Skip to content


Rocca Brivio History

Rocca Brivio cortile interno


Such a precious and unique resource is in danger
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio
Rocca Brivio

With the Treaty of Konstanz (June, the 25th, 1183) Melegnano and its castle were given to Lodi.

It is assumed that the citizens of Milan, after having lost the territory beyond the river Lambro, needed to build a military tower along the borders of their region during the wars between the Commons in Northern Italy and Frederick I Barbarossa in 12th century.

The dominant position of the Rock, built on a natural hill, allowed also to control the two most important rivers, Lambro and Cavo Vettabbia.

The original structure began in 1200: a stronghold, with towers and ramparts, surrounded along its four sides by a moat, called “Rocca di Marignano”, which had been built with supervisory functions not very far from Via Emilia, which was intensely busy still in those times.

At the beginning of 1200, Goffredo da Bussero included the building in his list of the churches and oratories of Milan, assigning a church to it, Sancta Maria ad Rocham Meregnani. It is well known that the rock was transferred from the Milanese community to the Monastery of Calvenzano, which owned also a lot of surrounding lands, and gave them, first for rent and then in perpetual emphyteuses, to the Brivio.


… Who were the Brivio?


It is assumed that the family originated from a Langobardic nobleman, living around 960 A.C. named Alcherio di Airuno but the first owner which was historically documented was William, residing in 1251 in the Brivio Castle, from which it probably took its name.

The family managed to take part in the most important events of the Duchy of Milan, with the Visconti first and then with the Sforza, supporting them also against the French.

More specifically, with Francesco Brivio, who obtained some prestigious positions from the Dukes of Milan, whose father married Antonia Gallerani, sister of >Cecilia Gallerani (alias “the Lady with the Ermine”). It was probably the loyalty of the family which allowed to the Brivio to add the name “Sforza” to theirs.

With the transfer of the propriety of the Rock to the Brivio, towards the end of 1300, a new era began, in which, passing from father to son, the building was probably used as the family mansion, seasonally inhabited by the owners themselves and permanently occupied by the personnel which was in charge of the lands and of the family properties.

After the fall of the Lords of Milan, due to the arrival of the French at the end of 1400, the Rock will face one of the bloodiest battles of Italy at the beginning of 1500: the so-called “Battle of the Giants” or “Battle of Marignano” (ancient name of Melegnano).

The war started due to the dynastic claims of Francesco I, king of France, on the Duchy, which were opposed by Massimiliano Sforza, who still wanted to rule the city and the domains of his family.

The hostilities began when the king arrived on September, the 12th, 1515, in San Giuliano Milanese and scorched the earth around the houses which he found on his way, establishing his headquarters in Cascina Santa Brera and using the Rock as a defensive rampart.

Against him, Milan used the Swiss army, a battalion formed by ab. 21.000 infantrymen, whereas it is estimated that the French army fad ab. 40.000 knights and infantrymen.

It is said that the genius Leonardo da Vinci, the famous Italian scientist, inventor and artist, who had been since a long time courted by the French, definitively decided to go to France on the occasion of the victory of Francesco I in the Battle of Marignano, in 1515, near Rocca Brivio. Leonardo da Vinci, together with other illustrious artists as Benvenuto Cellini and the French author Francois Rabelais, received the patronage of Francis I of Valois, who gathered a precious collection of arts in the castle of Fontainebleu, which was then transferred to the Louvre: among these, it is mandatory to name “La Gioconda”.

During the XVI century, the Rock hosted many times  Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, one of the protagonists of the Council of Trento and of the catholic counterreformation, whose uncle will be elected a Pope Pio IV.

Rocca Brivio
Present Architecture

It was at the end of the 17th century, about 400 years after its first building, that the Rock underwent the first consistent construction project.

The promoter and probably the creator of the most parts of the architectural changes was the Marquis Luigi Brivio, a prominent member of the dynasty, who could boast of the peerage allowed to the Brivio by King Philip IV, in 1627.


Given the importance gained by Luigi Brivio, and also the trend, which spread at the beginning of the 17th Century, and which saw the most important noble dynasties of Milan building sumptuous cottages, he decided to create one, which was in tune with his status.

At the end of this first important project, the Rock started to take on the conformation which will qualify it undoubtedly as one of the most peculiar and precious building of the South of Milan.

It is notable for its numerous noble rooms, both on the ground and on the first floor, characterized by its wooden ceilings, richly painted in flowery style for the most, enormous fireplaces, decorated with the emblems of the families Brivio and Sforza and precious chandeliers. Unfortunately, it was impossible to preserve all the original pavements, but those which remain are however worth of attention. The furniture, on the other hand, are no more in the Rock.

There is also an elegant portico, facing the inner court, paved in granite and a stable, with ribbed vaults supported by four columns in Marble of Baveno, adjacent to an exedra, with a lodge at its centre, which is also in granite.

There are also a lot of gates in wrought iron. Of course, it can’t miss a big garden, enclosed in monumental walls, reaching almost two acres southward, some meters below the palace level.

Some terracotta statues celebrate the harvest of the products of the surrounding lands.

As a whole, then, the palace built by Luigi Brivio is no doubt faithful to the ambitions of a man at the apex of his career of administrator and politician.

