Piacenza is situated in a strategic location in the Po Valley, and this peculiar characteristic has been recognised since its Roman foundation.
The passage and settlement of ancient populations in this territory is still evident in the name of some villages of the area: Zerba probably comes from the Carthaginian culture and it sounds similar to Djerba.
A testimony to this very long history are the archaeological sites, like the one of Veleia where the Termae, Roman forum and houses were brought to light in the 18th century, and many other finds like the Etruscan Liver, now exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Piacenza.
Explorer's hat on and maps in hand and let's set out on Hannibal's footsteps. The Carthaginian leader came to Piacenza and fought against the Roman army close to the Trebbia river on December 18th, 218 BC.
To remember the battle, whose protagonists were the few surviving elephants that managed to cross the Alps, in the Municipality of Gazzola along SS n.40, near the Tuna Bridge, there's a monument representing an elephant.
The battle probably took place in the area between Gazzola and Ancarano. These two places are on the two opposite sides of the Trebbia river, which delineate one of Piacenza's four valleys.
After a short stop to have a glance at the river and browse Rivalta borough and castle, it's time to leave to go to Travo.
Once at the town of Travo, following SS n. 40, along the river you'll find the Archaeological Park known as Villaggio Neolitico di Sant'Andrea.
It's one of the most important Neolithic settlements in northern Italy. In this park there's a network of well preserved buildings, which came to light during the excavations started in 1995.
As it is outdoors, the park is closed during the winter season (from November 1st to March 31st), but in the town the Archaeological Museum is always open at the weekends.
It's located in the Castle, a fortress built in the Middle Ages by the family Malaspina and then rennovated by the family Anguissola.
Inside there are some finds coming from Villaggio Sant'Andrea and others probably belonging to the Roman Temple of Minerva Medica, the precise location of which is still a mystery.
Before the visit we suggest checking the events calendar, because they often offer workshops for kids.
It's the moment to leave Travo, move to SS n.45 and get to the hills traveling along the elegant curves of this panoramic road.
For lunch there is a lot to choose from, from a stop in Perino, to taste the typical focaccia, to the city of Bobbio to try Maccheroni (hand made pasta), pin (gnocchi made of ricotta cheese and herbs) or game dishes. The choice is up to you.
We suggest starting the afternoon with some relaxing times on the river (even if swimming is not allowed), but only after having admired its bends which depict a sleeping elephant; the best point of view is along the SS 45 between Ponte Organasco and Confiente.
The sleeping elephant is called Surus, like the one who survived the Trebbia battle and brought Hannibal across the Apennines to the Trasimeno lake.
It was the greatest among Hannibal elephants, maybe coming from Syria; the others were small African animals that didn't survive the continental climate.
The Boreca Valley is one of the most wild and marvellous of the Piacenza province, from a naturalistic point of view.
The legend says that a part of Hannibal's army founded a community here, which left to posterity names recalling some African cities. Zerba may come from Djerba, Suzzi from Sussie, Tartago from Kartago.
Another legend says that Hannibal, trying to get a bearing on the mountains, hurt his hand (Lesa mano) and after this event the mountain was called Mount Lesima.
Walking around in these places and following the mule track called “Strada di Annibale” (Hannibal's road) you'll feel catapulted into the past.
It takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach Piacenza, the starting point for the third day of the trip.
In the city, the first attraction is the Auditorium of the Foundation Piacenza and Vigevano, in the former church of Santa Margherita and Liberata. This building includes 2000 years of history.
Under the auditorium there's an Antiquarium, the first remains you'll meet belong to a religious building of the Middle Ages, then there are three tombs and finds from the Roman period.
A peculiar characteristic here is the use of amphoras, which were found overturned in the earth. This particular arrangement was useful to avoid humidity, indeed the water of the city rivers was actually blocked by the empty amphoras.
In the same morning it is possible to visit the Archaeological Museum, home of the Palazzo Farnese Civic Museum.
It's interactive and there's a large spectacular room with many different Roman floors; the staging, organised by theme, reconstructs different moments of Roman habits.
The unique piece, not to be missed, is the Etruscan Liver. A small object made of bronze, which represents a sheep liver and was probably used by "aruspici" to learn how to interpret fate after a sacrifice.
To reach the site, take the road to Carpaneto Piacentino: following the directions you'll reach the rolling hills, where Veleia is located.
Just behind the church you'll find the entrance of the site, on the left there are the remains of the thermal area, while on the right side there are traces of houses. In the lower part, the area of the forum is easily recognizable.
The Borbone family, promoter of the excavation, took many remains to Parma, where they are still on display, at the Archaeological Museum in the Pilotta. Not to be missed are the Tabula Alimentaria Traianea and the statues of the forum.
In Veleia some original pieces and some copies of the remains (i.e. Tabula Alimentaria) are on display at the Antiquarium, where there's also a special itinerary for visually impaired people, to explain the story of this place where Ligure and Roman culture contaminated each other.