The Upper Tanaro Valley was originally populated more than two thousand years ago by the Ligures which Strabone, in the seventh book of his “Geography,” describes as fond of mountain territories, unlike the Celts who preferred flat lands.
The first records of this ancient local population date back to 205 B.C. during the first Roman expeditions to these territories by Consul Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and L. Aurelius Lentulus with the aim of creating transit routes to Marseilles.
Thus we know of a fierce battle that the local Ligures waged against the neighboring Ingauni, a tribe belonging to the same people, a battle that figures in the well-known and bitter dispute between Rome and Carthage.
While the Ingauni formed an alliance with Hannibal, the Ligures chose to side with the Romans.
This was the reason why, according to Titus Livius’ “Histories”, the Ingauni-Carthaginians decided on an
incursion into the Upper Tanaro Valley, which was at the origin of the clash. As the Second Punic War came to an end, won by the Romans, the Ingauni hurried to form an alliance with the latter, while the wars between Ligures and Romans continued until the final inclusion of the Tanaro Valley under the Roman domination: the so-called IX Regio Liguria, the only Alpine valley of the Empire, which stretched from the sea to the course of the Po River.
Traces of Roman domination remain in the area, especially in the architectural and road system. Beginning in the 2nd century B.C. a long peaceful period began for this territory that was marked by an important formal act: the administrative reorganization implemented at the time of Emperor Honorius (395 – 423 A.D.), which intended to organize the territory into “municipia” with the creation of “districts – castra” comprising the “municipia” themselves. The landscape was enriched by the presence of the “Castrum,” the fortress.
While cities surrounded themselves with walls, in the countryside this type of structures arose, characterized by a wall with a tower and chapel, ideal to gather people from the countryside. Originating in the central and Balkan frontiers of the Empire, they were accompanied by minor fortifications (castella) and signaling towers (turres) of which much evidence survives in the territory of the valley.
This new organization led the Upper Tanaro Valley to gravitate for the first time toward the Po Valley rather than the Ligurian Sea. After the first barbarian invasions, a significant historical event for these lands was the invasion of the Lombards (568 AD. C) who conquered Northern Italy except for the coastal area of Liguria for almost a century which remained under Byzantine control and which exactly in those years adopted the name Marittima Italorum, breaking for the first time the political-administrative-ecclesiastical continuity between the coast and the inland, between the Albenghese and the Upper Tanaro Valley.
The Valtanarine mountains became in those years a border zone between two worlds, the first being Roman- Germanic and the latter Greek-Byzantine, which would soon face each other in battle. With the conquest of the Lombard Kingdom in 774, Charlemagne acquired the title of King of the Lombards and then of Italy. The Cisalpine territories were divided into five duchies: Italia Neustria, Italia Austria, Aemilia, Tuscia and Littus Maris. In 890 Ugo of Spoleto split the duchy of Italia Neustria into two marches: that of Italia (Turin) and that of Longobardia(Milan). Our territory was incorporated into the former. Around the ninth century hordes of raiders arrived in the area, which the tradition and historiography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries identified as Saracens, backed also by historical evidence and chronicles of following time periods.
The Saracens allegedly penetrated the Ligurian and Piemontese inlands coming from Frassineto, today’s
Saint Tropez, wreaking with plunder and predation the whole of southern Piedmont. Traces of their passage are still left in our territory in ancient watchtowers, in some place names and in the phonemes of some dialects such as Ormeasco. Important traditions such as the Bal Do Sabre of Bagnasco, an ancient sword dance, carry the echoes of a legend related to their passage and their dominance over this area. Even buckwheat, one of the Valley’s typical products, seems to have been introduced by these very people.
In 951 Berengario II, king of Italy, divided the March of Turin into four parts, assigning them to trusted figures invested with the important task of restoring peace to these lands ravaged by the passage of the Saracen hordes. To his own son Guido he handed over that of Ivrea; to Arduino called the Glabro pertained the largest, that of Turin. To Oberto was given the march of Eastern Liguria and to Aleramo the march of Western Liguria comprising the lands between the Po, the Belbo – Tanaro, the Orba and the sea with its capital in Savona.
