.

Nonostante ciò durante il XIII secolo, il castello era frequentato dai più famosi trovatori del tempo, poeti-eroi dall’Occitania (Provenza) che viaggiavano e componevano versi suonano ancora romantici e cavallereschi. Erano invitati nel Castello di Auramala dal Marchese Malaspina, che aveva ricevuto il controllo di questi territori da Barbarossa, il l’Imperatore del Sacro Romano Impero, nel 1164.

Al tempo di Edoardo II la Valle Staffora non era un territorio remoto e solitario ma un punto d’incontro sulla Via del Sale, che raccoglieva mercanti che trasportavano sale e altri prodotti dal Mar Ligure fino a Pavia, Milano, e tutte le altre città nordiche che non avevano sbocchi sul mare. La Valle era un fiorire di città in rapido sviluppo come Varzi, e stupende abbazie, come quella di Sant’Alberto.

All’alba del XX secolo, il Castello finì purtroppo in macerie. Durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale un giovane partigiano che si stava nascondendo dalle truppe naziste e fasciste nelle cavernose segrete dell’antico castello giurò che un giorno avrebbe riportato Oramala al suo antico splendore. Nel 1985 il partigiano Luigi Panigazzi e suo fratello comprarono il castello assieme, e la restaurazione cominciò. Grazie al loro impegno, oggi è stato riaperto al pubblico.

Oggi la Val Staffora con il suo Castello Oramala/Auramala rimane una delle più indimenticabili e meno conosciute zone d’Italia.

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10 thoughts on “Auramala and Oramala

  1. I would need to see some documents as this castle malaspina di oramalo was built so early with obizzi 1026 before the malaspina division it is known as the malaspina spino secco castle. can you provide any proof that it was fiorito before 1026. spino fiorito did not exist before 1275 thank you

  2. Dear Louisa, thank you for your comment. The castle of Oramala is first mentioned in 1029, and we do not know exactly when it was constructed, but definitely before 1029 (I would like to see documentary evidence of the date of construction as 1026 that you give). Regarding the names ‘Malaspina’ and ‘spino secco’ and ‘spino fiorito’: when Oramala was constructed, the family name was still ‘Obertenghi’ and the name ‘malaspina’ did not exist yet. Alberto ‘il malaspina’ got this nickname in the early 12th century, and passed it on to his children. It a century later, in the year 1221 (not 1275, as you wrote) that there was the division in the family between ‘spino secco’ (Corrado Malaspina) and ‘spino fiorito’ (Obizzo Malaspina). Oramala was property of Obizzo Malaspina of the ‘spino fiorito’, and indeed he hosted the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II at Oramala in 1238. In 1275 Obizzo’s son Alberto further divided the territories of the ‘spino fiorito’ line, which still included Oramala. At the time of the events that we are researching, Oramala was the home of Niccolò ‘il marchesotto’, the son of Alberto, and a member of the ‘spino fiorito’ line. So, as you can see, the illustration of the ‘spino fiorito’ coat of arms is completely appropriate here. For more information you can check the following entries in the authoritative dictionary of Italian biography published by Treccani:

    http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/malaspina/
    http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/corrado-malaspina_res-d3bbe12c-3938-11dd-904a-0016357eee51_(Dizionario-Biografico)/
    http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/alberto-malaspina_res-d363aeee-3938-11dd-904a-0016357eee51_(Dizionario-Biografico)/

    1. thank you but i would still like to see the document of division , i see so many different dates for divisions. it would be helpful thanks

      1. I should also add that every generation of the Malaspina family further divided their patrimony among all the eligible heirs, as was the custom among noble families in northern Italy. Primogeniture did not exist, and so, harkening back to the laws of the ancient Longobards (or Lombards), patrimony was normally divided equally among heirs. This lead to a great many more minor divisions over the years, but the 1221 and 1275 ones are the most important.

    2. wasnt dante aleghieri the peace maker during the division of property , I have dante as being born 1265 in florence that would be after the division and he died 1321 in ravenna italy. i also see that in 1306 he was in castlenuovo making peace for the spino secco, I just want to clear things up, and get the correct information. There is not much documention on the web sites of the malaspina spino secco s involement in the history of malaspina. and corrado malaspina a descendant of the oberthengi was a very important man, and it would be nice to see that he is documented as a great man, and also his descendants, the spino fiorti was created out of the spino secco, and it does not seem appropriate for the malaspina spino secco to be disregarded when speaking of the malaspina history. Please remember the malaspina spino secco s are proud of their heritage, have descended from spino secco , and remained spino secco and have carried the blood line to this day. all I am asking is that the accurate information be printed . thank you sincely Louisa malaspina (spino -secco )

      1. Hello Louisa, before I go on, I wanted to ask you a question: do you understand Italian? Because all of the information you seek is freely available online. You will not find a single, cohesive history of the Malaspina family, nor of the Spino Secco branch. However, you can piece this history together from the excellent biographies of the individual members of the family available on the Treccani Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, which is an authoritative, scholarly encyclopedia of Italian national biography. Of course, I can do this for you, but it would take up a lot of my time, which I don’t really have available. The focus of this blog is Edward II and the possibility of his survival in Italy, which is connected with the Malaspina family, but that family is not the focus of the blog.

        All the best, Ivan.

  3. Dear Louisa, transcriptions of the 1221 and 1275 documents are to be found in: Migliorotto Maccioni, Codex Diplomaticus Malaspinarum, Pisa, 1769, Numbers 10 and 11. There are few existing copies of this book, the one I personally consulted is in the university library of Genoa. Since these documents were not of particular concern for our research into Edward II, I did not photograph them, but they are there and they are in the public domain. The originals, on parchment, only exist as far as I know in the Malaspina archive of Oramala, currently in Godiasco, in the Province of Pavia, though there may be others that I am unaware of. I hope that is helpful for you, good luck, Ivan Fowler

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