201 – Roccatagliata History

We’ve found the home village of our Pensa and Gardella ancestors. Our families lived in the village of Roccatagliata, in the commune of Neirone, in the Ligurian Apennine mountains.

Roccatagliata – 1775 map

Roccatagliata is a village of medieval origin in Val Fontanabuona, part of the municipality of Neirone, province of Genoa.

Wikipedia – Roccatagliata


Tomba di Roccatagliata

The history of Roccatagliata goes back to pre-Roman times. Human settlements were discovered with the tomb of a Ligurian warrior dated to the 5th century BC. Arrowheads were found dating to the Copper Age of 2200 BC.

Medieval (Middle Ages) – 5th to 15th Centuries

After the fall of the Roman Empire around the 6th century, the Val Fontanabuona area was fought over by Milan, Genoa, the Byzantines, and others.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, a castle fortress was built at Roccatagliata. In 1173, we find the earliest documented evidence of the village and its castle, as ownership was disputed between Milan and Genoa.

Roccatagliata Castle and village

The Fieschi Dynasty

The castle passed from the Doria family to the Fieschi family in 1273. It’s the Fieschis we’re interested in, as they held control over the next three hundred years. The Fieschis were a noble merchant family of Lavagna and Genoa. Over several centuries, the Fieschi family produced two popes and 72 cardinals.

Ottobono Fieschi – Pope Adriano V – 1276

The Fieschis created a large fiefdom that included the Neirone valley and several adjacent valleys, together known as the Val Fontanabuona (Valley of the beautiful fountain). The castle and village of Roccatagliata grew, and by 1328 there was also a church in the village.

The area was an important strategic junction and crossroads in the routes of the merchant caravans who, across the Portello pass, transported oil, spices, food and textiles from Piedmont to the Po and Ligurian areas by mule. Ottobono Fieschi himself, who became pope in 1276 with the name of Adriano V, mentioned in his will a palace near Roccatagliata.


The Fieschis collected rents from the local residents and levied tolls on merchants that used the mountain roads to access the Ligurian coast.

The Renaissance – 16th and 17th Centuries

In 1433 the Fieschis lost the castle and fiefdom to the Genoese. They regained control in 1495, but the Genoese had destroyed the castle and church. The Fieschi family was by now living most of the year in Genoa and Lavagna.

With power reinstated, the Fieschi codified their fiefdom, granting the right for serfs to live in their areas. It’s here that we find the earliest references to our Pensas and Gardellas.

Roccatagliata – 1640 map of Genova

A Parentelle

Feudal lands typically took place through leaseholds. The feudal lord would lease land to an individual which would pass to the male descendants. If there were no male descendant, the land would return to the feudal lord.

The Fieschis, however, instituted a unique leasehold, assigning the land to a parentelle, or family group, instead of an individual.

…the investiture, by the Fieschi, of an important area called the Cerreta, mainly wooded, with nine kinsmen to favor a common use of woodland resources and pastures of the area in question. The parentelle thus formed a sort of feudal consortium, never found so far in other Ligurian localities.

The Fieschi di Roccatagliata Feud and The Territorial Management Of The Parentelle

Here’s an excerpt from a wonderful legal document describing the parentelle family group, including the Pensas and Gardellas:

…that on 14 December 1500 the count Gian Luigi Fieschi the great, defined as “count of Neirone”, invested the land in nine kinsmen – Pensa, Gardella, Lercari, Grossi, Bastia, Brondi, Fregoso, Bassi and Gnecchi – with the obligation to pay him 3 florins and 10 acorn mines every year.

The Fieschi di Roccatagliata Feud and The Territorial Management Of The Parentelle
Serfs paying feudal rent

That’s big news. The Fieschis leased the land to these nine families, including our Pensa and Gardella ancestors. The families were to manage and farm these lands in the interest of the parentelle. It’s a novel concept.

