THE BARREL MAKERS OF GARDONE
Val Trompia : The Iron Valley
Celebrated today for its Franciacorta sparkling wine and as the starting point of the fabled Mille Miglia motor race, Brescia is a charming historic city…
Known in the days of antiquity as Brixia, by the time the Venetian republic sent its order for arquebus barrels to “Master Bartolomeo Beretta of the Brescian Territory of Gardone,” Brescia and its surroundings had acquired a dominating position in the new technology of firearms.
Just as the Santa Clara Valley of Northern California has become known as Silicon Valley thanks to its predominance in the computer industry, it would be fair to describe the Val Trompia of the Middle Ages as legitimately claiming the soubriquet of “Iron Valley.”
There are even those who believe that the use of gunpowder for propellant use in iron gun barrels was a discovery made in Gardone.1 Whether Gardone can be credited as the birthplace of the firearm is uncertain but the craftsmen of the region were what today would be called early adopters of new technology.
The Val Trompia into which Bartolomeo was born and in which he took his place as one of the masters of its most famous m.tier was an area where craft was king. The skilled craftsman enjoyed a singular prestige and position in society, forming, in effect, an educated professional class: literacy among barrel makers was almost universal and Gardone even boasted that rarity in the provinces of medieval Italy, a schoolmaster.
More than a craft, the science of barrel making had, as the fifteen century progressed, turned the whole town into what was in effect a large factory, strictly defined by a rigorous guild structure.