HISTORY OF THE EUGANEAN HILLS
The first traces of settlements related to the Palaeolithic (200.000-10.000 years ago) involve the plains of half of the Hills western coast area, sheltered from cold draughts and exposed to the sun for most part of the day. During this phase the man completely depended on the natural environment. Small family units led in this place an outdoor nomadic life, sheltered under rocks or in caves, committed first of all to satisfy their primary needs, and so closely connected to the presence of animals to be hunted, abundance of natural fruit and easily accessible water resources.
More significant archaeological traces with a great scientific value can be related to the Neolithic (4.500-3.500 b.C. approx.), near sites such as Le Basse of Valcalaona, settlement on the slopes of the western side of the Hills, and Castelnuovo of Teolo, one of the most important Neolithic sites of Veneto, located in a strategic position, open to the plain and sheltered on the south by a sheer rock face. Knowledges and abilities developed by the Neolithic man allow him to deep into the rhythms of nature dominating some of its aspects, changing from a subsistence economy into a productive economy. The man discovers to be a farmer and a breeder and for this reason he organizes his life in permanent villages, which left traces barely visible to the profane eyes and that can only be interpreted by experts. Worked stone, bone and horn tools, and ceramic pot fragments are all that remains of these first inhabitants settled on the Hills.
The panorama offered during the Bronze Age (2300-900 b.C. approx.) is very rich, this is an age which suffers the consequences of a big climatic change, characterized by a very dry heat. Maybe this also is the reason why the settlement basically prefers the humid and lower areas inside the valleys and the shores of the lake-marshy stretches, in which pile-dwelling settlements, such as that of the Little Lake of the Arquà Coast, on the south-eastern side of the Hills, develop.
The Iron Age (900-200 b.C.) sees the hill slopes almost completely depopulated in favour of the plain, in which a substantial settlement organized in big centres related to the ancient Venetian civilization. This age is in fact superbly shown in Este, site of primary importance, crossed at that time by the river Adige which was the main trade exchange artery. In this site, the ruins of the inhabited centre, consisting of wooden and clay houses, surrounded by a series of necropolis and sacred areas, has been discovered. The most representative handmade products of the ancient culture in Veneto are preserved in the Atestino National Museum and particularly interesting are those coming from the equipment of the rich graves of representatives of the most well off families, since relationships with other contemporary cultural realities, such as for example the Etruscans, the Greeks and the north alpine populations, are evidenced. Then as now, whatever direction the traveller took, it was possible to identify the unmistakable shape of these hills formed millions years ago.
The Hills, from its origin, have been an essential component of the Venetian landscape, as we can also read in the pages of the ancient historians. First among all is the Paduan Tito Livio, who in his tale lets the Spartans of Cleonimo, sent scouting in that area after the landing on the Adriatic coasts, glimpse in the distance the typical reliefs. The slow integration process which followed the first contacts of the Venetians with the Romans during the last two centuries of the first millennium b.C., led to a complete change in the settlement methods: stone driveways, public and private monumental buildings, centuriation of the fields. Centres such as Ateste (Este) and Montesilicis (Monselice) still preserve important traces of this past, while particularly interesting is now the thermal field. Already exploited during the Iron age and appreciated by the roman emperors, it is well represented through the ruins of structures visible in Abano and Montegrotto, where the archaeological excavations, carried out by the University of Padua in collaboration with the Superintendency of Veneto are still in progress. After a limited period of neglect and following the fall of the Roman Empire, we can identify in this territory the last bulwark which opposed to the barbarian invasions: the castrum Montis Silicis, Monselice, a stronghold positioned on the boundary between the byzantine exarchate and the longobardic territory, which, before its fall in 602 a.C. strenuously opposed to the Paduan territory conquest by the king Agilulfo.
An event not less important is the "breach at Cucca" (589 a.C.), the diluvium recalled by Paolo Diacono, a catastrophic flood as a consequence of which the northern branch of the river Adige, that surrounded the euganean territory, became unusable. During this period of general crisis, the sparse population of the Hills matches with the increase of the lands retaken by woods and wild animals, and with the lands which were mostly left uncultivated or to turn into a swamp.
Through the Renaissance of the eleventh century a new chapter of the settlement on the Hills started: deforestations and important land reclamation operations are carried out, in particular, the Abbey of Praglia and the Abbey of Carceri, the Hermitage of Mount Rua (1339) and the Monastery of the Olivetani, whose suggestive ruins are still visible today, are built by the Benedictine monks. Splendid villages rise in this period such as for example Arquà Petrarca, which has been elected residence by the great Poet during his last years, together with the castles and fortifications located on higher places. This is also the period in which the handicraft activities discover a new life and we can find traces of the activity of tavern-keepers, blacksmiths, weavers, tailors as well as judges and notaries.
To the dominion of the Carraresi, that of the Venetian Republic succeeds in the XV century. The families of the Venetian nobility place their sumptuous residences on the Hills and buy most part of the lands; they increase the extraction of trachyte for building purposes and create a network of canals which are still navigable. Between the XVI and the XVIII century the panorama of the stately residences, which also allows numbering designs by Andrea Palladio, enhances thanks to the marvelous work of artists such as Falconetto. Among the less well known architectonic jewels, in Valnogaredo we can mention Villa Contarini Piva, built in the XVI century and renovated in the XVIII century, which preserves frescoes by J. Guarana. Furthermore, think about the Catajo, in Battaglia Terme, very original design which blends the characteristics of the castle Villa with the fortress, full of frescoes decorating its interiors.
An admirable example of baroque architecture, that always amazes us, is Villa Barbarigo in Valsanzibio, with its marvelous Italian gardens. So, it is clear that the Euganean Hills provided through the centuries a unique example of settlement continuity which sees in the particular approach established between man and nature, a mutual exchange which never brought the first to corrupt the last one, even transforming it, sometimes, in a very invasive way.