In 1905, with Cesare Brivio, began the last and more consistent construction works, which modify the external aspect of the Rock, which will remain the same until nowadays

The family Chapel – The Nativity of the Virgin Mary Oratory

A separate discussion deserves the oratory dedicated to the nativity of the Virgin Mary, which is almost unknown. It was built in the same era of the whole building on the foundations of the ancient watchtower of 1200, creating a unique body.

It is an intimate and sacred place, dedicated to the family only, to the point that it is almost hidden on the façade, if not for the image of the Virgin Mary and the bells, silently leaning outside their window.

It can be reached also through an entrance which is not completely visible, or by the atrium in the main entrance, through a walnut wood door, decorated with cherubs, flowers and fruits, with a direct access to the sacristy.

The atmosphere is an invitation to silence and contemplation. To be noted, the height of the dome, corresponding to the one of the ancient tower and of the present edifice.

The altar of the baroque era is well preserved, realized in polychrome marble taken from ancient quarries, above which is located an altar-piece dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, of unknown author.

On the walls, there is the representation, in two terracotta plates, which are a quotation of the Annunciation of Leonardo da Vinci, realized by Giovanni Spertini at the end of 1800.

Above, in front of the altar, there is the wooden choir, which can be reached by a spiral staircase of the beginning of 1900.

On the first floor, near the private rooms of the nobles, which in the ’70 suffered some changes, which have affected pavements, frescoes and original fireplace, we can notice a little balcony, directly facing the small church.

This balcony allowed the noble family to participate to the religious services in any case.

The celebrations were accompanied by the sound of a harmonium dating back to the beginning of 1800, still present and sufficiently well preserved.

On the other hand, there are a few furniture left, but the oratory is nowadays deconsecrated, and it is part of the Parrocchia del Carmine in Melegnano

Landscape and natural environment

The richness of the Flora and fauna of the Rock has found support in the caring of the Vivai Pro Natura, which have put in place hundreds of trees and bushes, most of which have taken root, thus characterizing the Flora of the Rock.

From the botanic point of view, it is to notice the presence of two species, which are particularly rare in the South of Milan: there are some herbaceous plants, as the evergreen fern ((the Coridalis cava and the Phjllits scolopendrium), together with a broad variety of the most common vegetables.

Rocca Brivio - Interni
Rocca Brivio - Interni

20 years after the end of World War II, on October, the 16th, 1964, the Marquise Concetta Brivio, a maiden, who was also a fervent observant of Catholicism, donated her whole propriety of the Rock to the Provincia Veneta dei Servi di Maria.

In 1968, the Order took a decision, which represented an historical turning point for the Rock’s future.

The whole propriety was as a matter of fact given, as loan for use, by means of a proper convention, to the Associazione Roccabrivio, newly established thanks to the initiative of a group of persons, among which the central figure will be a religious man of the same Order, as a warranty of the liability and responsibility of the Association.

From 1968 onwards, the Associazione Roccabrivio has assumed the role of keeper of the precious heritage of the Rock, committing itself to its ordinary and extraordinary maintenance, according to the agreements with the Order of the Serfs. A secular, cultural and voluntary entity was thus born, whose actions, without any lucrative intent, were inspired by the pursuit of the statutory objectives and of the dispositions of the Donation dated 1964. In the tumultuous environment of 1990, with the assignment of the Rock to a real estate company, the heirs of the Brivio family, the Association had to face a crucial challenge. With a bold and responsible transaction, they proposed an agreement of purchase to advantageous conditions, stressing their will to preserve the site for the future generations. After a long bureaucratic and institutional process, with the involvement of the CAP GROUP of the Municipalities of San Giuliano Milanese, San Donato Milanese and Melegnano, their dream became true on December, the 30th, 1997, when the Association and the three Municipalities obtained the ownership of the Rock. In 2014 the interest of the Templars for the Oratory added a new chapter to the history of this place, whereas the Association N>O>I  played a central role in the preservation and promotion of the Rock, elaborating a dossier, underlining its historical importance and proposing some innovative ideas, to ensure its accessibility and usability for all.

Convention 26 September 2020, Rocca Brivio: “ A Public Asset to protect and promote


There was also a movement to support Rocca Brivio, named “Amici di Rocca Brivio” and in 2020 the Complesso Monumentale Rocca Brivio was elected by 5365 citizens of the South East of Milan, which reported it as a place to be safeguarded, thus promoting it as “Places of the Heart”, a national campaign for the Italian places not to be forgotten, promoted by FAI together with Intesa Sanpaolo.

It is the most important Italian project of sensibilization about the value of our wealth, which allows the citizens to signal to FAI, through a survey, the places that must not be forgotten.

Podcast: Rocca Brivio History
PODCAST _LUOGHI INTERESSE _ EVF_ INGLESE - Marina Scoglio - Rocca Brivio History
  • Pictures by Ecomuseo della Vettabbia e dei Fontanili APS
  • Cover photo granted by Luigi Ventura – President of Associazione Roccabrivio
  • Realized in collaboration with Deborah Esposito and Fabrizio Cremonesi ( EVF)


Skip to content