Lombardy, was named after the region of northern Italy that was invaded by a Germanic tribe called the Lombards after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. The Lombards, who derived their name from the word "Longobardi" or "long beards", controlled a large portion of the country. The kingdom of Lombardy spread as far as the southern tip of Italy, which was occupied by the Byzantines at this time, and eventually conquered northern Italy as well. Despite their rather notorious reputation as "Barbarians", the Lombards did not completely oppress the Italian people. Instead, the Lombards integrated themselves into the Roman civilization and adopted their language. As a consequence, it is difficult to separate Lombardic and Roman culture. Furthermore, very little of the Lombardic language can be found throughout the Italian language. In the 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great helped to free the Italians from the Lombards' control and he also helped to re-establish the Roman Empire of the west. As a result, authority was placed in the hands of the Church. In the 8th century, the Franks invaded Italy, usurped the Lombards, and established the Frankish kingdom under the rule of Pepin I, the first Frankish King. By 774, the legendary emperor Charlemagne became King of the Lombards and the Franks. Charlemagne accomplished this takeover through the siege and eventual dominance over of Pavia, the capital city of ancient Lombardy.
Until the 12th century, Lombardy remained a powerful region in northern Italy. However, in 1162, Milan was nearly destroyed by the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa or Frederick "the Barbarian." In order to protect themselves against the Germans and Frederick's claim to rule, a coalition was formed by the various cities and towns in the region of Lombardy. This coalition, which was historically known as the Lombard League, pleased both the Pope and Venice because it would protect the interests of the Church and the merchant-based economy of Venice. However, by the 14th century, the Lombard League had lost most of its strength and power due to the dominant control of three separate dynasties: the Visconti, the Scaligers, and the Este family. The Sforzas, the Visconti's successors, eventually took over the region and Francesco Sforza II became Duke of Milan. After the death of Francesco Sforza in 1535, the Spanish took control of Lombardy. Spanish rule continued until the early 18th century, when Lombardy came under the rule of the Austrian Hapsburgs. During the period of the period of the Counter Reformation of the 16th century, Lombardy was marked by economic downfall, religious fanaticism, and crises of conscience. The most interesting figure of the Counter Reformation was Savonarola, who organized children into bands which would gather together and then destroy all "vanities," such as immodest clothing, books, instruments, and other means of leisure. Also, there were uprisings in most of the major cities to protest the high taxes imposed by the Spanish.
The Austrian Hapsburg reign did not last for very long and Napoleon conquered most of northern Italy, and all of Lombardy, during the late 18th century. Italy was finally released from the powerful grip of Austrian and French rule in 1859 and in 1861, it joined the kingdom of Italy. The provinces of Brescia and Cremona, the cities of Milan and Pavia, which date back to the days of the Lombard invasion, all encompass modern day Lombardy. Many of these cities are still important today for their architecture and historical value. Cremona is noted for the violins and other stringed instruments built there by Amati and Stradivarius. Milan houses many cultural monuments, such as the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele which is a famous monument which contains expensive boutiques and restaurants, and is perhaps one the best known cities in Lombardy. The Duomo or Cathedral, the Brera Gallery and the famous opera house Il Teatro della Scala, which is of both musical and architectural significance, is a very important part of Lombardy. Lombardy is also a very significant part of the Italian tourist industry. As well as the major urban center of Milan, Lombardy possesses many beautiful lake side resort areas such as the famous Garda lake, or the Maggiore and Como lakes which provide natural views of the Italian countryside and mountain ranges.
- ^ Swyrich, Archive materials
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