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Zanzanù Story

The story of a man who became “Zanzanù the Bandit”

Giovanni Beatrice was born in April 1576 in Gargnano (Brescia) a village belonging to the ‘Magnificent Land of the Riviera’ . It is in this territorial and institutional area that the epic of Zanzanù was first created and later the legend that has been handed down to the present day. “My father Giovanni Zannoni of the Riviera of Salò, an innkeeper in that land and able to feed all his poor family, while living quietly, in solemn peace under oath signed above the sacrament of the altar was slain by several people of the Riviera.”

With this dramatic and strong speech, in June 1616, Giovanni Beatrice, known throughout the Garda Riviera as Zanzanù , began his plea to the heads of the Council of the Ten, to be allowed to return to his land of origin and put an end to his problems with the venetian courts of law. In fact, after the death of his father, Giovanni Beatrice and family, among the most well known in the community of Gargnano, decided to lead a local feud. The Zannoni band was responsible for some very serious crimes such as murder and kidnapping.

The sensational Incident of the murder of the magistrate Ganassoni that involved Zanzanù, even if only in a secondary role, was a determining factor in establishing his image as a bandit. After the murder of the magistrate in the Cathedral of Salò in 1610, the Zanzanù band took refuge in the hills of Tignale, while plans were announced to hunt down the outlaw. Very soon the band found themselves short of money, and since it became more and more difficult to get down to the Riviera in order to extort money from the rich merchants the ‘dark’ period for Zanzanoni began.

So it was that in the middle of 1616 the bandit thought up an original way to procure money. He wrote direct to the Heads of the various villages offering a sort of peace treaty in exchange for money. Tremosine decided to give Lire 150 to Zanzanù. Maderno was a little more cautious and decided on only 25 on condition that he obeyed ‘Sua Serenità’. Naturally the bandit decided against this and did without the Maderno money! In 1617 with the arrival of Captain Badoer came the showdown of the ZanZanone band still in the hills of Tignale.

There were essentially two factors that contributed in changing the passive attitude of the people of Tignale towards the bandits: the presence of Badoer himself in Tignale and the kidnapping of Giovanni Cavaliere a rich landowner of the area. In the summer of 1617, precisely the night of 16th August, Zanzanù and five companions came down from the hills towards the hamlet of Gardola and spent the night in a hay barn. At first light they made their way towards the house of Giovanni Cavaliere; after a short stop in the house the group made plans to leave the village.

Word had passed quickly throughout the village that the bandit Zanzanù was there and groups of armed men were waiting for him in the centre with others in various places outside the village in order to cut off his escape. Loud cries, shots and angry commands greeted the bandits and Zanzanù ended up wounded in the foot, but dragging his companions and the abducted Cavaliere managed to flee to the north. Just a few kilometers from Gardola, on the path towards the border they came upon the first barrage of fire, and panicking let the hostage go free.

The siege lasted for hours, and with more and more people joining in food and drink was brought from the surrounding villages. Zanzanù waited for nightfall hoping that the darkness would create enough confusion for the bandits to be able to flee. The battle resumed and amid deadly gunfire the band managed to create a gap but this time towards the south. Here there were still more men, including reinforcements from Gargnano waiting for them.

It is the end and the last to fall was Zanzanù himself. His body came to rest at the foot of a big boulder which still exists today and where it is said that the bandit left his imprint, between two streams that skirt the valley and which in the east run down towards Gardola (Valletta delle Fornaci). Firearms, objects and pieces of clothing were taken as trophies. Several months after the battle the population of Tignale contacted a well known artist and took him to the battle scene.

The nobles of the village had decided to celebrate the great event with a memorial, a painting to record the hard fought victory over the elusive bandit Zanzanù, a victory granted by the Madonna of Montecastello, whose sanctuary has stood for centuries high above the surrounding villages. The painting can be found today inside the Sanctuary, the canvas measures 2.48 metres x 1.90 metres.

Taken from ‘Story of a man who became a bandit’ by Prof. Claudio Pov.

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