The first documented texts that refer to Piazzola sul Brenta are from the first half of the 13th century: a verdict issued by the chief magistrate of Padova Giovanni Donaldo to a certain notary Martinello from Piazzola. Likewise the documents also mention the presence in loco of a castle (a probable trace appears on the external base on which the central part of the present Villa Contarini is located) belonging to the noble family of Del Dente, who we will re-encounter again later in our story.
The reference to the existence of a castle leads one therefore to date the “foundation” of Piazzola to the 10th century: in particular the scholars correlate the construction to the incursions of the Ungari and to the bloody defeat suffered by Berengario in 889 on the shores of the River Brenta, after which many Veneto villages ran for cover and fortified themselves. We also now that the Ungaro incursions forced some Milan families to seek refuge in the Padova area, amongst which where the above mentioned Del Dente.
It is therefore plausible to think that around the year 900, amongst many others, the castle in Piazzola was also built and that it, through different incidents which we are unable to reconstruct, came into the possession of the Del Dente.
What is certain is that this family lived there, apart from a brief period in which the castle was owned by the powerful Ezzelino III da Romano (which represented an authentic bombshell in the political geography of the time) right up to the middle of the 13th century when they then sold the property to Alessandro Belludi. The Belludi family, from working class background, had enriched themselves in a short time trading furs and Alessandro pelliparius (fur trader) bought the Piazzola Castle and its annexed 422 fields with the intent to increase his standing and that of his family.
But the Belludi domination did not last long, Alessandro's son, Zambonetto, significantly defined a “rebel” in the “Guide to Padova and its Province” (1842) entered into conflict with the administration in Padova, which initially confiscated the castle (1315) and successively sold it (between 1316 and 1318) to Nicolò da Carrara from the same family that would shortly thereafter impose its dominion in Padova.
The sequence of events in Piazzola, therefore, followed closely those in Padova and its Lords who held it as a family fief up to 1413 the year in which, following the marriage of Maria Carrara to Nicolò Contarini, possession passed over to the Contarini, a noble Venetian family.
This event becomes of primary importance, if we think of it placed into the specific political-military context of the time: Venice was in those years beginning to spread its influence and dominion in the Veneto hinterland (“Stato de Terra”) and in 1405 Padova itself had “passed over” (with the consequential violent expulsion from the political intrigues).
For Piazzola the entry into a dimension as an expanded regional entity meant on one hand the loss of the residual political relevance and on the other the beginning of a relative period of economic prosperity, of stability and peace: in fact the Venetian aristocracy, as the dominions in the hinterland were slowly starting to build, extended their land possession which had a “villa” as its focal point which in exactly those years had started to take on the double function of productive centre and place of entertainment and recreation.
Piazzola sul Brenta was not excluded from this line of evolution: in the fourth decade of the 16th century, Paolo and Francesco Contarini started work on impressive building developments on the stronghold which became absorbed into the original nucleus of the Villa becoming thus its central body.
Even from this point the Villa would in any case have developed as a building with two wing: the building of the majestic loggia on the right side, which represented one of the most distinguishing features of the Villa as we now see it , happened but in the second part of the following century on the instinct of Marco Contarini.
This is probably the moment of highest glory for the noble Venetian family and by consequence, for its “realm” on the hinterland (Terraferma). The “Orologio del Piacere” (The Pleasure Clock), for example describes the sumptuous festivities (comprising nautical “feasts”) set up for the occasion of the visit of Duke Ernesto Augusto de Brunswick-Luneburg.
The presence of the Villa, quite clearly, intensively typifies the social and economic life of the village. In particular importance were also the annexes and dependencies of the Villa: apart from the stables and the warehouses, through which flowed the varied produce of the land, the whole complex that gravitated around the Loco delle Vergini (the name derives from the presence of a specific institute established by Contarini for the care of young female orphans) was occupied by productive activities that mirrored, yet again, the dual purpose of the Villa: there you would find a spice workshop, a workshop for the processing of foods, a print shop, but also a “School of Music” (the girls with particular vocal talent would be initialized into singing and into the theatre, learning therefore, an art that would take them to perform in front of their master and his guests), an “embroidery industry” for the production of theatrical garments and also for the production of objects for the “home”.
In the 18th century the events in Piazzola continued to be tightly connected with those of the Villa and its Lord, who in turn followed the slow but relentless decline of the Serenissima, in other words Venice (a decline which is more military-political rather than economic; Piazzola in that sense, rather, goes on to become one of the most significant examples of proto-industry of the Venetian domination), which would cease its century old existence in 1797 right in the middle of the Napoleonic wars: Paolo Camerini, in his impressive publication on Piazzola (1925), cites Pier Maria Contarini (known as Alvise II, who is credited with the strengthening of the “embroidery industry”) as one of the only exponents of the family that had any merit in this century, leaving the last exponents of the family a role that we can only define as “executors of the will”.
Camerini, himself in fact, reconstructs the intricate sequence of events through which, in a time of overall poverty of the (fallen) Venetian aristocracy, the Piazzola holding became in 1837 the property of the Giovanelli and Correr families while parts of the movable property which enriched it (together with those in other residences) was donated to libraries and art galleries, other parts became irretrievably lost.
Fifteen years later, in 1852, the Giovanelli and Correr families in turn sold the Villa and the annexed fields to Silvestro Camerini, and thus started a new fundamental phase for the town and the Villa.
The Camerini period can be approximately summarised as follows: while Silvestro became the key player of the initial “accumulation” of land and properties, to Luigi, his nephew, goes the credit of having understood the importance of proto-industrial installations of the Contarini era and to focus on these.
These preconditions were fully developed by Luigi's son, Paolo, who integrated them within an ambitious vision (significantly defined by Carlo Fumian as a “utopian agro-industry”) that did not limit itself in transforming Piazzola into an industrial centre of prime importance in the provincial panorama but it also deeply transformed its urban layout: Paolo Camerini in fact, inspired by the more advanced models of company town, built worker and management housing, schools, an after-work club, a racetrack, a cinema etc..
Furthermore, to establish the definite rebirth of Piazzola sul Brenta and in a non random continuity with the Contarini past, Paolo Camerini became a promoter of numerous cultural ventures and sometimes outright sponsor that bring back the restored Villa to its former glory.
Unfortunately, the Camerini dream shattered against the many economic difficulties that marked the whole of the first postwar and that brought into a serious state of collapse the Count's businesses: the rescue attempts of the 1930's proved to be useless and the second world war delivered the definitive coup de grace.
The second postwar is therefore marked by transfers, dismantling and closures with the inevitable and heavy consequences on the entire population of Piazzola. It became though also an opportunity to free itself from the development model that was to tightly tied (for better or for worse) to the fate of a single family and to start again on new foundations hooking onto the economic rebirth defined as the “North-East miracle” and that allowed to build Piazzola as we see it today into a town which – mindful of its glorious past – succeeds in combining the industriousness of its industries with a very lively cultural life.