Giovanni Dalla-Valle | Official Website | Dalla Valle family history | The Ruby Cross

Dalla Valle family history

View of La Valle

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.

Laval, France

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
(by a will made on 23 January 1288 at the castle of Primiero). His direct forbears were connected with the farmstead of Col dei Mich, at Zorzoi di Sovramonte (very close to Primiero and bordering on Agordo territory), where the succession is documented from father to son, right down to the author’s great-grandfather Gerolamo. “Della” mutated to “Dalla” in the course of the 19th century, in the records of the first municipal registers. At Zorzoi di Sovramonte, the family was involved in woodworking and lived prosperously for many centuries, but was hard hit be the economic decline triggered by the fall of the Venetian Republic and even more by the region’s unfortunate annexation to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Thus, in 1894, now reduced to poverty, the Dalla Valles in the person of great-great-grandfather Vittorio (a “black-tie” socialist) decided to move to the lowlands. In 1907, grandfather Attilio was born at Nanto (Vicenza). After working as a blacksmith and bicycle mechanic, he set up a jewellery business, with his brothers, which restored the family fortunes. In 1945, Attilio, of Liberal persuasion, risked execution by the Fascist militia for having dared make fun of them. He was saved from the firing squad by the family doctor, himself a fascist supporter. The anecdote is often told in confirmation of the proverbial “plain-speaking” (sometimes verging on insolence) of Dalla Valle family members.

Valle, Cantabria

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.

Dalla Valle Coat of Arms

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.
In the middle of the last century, almost all the stones were taken away to make building materials. Nothing is now known of an ancient sword found at that time.


  1. Maucourt de Boujoully, Sur la Ville de Laval, 1886
  2. Bertrand de Brousillon, La Maison de Laval (1020-1605), 1895
  3. Abbé A.Angot. Dictionnaire historique, topographique et biographique de la Mayenne, 1901
  4. F. Tamis, Storia dell’Agordino, Belluno, 1985
  5. Giorgio Piloni Historia di Cividal di Belluno (pub. Rampazzetto, 1607).