Palazzo Pasta in Vercelli and the Historical Importance of the Flooding of the Countryside

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As we have seen previously, the Piedmont city of Vercelli is known for its medieval towers, churches, and museums, but it also hides rare gems such as the “Vercelli Book”, preserved in the Capitolare Library, or the Parlamentino delle Acque of Palazzo dei Conti di Asigliano (also known as Palazzo Pasta).
The latter was the seat of the Buronzo d’Asigliano counts, one of the most important families in 18th-century Vercelli. In December, Palazzo Pasta welcomed around fifty visitors for a very special event organized by the FAI Giovani group in collaboration with Arma Virumque, a military history magazine founded by some Turin University students.

fai giovane-palazzo pasta-vercelli

Between 1784 and 1788, based on a design by Michele Richiardi from Vercelli, this elegant residence with its baroque façade combined with other neoclassical elements welcomed its guests on the threshold of the French Revolution. Concealed within its walls are important moments of local history that are still little known to most Piedmontese.

After being owned by the Buronzo Signoris for a few years, in 1851 the Palace was sold to Antonio Pasta and it is precisely from here that our journey of the Vercelli Risorgimento and the Ovest Sesia Irrigation Association begins.
On 22 September of that year, the then Minister of Agriculture and Commerce for the House of Savoy intervened to create a farmers association allowing the use of state waters. On May 7, 1853, Camillo Cavour approved the foundation of the Irrigation Association, with a law issued on July 3rd of the same year. Among the objectives of the association, was the reform of the irrigation networks and the construction of new connecting canals, but it was soon hindered by historical-political events and the death of Cavour himself. The canal that bears his name wasn’t completed until 1866.

Perhaps few are aware that Vercelli played an important role in the defeat of the Austrians in the Second War of Independence. Have you ever heard of the “flooding of the Vercelli countryside”? As P.C. Boggio recalls in his
political-military history of the War of Italian Independence, in May 1859 Marshal Giulay, the head of the Austrian army, headed for Turin. He was forced to stop in front of the mass of water on the Vercelli plain which prevented him from recognizing roads and paths. The Austrians retreated and were chased by the Piedmontese who defeated them at Palestro on May 30th.
The military campaign would not have been the same without the feat of the city of Vercelli which received the Gold Medal and is remembered in the song in the local dialect, El Giulay l’à turnà ‘n dré cun la pauta tacà i pé (translation: “The Giulay came back with mud stuck to his feet”). Cavour compared the flooding of the Vercelli area to the fire of Moscow for the importance it had in hindering the Austrians and the French respectively. For the feat of 1859, we must thank the engineer Carlo Noè who created the territory between the Dora Baltea, the Naviglio d’Ivrea, and the municipalities of the province up to Crescentino, as well as ensuring their stagnation.

Canale cavour-vercelli

And the canal project? Francesco Rossi, who had worked for the Cavour family, had the idea of ​​drawing water from the Po to irrigate the lower Novara area and the Lomellina and revealed the project to Minister Revel in Turin. While Carlo Alberto praised Rossi, historical events hindered its immediate realization. The king was forced to abdicate after the defeat of Novara and Francesco was hit by the kidnapping set up by the provisional government of Milan. He was also flattered by Agostino Depretis but in 1853, at the birth of the Ovest Sesia Association, Cavour handed over the project to the engineer Noé who took over the construction of the new Po canal only after Italian Unification and, given the commitment of the Piedmontese statesman, gave it the name Canale Cavour.

As a plaque on the building at the entrance to the Cavour Canal in Chivasso recalls:

Di questo Canale l’iniziativa è merito insigne di Francesco Rossi
gli studi e l’esecuzione
onorano il genio di Carlo Noé
Ottavio Thaon di Revel
Camillo Benso di Cavour


The initiative of this channel is thanks to Francesco Rossi. The study and the completion honor the genius of Carlo Noé, Ottavio Thaon of Revel and Camillo Benso di Cavour.

The guided visits to Palazzo Pasta represented the conclusion of the FAI Giovani Association’s year which, in addition to the scheduled events of Spring and Autumn Days, had a full calendar of events. 2023 was an important year but the surprises are not over yet. Continue following the FAI Giovani Association on social media so you don’t miss any of our upcoming events in 2024.

About the Author

Aurora Giribuola

Born in 1997, I am a girl who lives and works between Vercelli and Turin but as soon as I can, I leave for the weekend. There is never enough time to see this immense world full of adventures just waiting to be experienced!

Following the Covid epidemic restrictions and the limitations I experienced while traveling in France, my passion for travel grew immensely.

I’m a fairly calm person but I have never been able to stay in one place for very long. Rather than sitting under a beach umbrella, I’d much prefer exploring different beaches, art cities, and small villages. Volunteering for the FAI organization, I am also constantly finding out about new places for my next adventure.

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