Pavia’s Covered Bridge and the pact with the devil
The Covered Bridge on the Ticino river represents one of Pavia’s most symbolic monuments. It connect the historical centre of the city to the area known as Borgo Ticino, a pictoresque quarter which was once inhabited only by washerwomen, fishermen and boatmen.
The current bridge was built between the end of the 40s and the beginning of the 50s of the twentieth century, following the destruction of the Medieval covered bridge gravely damaged by bombings of the Allied Forces during World War II. The old bridge, of which the new one resembles in structure, was constructed in the second half of the fourteenth century and covered in Visconti times, substituting, in turn, a previous Roman bridge.
In fact, already in the Roman Period there was a bridge connecting the two banks of the river in the same place of the modern Covered Bridge. Some bases of this bridge remain, easily visible in the dryness periods.
Historically, in the 1351 a new bridge, designed by Giovanni da Ferrera and Jacopo da Cozzo, was built on the ruins of the Roman one. The bombings in September 1944 damaged the structure and in February 1948 the Ministry of Public Works demolished with dynamite the ancient artefact. In 1949 it began the construction of the new bridge, which was inaugurated in 1951. Above the entrance portal to the city there is an epigraph that says: “On the ancient gate of cerulean Ticino, in the image of the ancient Covered Bridge destroyed by the fury of the war, the Italian Republic rebuilt it”.
According to a legend, in the year 999 Pavia had no bridge over the Ticino. The old Roman bridge, of which the remains are still visible today on the bank of the river, had collapsed and therefore who wanted to switch from one bank to the other, had to use the ferry.
On the evening of Christmas Eve of that year, a group of pilgrims wanted to attend the midnight mass that was about to start in the city, and on the bank there was a crowd of people ready to the ferry. However, despite there were theorically three ferries, a very thick fog arosed, and as the pilgrims called, no boat appeared.
As the faithful waited to cross the river, to their utter amazement the fog formed a bridge. And the devil, appearing as a gentleman dressed in red, presented them his typical offer: “This bridge made of mist will turn into stone once it is crossed by a living being, whose soul will be mine forever”.
Then, the legend goes, the Archangel Michael made a timely and miraculous appearance, dressed as an anonymous passerby. He suggested first turning the bridge into stone, and then going on with the exchange.
The devil agreed and made the bridge, waiting for on the central pier the first passerby. The angel then sent a goat, grabbed it by the collar and forced it to cross the bridge for earlier. Taken by anger at being duped, the devil unleashed a violent storm. Rain, wind, whirlwinds and lightning crashed down on the bridge, but nothing could against the strength of the arches and against the heavy stone columns.
Today in foggy days, those who see the bridge from afar can see what they saw for the first time, looming gray in the fog, those holy pilgrims on the evening of Christmas Eve, 999. The same bridge still today connects the outskirts of the city to the center. And can be crossed without any kind of pact with the devil!
There is also another story linked to the city and its bridge. Legend has that reigned once in Pavia, an ancient king. However, a bad day hordes of enemies invaded his lands. Immediately, the king summoned the army, and at the head of a hundred thousand swords, went against the invaders.
On the borders of the kingdom a great battle took place, during which, the intrepid King, given his brave, threw himself where was the thickest fray. With his army he slaughter of the enemy, but he was mortally wounded.
His faithful warriors treated him but, given the severity of the injury, they decided to return as soon as possible to his city.
The road was long, and the King, lying on a stretcher made of two spears and a carpet, lay on his back and he watched the large and white clouds in the sky.
At the end, the army arrived to Pavia, and the royal procession already crossed the bridge when the king saw the towers of his beloved city mirrored in the blue water of the river. He seemed to perk up and smiled. Than he murmured to his soldiers that he would wanted to stay there. So, he died.
The Queen, who from the top of a tower had witnessed the arrival of the victorious army, ran to the king, and died herself, without a gesture, without a cry, when she discovered what had happened.
The soldiers, faithful to the last words of their great king, wanted to bury him in that exact place where he died, along with the poor queen, died of a brokenheart.
So, diverted the course of the river, they built in the middle two large tombs of stone: in the first was deposed the King with all the iron of his armor and, in the other, the Queen with all the gold of her jewelry.
Once finished, the river covered, with the murmur of the water, the two graves.
Under the central arch of the old bridge, in the days of clear and low water, you can be seen even today the tomb of the ancient king, and in the next arch, that of the Queen.
The tomb of the King is still intact and by the cracks come out the iron of his armor, but the tomb of the Queen is totally open and broken, and according to the legend the jewels scattered in the gravel gave rise to the auriferous sands of Ticino.