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History of the Count


The year 1495 marks the beginning of a dark and sad period for Matera due to the events that will see it submitted for the first time to feudal servitude.
Just at that time, the figure of Giancarlo Tramontano, originally from Sant’Anastasia, near Naples, a humble populace of the Aragonese, emerges amidst riots and tensions over the dominion over the Neapolitan city, between the French of Charles VIII and the Spanish, following of the death of Ferdinand I of Aragon, which occurred in 1494.

Debts, the crisis and the popular uprising

Despite having an important position as Master of the Royal Mint, he returned to Matera full of debts demanding from the local aristocracy, more and more offended and derided, other gabelles and taxes to fill the empty coffers. His sad end was now imminent …
On December 28, 1514 he asked the people for 24 thousand ducats to heal a debt with his Catalan creditor Paolo Tolosa.

Exasperated by the constant abuses, some commoners and nobles, gathered in the Sasso Barisano near the rock parish of San Giovanni Vecchio, hidden behind a boulder, “u pizzone du mmal consighj” – the boulder of bad advice -, which served as a witness, organized the killing of the Count.
The ambush would take place in the Cathedral the following day, since the church was the only place where the Count was forced, by the customs of the time, to disarm.

The armed garrison would have waited for him outside as usual. On the other hand, his mercenary guards could easily be bribed. And so it was…

The assassination of the Count

… On the evening of 29 December 1514, in fact, on the occasion of the mass of vespers, the Tramontano was faced by the conspirators, he defended himself strenuously but after trying in vain to escape, he was killed in a side street of the Duomo, today’s Via redemption.

There is certainty of this tragic date thanks to an incision on the base of a column of the church of San Giovanni Battista which reads: DIE 29 DEC … INTERFECTUS EST COMES.
It is said that he was stripped naked and struck repeatedly with the heavy halberds stolen from his men, before being abandoned, in tatters, in a pool of blood.

The hammer-bells announced the death of the tyrant and the people, now in turmoil, invaded the streets and alleys, running and shouting. There were attempts to set fire to the documents of the public judiciary and, after a violent raid on his palace, his wife was arrested and everything sacked.
The common sense of some citizens prevailed and the Countess was saved from other horrendous acts.

The culprits were never found, neither assassins nor principals, and the only names that appear among the suspects are Tassiello di Cataldo and Cola di Salvagio, and popular legend has it that a crime was enslaved, that is, a Serbian. Croatian.

Cunning, ambition and ascent

Smart, astute and valiant swordsman, he had been the first citizen elected by the people to sit with nobles and clergy in the parliament of Naples, where he also obtained the appointment as Master of the Royal Mint.
For a series of services rendered to the King, he claimed the County of Matera, a city that had always been state property, that was, that is, directly dependent on the Crown. The sovereign subordinated its concession to a manifest consent of the Matera people, who obviously denied it. The Count’s goal was equally achieved with the complicity of some noble and common people of Matera cleverly fooled with false promises of exemptions and privileges.

The Matera people signed, deluded, their feudal servitude. So on October 1, 1497 King Ferdinand II, known as Ferrandino, son of Alfonso II and succeeding Ferdinand I, proceeded to invest the Tramontano, recognizing the coveted county.

In the following years we find traces of our restless character in numerous districts of the Kingdom, engaged in clashes with the French. He was also taken prisoner and deprived of his county. He managed to free himself, and tried in bizarre ways to regain Matera County.

In fact, on November 1, 1506 he went to Naples on the occasion of the royal procession of the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Germana De Foix, and used a clever ploy to impress the King. In streets adjacent to those of the procession he built majestic wooden triumphal arches, from which he threw coins and other valuables.

The crowd rushed for the procession then gathered all under these arches, and the Royal Procession was forced to deviate the route heading towards the aforementioned triumphal arches. Here Gian Carlo Tramontano and his consort, Elisabetta Restigliano, gave the Queen a very expensive necklace of 25 pearls, with the aim of attracting the benevolence of the rulers and regaining the County of Matera.

The King was not impressed by these petty exhibitions and assured the County of his state property, but, having moved away from the Sovereign, our ambitious chief of people reached his goal by “convincing” the Viceroy who reconfirmed him Count of Matera.

The pardon

The crime was considered, for what it was, a political crime, and an attack on the crown, represented on the territory by the Count.
To punish the guilty, Commissioner Giovanni Villani was sent by the King, who hanged four innocent Matera citizens, investigated other citizens who managed to redeem themselves by paying 2,000 ducats and accused the City Administration for having encouraged the riot and for not having punished the guilty .

At the conclusion of the story, considering that for the University (the town hall) it was not possible to control the situation, nor to tame the violent and uncontrollable instinct of the people, nor to trace the culprits among the angry crowd, a fine was imposed by the Treasury of ten thousand ducats, very many considering that the aforementioned necklace of 25 pearls cost about 700.

At the solemn request of the then Mayor of Matera Berlingerio de Zaffaris, on 22 June 1515, the notary Franciscum Groia di Matera was received in Naples by King Ferdinand of Aragon who finally granted a pardon general.

The legend

The events known in Matera during the investigation stimulated the imagination of the royal commissioner Giovanni Villani who wrote a comedy inspired by the episode, entitled “the Count of Matera”, which became a film with Virna Lisi a few centuries later, in 1955 .
It is in this comedy that we find almost all the elements of the popular legend without any historical foundation, such as the fictionalized and magnified taxes and abuses and like the “ius primae noctis”, which would have given the Count the right on all women on their wedding night, still virgins.

The irony of fate

The place where he was killed, the alley to the left of the Duomo, took the name of Via Riscatto to remember the victory of the people and the fall of the tyrant.
And if in Matera one remembers his killing with a way, curiously, in Naples the toponymic commission of the Municipality named a road to Gian Carlo Tramontano, very central, near Via Duomo, Via Seggio del Popolo and Piazza Nicola Amore, to remember his democratic election, the first in the history of Naples, to represent the people in the Neapolitan parliament.

The motto inserted in the coat of arms of the city of Matera reads: “BOS LASSUS FIRMIUS FIGIT PEDEM”, (the tired ox marks the step more firmly) and means that the people, when tired of abuse and tyranny, fight with determination and firmness to regain lost freedom …