Dalla Valle family history
The author’s family comes from the North Eastern Alps (Belluno) and goes back a very long way. The castle of the Della Valles was in Lavalle (Agordo) and is documented as early as 1148. Of Lombard origin, Agordo later came under the control of the Franks until 923, when the last Carolingian king, Berengar I, left it as tithe to the bishop of Belluno. For this reason, it is thought that Della Valle may simply be an Italianisation of De Laval, the name of the extensive family of vassals who, according to legend, had been part of the Frankish court since the time of Charles Martel (1).
The first castle of Laval (Mayenne, France) may have been built as early as 818, according to controversial sources (1)(2)(3), although the currently admirable castle with his circular tower dates much later (possibly his oldest parts were raised around the 1020s). The De Lavals later intermarried with the Normans and Hamon De Laval took part in the Battle of Hastings, 1066, alongside William the Conqueror. Some sources maintain that the De Lavals originated from Spain, and certainly the ancient palace of the Della Valle family still exists at Valle, in Cantabria. According to the seventeenth-century historian Teodoro Amayden, members of the Spanish family then moved to Rome and their descendants include Cardinal Andrea Della Valle (whose palace, church and theatre still exists in Rome) and the sixteenth-century writer Pietro Della Valle, who wrote about his travels in the Orient and the discovery of the Persian cat.
The Della Valles of Agordo embraced the Ghibelline cause during the 13th century (2), and ended up in the pay of Ezzelino da Romano, a vassal of the Emperor Frederick II, for the courage they showed during the defence of Belluno (1248). Aicardino and Lanciloto Della Valle were prominent in city affairs during the 13th century. Enrichetto was a judge of matters relating to the imperial court and ambassador to Bohemia in the 14th century. (4)
The author’s branch of the family descends from Castegnino Della Valle, following the sale of a farmstead to his heirs at the end of the 13th century
Attilio’s son, Alfredo, born in 1938, is the author’s father. An authoritarian, yet generous and honest man, he never supported the author’s interests for literature and history, and financed his studies with the aim of having a doctor in the family. This led to serious friction later, when Giovanni neared his thirties and decided he had enough of being just a doctor. The two would never get on well since then, despite the author’s medical and financial success in England. Ironically, father Alfred would always blame his father Attilio for not allowing him to become a painter!
Today Alfredo and his younger brother Renato are probably the oldest direct descendants of the Zorzoi’s dynasty, all the other components having died or being left without male children that could carry the surname. Alfredo married Carmen Bertozzi in 1963 and they had, a part from Giovanni, four other children, all girls: Michela, Barbara, Marta, Sara, to whom the author is closer. Today, the four sisters live scattered around the province of Verona, not far from their parents (Legnago). Only Michela had a child, Pietro, who is now ten years old. But only the author’ son, Matteo, sixteen, and the author’s cousin Emanuele, thirty-five, are the youngest male descendants to carry the same surname.
The arms of the La Valle family consist of a red lion on a green field with a silver diagonal bar. They feature in a 18th-century register, now kept in the Civic Library in Belluno.
Other references to the fascinating history of this family can be found in the Historia di Cividal di Belluno by Giorgio Piloni (5).
All that remains of the original castle are a few ruins overgrown with vegetation.