We are fortunate to have another legal document dated February 6, 1501, that describes the land leased to the parentelle:

“…Cererta to be named below, existing in the jurisdiction of the podestariae called Neironi locho Cestri; to which above the Costa delle Banche, in part and on the other side of the meadow of our Curie Neirone, below the dykes of Cestrie and Somegri, on the side of the trenches of Frigie; and on the other side of the Costa Terrili…”

The Fieschi di Roccatagliata Feud and The Territorial Management Of The Parentelle

Now we know our families have lived in the village of Roccatagliata since the Renaissance. And they were very likely living there before the Fieschi granted the parentelle, perhaps since Medieval times.

Self rule

Well, maybe not self rule, but perhaps self management. The families of the parentelle could take some decisions on their own, with later approval of the Fieschis. For example, the members allowed another family, Rosasco, to become part of the parentelle group in 1540:

In 1540 Nicola Fregoso, Cogio Brondo, Cogio Basso and Lodisio Pensa, in their own names and their relatives, admitted the Rosascos to use the Cerreta, with the instrument of the notary Bartolomeo Assereto di Recco. This was then confirmed by a letter dated October 15 from Gina Luigi Fieschi the younger, with which he admitted the Rosascos to the addition of investiture…

The Fieschi di Roccatagliata Feud and The Territorial Management Of The Parentelle

The end of Fieschi rule

After the great Genoese statesman Andrea Doria’s conquest of Genoa for the Holy Roman emperor Charles V (1528), Gian Luigi Fieschi (q.v.; 1522–47) plotted to assassinate Doria and return Genoa to French, and thus Fieschi, rule. The failure of the conspiracy marked the end of his line and of Fieschi power, though other branches of the family survived, producing government officials and diplomats for Genoa and a saint, Catherine of Genoa.

Fieschi Family – Britannica

After the end of Fieschi rule, control of the area went to the Genova Republic, which chose Neirone as the seat of local jurisdiction. Since then, the fortunes and losses of Roccatagliata and Neirone have been linked to the history of Genova Republic.

Parentelle 1584

In 1584, 84 years after the investiture of the parentelle, we find another legal document describing the agreement and a description of the lands:

the infrescribed relatives, namely Pensa, Gardella, Lercari, Grossi (are now called Rissi), Bastia, Brondi (who now call themselves Corsiglia), Fregosi, Bassi and Gnechi who all sleep in the podesta of Roccatagliata possess a countryside of land, most of which is wooded, greenhouses and a rural part with some huts for beasts, in which some of said kinships with their cattle live in the summer and there are still some pastures for beasts and some wild dawns such as saria, fai, one, nisole and the like but very precious quantity to the installment of the countryside called the Serre di Roccatagliata in Sestri and can be in about two miles in each direction and remains almost entirely pending borders above the Costa delle Banche and in part the lawn of the Court named the Prato della Corsia, below the moat of Cestri et Somergo, on one side the moat of Feia on the other the coast of Terrile …

The Fieschi di Roccatagliata Feud and The Territorial Management Of The Parentelle

Church of San Lorenzo

There has been a place of worship in Roccatagliata at least since the Middle Ages.

A plaque that has been preserved dates from 1328, but that church was destroyed, perhaps in the late 1400s when the castle was razed.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

The construction of a new church began around 1646, with a deed registered on August 28 of that year. On August 5, the residents of Roccatagliata and Corsiglia had gathered to appoint a committee to supervise the construction. Two people per village were elected:

  • For Roccatagliata
    • Giovanni Pensa (of Luigi)
    • Battino Gardella (of Rocco)
  • For Corsiglia
    • Rolando Bastia (of Andrea)
    • Bartolomeo Gardella (of Giovanni)

Around 1649, a delegation went to Genoa to ask for financial assistance for church construction.

The intention seems, however, to be to proceed as soon as possible to the new construction, so much so that the following year a commission composed of the rector and the massaro Paulino Pensa goes to Genoa to ask the civil authorities for the financing of one hundred shields “to spend in the new factory of our Church”.

Neirone – Nature History Art – Raffaella Spinetta
Altar – Chiesa di San Lorenzo

The Church of San Lorenzo has witnessed countless life events of the Pensa and Gardella families. It’s certainly where Antonio Pensa and Rosa Gardella married, and where their children were baptized. And surely where their parents and grandparents and siblings and cousins shared their life events.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s