CASAZZA – A Roman village in Valle Cavallina

CASAZZA - A Roman village in Valle Cavallina

Valle Cavallina is named after Cavellas, a settlement that in the Roman period occupied the valley-floor site of modern Casazza. 

The fortuitous discovery of several burials during the 19th century encouraged research which led to the discovery of a sizeable settlement covered by alluvial deposits of the River Drione. The remains of collapsed walls, floors, hearths and other evidence of human activity form a complex archaeological deposit about one metre thick; the sequence regarding the village is overlain by numerous fluvial layers laid down by the stream – a thickness of about four metres – which have preserved the material remains of about four centuries of Roman occupation. 

The site is important for its size – without paragon in Valle Cavallina and the surrounding area – and for its duration in time. Finds bear witness to animal raising, cereal cultivation and the household weaving of woollen textiles, evidence of its strongly agricultural character. 


The remains of the village remained hidden for around fourteen centuries, sealed beneath a covering of clay, sand and gravel laid down by the Drione during floods of varying intensity. In prehistoric times the mid–Valle Cavallina valley floor was strongly conditioned by the presence of wetlands and marshy areas, poorly suited to crop-growing but probably a resource for gathering plants and fishing. The appearance of the village – most likely to have been called Cavellas – led to the establishment of a road along the valley floor and favoured land-reclamation measures that increased the amount territory available for farming. After Cavellas was abandoned in about the 6th century, its name was associated for some time with the considerably smaller hamlet that accompanied the church of San Lorenzo; this is probably the Early Medieval pagus Cavellius mentioned in 8th and 11th century  documents. The place-name Cavellas, which disappeared in about AD 1000, was transferred through a process of common usage to the Valle Cavallina.


In early 20th century pictures the site of Casazza appears as a slightly raised alluvial fan where the Drione stream joins the River Cherio in the main valley. Overall, the local settlement pattern was much like that described in 16th to 18th century documents, when the only communities present in the area were Pieve di San Lorenzo, Casaza and (towards Monasterolo) the mill at Brione – in fact the zone was more densely occupied in Roman times than in the 18th and 19th centuries. The course of the Drione has undergone numerous variations prior to its present location to the west of the village, covering the fan with frequent flood deposits and raising the central part. The point of  confluence between the Drione and the Cherio has thus experienced abrupt changes that have been in part responsible for a number of marshy areas near the river channel. All of the land to the east of the line of the medieval Strata Comunis Pergami (which in the 19th century corresponded to the Austro-Hungarian Royal Postal Road) has been subjected to drainage. The line of the medieval road was probably similar to that of the preceding Roman road which from Carobbio reached Valle Cavallina, proceeding then to Lovere, Rogno and Cividate Camuno. Most Roman settlements and other finds made in Valle Cavallina are distributed along the line of this road.

The archaeological site was brought to light during work for the construction of public and commercial buildings next to the road SS 42, conducted on two separate occasions in adjoining locations. Two areas were dug at different times: the first in 1986-87 and the second in 1992-93 and 1996. These excavations were performed rapidly prior to building work and were conditioned by construction sites’ requirements. Hopefully in the future it will be possible to conduct targeted excavations in order to better understand the stratigraphy, which to date has only been investigated to a limited extent. Both excavation areas contained the remains of buildings, with mortar-bound stone walls that continued beyond the excavation limits; the boundaries of the village remain unknown. The standing walls survive to height of at least one metre and define square and rectangular rooms, with complex archaeological stratigraphy representing three main construction phases.

Sometimes later buildings incorporate or overlie older ones (using them as foundations); elsewhere rubble from collapsed or demolished structures has been levelled and covered with new floors. Although during the course of five centuries the settlement was subject to rebuilding work and substantial modification, the presence of a general, detailed plan may be detected from the initial foundation.

The first excavation, carried out in 1987, unearthed a large building with sizeable rooms (6 or 7 metres across) belonging to different construction phases and periods; one of these contained abundant pottery, including jars, lids, footed dishes and other domestic equipment, such as a small porphyry quernstone for cereals. 

The presence of squared stone bases suggests the presence of wooden pillars that held up superstructures or roofing. The east side of building, perhaps a statio (guardhouse) has not been brought to light. The overlying archaeological deposits were removed and recorded during the excavation and the walls left in place.

The 1992 campaign saw the excavation of about 1000 m2 in Brolo locality, not far from the area dug in 1987; the archaeological deposit was investigated by means of a series of pits corresponding to foundation plinths of the new construction. The rooms thus sampled, belonging to variously-sized buildings, were rectangular and on occasions separated by narrow corridors. Building rubble included roof tiles, while floors were made of pebbles and sometimes surfaced with mortar; some internal walls were plastered and doorsteps often consisted of slabs of local limestone. Stratigraphic sequences revealed a number of overlying construction phases, at times with temporal gaps, and with changes in room types, dimensions and orientation. Alongside portions of houses, with numerous hearths, areas used for animal-rearing, butchering and milk-processing, as well as craft activities, were recorded.

The construction techniques found in the Casazza settlement are of Alpine cultural type (known as Raetic) which distinguish buildings in Valle Cavallina, Valle Seriana and Valle Camonica in the Iron Age and Roman period. The majority of the archaeological deposit has not been excavated, and it is hoped that future work will shed more light on the development of local culture during Roman times until Late Antiquity. The site of Cavellas offers numerous possibilities for exploration of and research into the many buildings still hidden beneath the ancient rubble; further excavation would permit both the extension of our knowledge and the development of teaching activities.

Federica Matteoni, Archaeologist, Milan Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Mario Suardi, Director of the Val Cavallina Museum