From important military center to flourishing trade area
The town of Monselice stands the south-eastern Euganean Hills and its historic center is enclosed between two hill slopes: hill della Rocca (formerly called Mons silicis) and Mount Ricco. Its particular geographical location gave rise to an evident military vocation, known since the seventh century AD, when Agilulfo, king of the Lombards, annexed the territory and conquered the castle built by the Byzantines.
In Middle Ages, it became the most important center in Padua, thanks to the links with the Empire that boosted both its territorial expansion and population growth. In the thirteenth century, Monselice was defined as Camera specialis imperii, due to the political and administrative privileges granted by Emperor Frederick II, who ordered the reconstruction of the fortress and the building of new city walls on the hill.
Between the middle of the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries, the town was deeply involved in bloody struggles: it experienced the fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines factions and suffered first the tyranny of the notorious Ezzelino III Da Romano, and then the fierce strife between the Carraresi, lords of Padua and the Scaligeri, lords of Verona.
In 1405 it was included in the orbit of the Republic of Venice that, during four centuries of unchallenged domination, turned Monselice from a fortified and militarized center in prosperous city dedicated to commerce and trade. Thanks to a deep reclamation work, the so-called Retratto di Monselice, and through the waterways connecting it directly with Padua and the lagoon, a fast economic development occurred. This favoured the settlement of the most influential families of Venice (Duodo, Nani, Marcello and Pisani), who chose this territory to build their rich holiday residences.
Over the following years the industrial development highly grew due to the extraction of stone from the hills of the Rocca and Mount Ricco. They were increasingly and violently exploited in the post-war period, due to the establishment of two cement factories in the area. Luckily on 1971 were closed, since they were likely to cause the destruction of the two mountains. Therefore they were turned into destinations for tours to discover the geology of the hills.
For its fortunate geographical location, Monselice is still a reference center for the area, served by an important road and rail hub.
Monselice offers numerous historic worship places to visit: above all, the ancient Pieve of Santa Giustina (also known as the Old Cathedral), a Romanesque-style monument built in 1256 containing some medieval frescoes, a polyptych (special altarpiece) and a fifteenth-century painting on wood (Madonna dell’Umiltà), as well as several canvas paintings by the school of Venice dated seventeenth-eighteenth centuries.
Next to the parish church, beyond the Porta dei Leoni Comitali (Gate of the Counts’ Lions), we can reach Porta Romana which allows entry the Santuario Giubilare delle Sette Chiese (Jubilee Shrine of the Seven Churches), consisting of six chapels and the church of San Giorgio. Here both the bodies and relics of early Christian martyrs still lie. The high side of the street is closed by Villa Duodo, built at the beginning of the seventeenth century along with the monumental religious complex designed by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi.
In Monselice, there are many other Venetian villas: Villa Nani-Moncenigo, Villa Contarini, Villa Pisani and Villa Emo Capodilista.
The ancient medieval castle, also known as Ca 'Marcello (from the Venetian family of Marcello, who turned it into mansion) or as Castello Cini (from the name of its last owner), since 1981 is owned by the Veneto Region, which has converted it for museum purposes. Both the seat of the Lombard Antiquarium, displaying the finds of the necropolis discovered on the Rocca, and the Museum of Rarità, are located within the complex.
Near the castle there are also the Palazzo o Loggetta del Monte di Pietà and the ancient Chiesa di San Paolo, now deconsecrated and used as exhibition hall, even though inside you can still see the archaeological remains of the crypt that housed the relics of San Sabino, patron saint of the city.