ON THE NORTH bank of the Silo and intersected by its tributary, the Botteniga, the Roman Tarvisium had the sense to submit to Attila. The city flourished under the Goths and the Lombards, before being sacked in 911.
Allied in 1164 with Verona and subsequently with the Lombard League, Treviso took control of a substantial territory. In 1237 it was seized by the Ezzelini: their fall ushered in a period of conflict between Guelfs and Ghibellines, won in 1283 by the former when their leader, Gherardo da Camini secured the signoria. After the death of his son in 1312, Treviso was ruled by imperial vicars, by the Scaligeri of Verona, and in 1339-81 by Venice, to which it finally passed in 1389, becoming the Serenissima’s first major town on the terra firma. A fiercely fought siege in 1509 left the Venetian authorities of their need to fortify the place: the walls were strengthened by Fra’ Giocondo and handsome gates were built later.
The perfect approach is through the most splendid of these, the Porta di Santa Quaranta of 1517 at the northwest corner of the enceinte. Attributed to Alessandro Leopardi, this with its crisp masonry and lion of Saint Mark is the architectural counterpart of the sculpture of Tullio Lombardo. Within is the wide Borgo Cavour, on the left of which are the Library and the Museo Civico, with detached frescoes by Tommaso da Modena, who worked in Treviso in 1349–54, and a representative collection of later Venetian pictures. The road leads into the Via Canova, which circles round towards the fine Romanesque Baptistery and the Duomo, with its memorable cluster of seven cupolas. The east end of this Romanesque structure was altered by the Lombardo, but the nave was left until the eighteenth century and the ionic portico was appended in 1836. On the second altar to the right is a fine Adoration by the most consistent Trevisan painter of the Renaissance, Paris Bordon. Further on is Martino Lombardo’s Cappella dell’ Annunziata of 1519–20 with Titian’s Annunciation above the altar. The insistent design of the pavement draws the eye to the wonderfully named donor, Canon Broccardo Malchiostro, who observes from the far side of the deep arch in which the scene is set, and the distant foothills of the Alps.
The Via Canova runs into the Calmaggiore leading to the central Piazza dei Signori, dominated by the Palazzo del Trecento, the three hundred nobles and citizens elected to the Maggior Consiglio del Comune, begun in 1217 and the adjacent Palazzo del Podestà. There are a number of good churches in the eastern part of the town across the Battenigo, notably San Francesco, with fine frescoes by Tommaso da Modena, and late-gothic Santa Maria Maggiore: while Guglielmo Bergamesco’s Porta San Tommaso of 1518 at the eastern end of the northern line of the wall is also distinguished.
The one church that should not be missed is San Nicolà, in the south-west part of the town. A towering structure in which the Romanesque melts as it were into the gothic, as the splendid apses show, this was not completed until 1858.
Tommaso da Modena’s fresco of Saints Agnes, Romuald and John the Baptist on the second pier to the left of the nave is a survivor from the original decoration of the church. The high altarpiece, begun by another Trevisan, Pier Maria Penacchi, was finished by a greater master, Girolamo Savoldo in 1521. On the left wall is what is surely the signal masterpiece of Renaissance Treviso, the monument to Agostino Onigo by the sculptor Antonio Rizzo and the young Lorenzo Lotto, whose two standing heralds, arrogant in their youth, are unforgettable.
Beside the church in the former convent is the Seminario Vescovile. Off the cloister is the Sala del Capitolo dei Domenicani, with the remarkable series of portraits of members of the order which Tommaso da Modena completed in 1352. Tommaso, who was perhaps the most forceful Emilian master of his time, clearly understood the rigorous intellectual discipline of the Dominicans. There is a chilling power in his frescoes in the room.