Many legends have flourished in our territory concerning him, especially the one regarding his troubled
love affair with the beautiful Adelasia.
Legend has it that two noble Frankish husband and wife, who came to Italy in around 920 on a pilgrimage
to Rome, arrived in Sezzadio (AL) and had a son whom they named Aleramo. Left him to the care of a local nurse, they continued their journey, but died in Rome. The lords of Sezzadio raised the child, educating him to the use of weapons, and later sent him as a page to the Germanic court of Ottone I the Great, who wore the crown of Italy in 936.
In the tremendous battle against Harold, king of Denmark and the king of Hungary, which took place in the middle of the 10th century, Aleramo showed all his courage and succeeded in defeating the Hungarians on the Lech River, shortly after also defeating the king of Denmark and converting him to Christianity. Ottone I covered him in honors and wanted him to join him at the palace. There he met the beautiful Adelasia, Ottone’s own daughter, but because the king opposed their marriage, the two young people fled, making it as far as the shores of the Ligurian Sea. Aleramo sold the horses, bought himself the tools needed to cut down the trees in order to obtain timber for ships and coal to sell to neighboring countries.
The couple thus settled, according to this legend, in Garessio in a cave called “Gorbu du Paré,” or perhaps in Ormea, and had four children. Fate would have it that the wars against the Saracens brought King Ottone I to the places where Aleramo lived and there he had been wounded in an ambush and was healed by his own daughter, once again being saved by Aleramo.
From then on, by grace of Ottone I, the Marquisate of Monferrato was founded with Aleramo as its progenitor, the prince-charcoal worker.
Another legend concerning Aleramo recounts that it was the miraculous waters flowing from the spring of S.Bernardo in Garessio that relieved the kidney and circulatory problems that affected him. The fictional presence of Aleramo, or rather of the Marca Aleramica of which he was the founder, can also be found in many streets and squares named after him in the valley region.
The presence of the Saracens in the Upper Tanaro Valley towards the end of the first millennium is documented by numerous studies and researches: “I Saraceni nelle Valli di Cuneo” by V. G. Brunelli, “Le grotte dei Saraceni ad Ormea tra leggenda e storia” by G. Casanova, the studies of B. Luppi and G. Patrucco, and most recently G. Bocca and M. Lentini’s “Saraceni nelle Alpi, storia, miti e tradizioni di un’invasione medievale nelle Regioni Alpine occidentali”. Visible traces of their transit are present throughout the territory of the Upper Tanaro Valley. It is proven by the existence of monuments still in a good state of preservation that functioned as favored lookout points in order to prevent their raids and the presence of caves, used by them as shelters during their incursions. In Ormea, the Saracen Tower in Barchi and the Saracen Cave testify their passage.
Several Italian and foreign researchers have also documented through their studies the influence of linguistic patterns from the northern coast of Africa on toponyms and names in the Ormea dialect. Another relevant reminiscence of the presence of the Saracens over this lands can be inferred from a certain type of gastro nomy based on crops most likely introduced in Alta Val Tanaro as a result of the contact they had with the local people. The main one is the cultivation of buckwheat, which, though in different phases and until the mid-20th century, has always been grown in our Valley.
Today its cultivation is practiced sporadically by some local farmers, but its use in cooking still survives.
Polenta made from potatoes and buckwheat flour is in fact the traditional dish par excellence of the Upper Tanaro Valley.
According to the traditional customs it still gets prepared by topping it with a delicate sauce of leeks, mushrooms and cream, all humble ingredients easily available to the mountain people. This tasty culinary tradition is revived in many local festivals and restaurants.
Legends about the passage of the Saracens in Alta Val Tanaro are, however, many. Some are intertwined
with the story of Aleramo, whose long stay in these areas has always been narrated, when he fled from the Emperor with his beloved Adelasia before the battles against the Saracens and the reconciliation. In fact, both Ormea and Garessio have streets dedicated to Aleramo.