The Sator Square of Brusaporto Castle

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Brusaporto, near the Lombard city of Bergamo, was a lively and flourishing village during the Middle Ages. It is mentioned in the ancient Statute of Bergamo of 1333 with the toponym of Brusaporcho. The reasons for this name, which originates from the local dialect, are not clear. Some posthumous attempts of attribution of a town epos often resulted as legendary. For instance, it is told that some of the villagers assaulted the feudal caste and burned the local lord at the stake, shouting “pig burns”. This is the legend of a collective imaginary that, like any tale, derives from some real elements.

Brusaporto Castle
View of the remains of the Rivola Castle in Brusaporto

Brusaporto Castle

The historiographical sources attest that the fortress of the village was assaulted and burned1. It was 1380 and the unpleasant episode occurred during the internal struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Castle of Brusaporto, located on a hill as a sentinel of the village, was owned by a Guelph family, the Rivola. For this reason the Ghibelline Giovanni da Iseo decided to burn it. The fortress was never rebuilt, and today only the walls remains as part of the modern village.

For its meta-historical value, the fortress recalls the ancient splendor of the castles of the time. However, the Castle of Brusaporto was not a residential place but a defensive structure, as attested by the historiographical sources. It was one of the castles of the area like the nearby forts of Costa di Mezzate, Monticelli e Comonte. Located on the Tomenone hill and along the Lands of the Bishopric, these castles were probably contemporary, as they were built between the 12th and 13th century.

The Castle of Brusaporto remains

Today the remains of the Castle of Brusaporto are fragmentary, being identifiable only the plan of the original structure. A staircase at the entrance allows to reach the top of the hill where there is only an empty esplanade, from which it is possible to observea wonderful landscape. The preserved portion of the original walls runs along the perimeter around the hill of Brusaporto and ideally surrounds the historical soul of the town. The wall structure has therefore a fundamental importance to reconstruct the splendor of the city and represents a living and tangible testimony of it .

A mysterious inscription

Surprisingly, the wall hides unsuspected mysteries. In fact, in the perimeter opposite the entrance, the Sator Square is set among the stones.

Brusaporto Castle
Sator Square of Brusaporto

Along the perimeter of the wall, there is a sandstone slab, 50 centimeters long. It is engraved with the following Latin words:

S A T O R
A R E PO
TENET
OPERA
ROTAS

Without a doubt, the Sator Square is one of the most important mysteries of ancient and Medieval archaeology. The inscription has a palindromic structure. It is an unusual detail, which is why the writing is also called the magic square. Nevertheless, the most enigmatic aspect is the difficult historiographical contextualization.

Difficult interpretation of the magic square

The Sator Square has been found in several places in Europe and the Middle East, and belongs to different historical periods. The first finding was discovered by Matteo della Corte in Pompeii, so it dates back before 79 AC, whilst several are related to the Medieval period.

Even the meaning is of dubious interpretation. Although several translations have been proposed, scholars have difficulties translating the term arepo, a word of not-Latin origin, probably introduced by the Celts to mean charriot. For this reason, a possible literary interpretation is “the sower takes care of the wheels of the chariot”. The translation is also enigmatic, so several interpretations about its allegorical signification have been proposed, and even a numerological-cabalistic thesis. Finally, the Sator Square is not always found in its traditional geometric form, as several circular findings have been discovered. For further information, see the related article.

Many questions about the Sator Square of Brusaporto Castle

A relevant aspect in the historiographical research about the Sator Square is to reconstruct the archaeological context. So, to which period does the Sator Square of Brusaporto belong? Why is the engraved slab located there?

Brusaporto
Brusaporto Castle

These are questions which are difficult to answer, since very little information is available about the wall hosting the palindrome. It seems to be a structure that supported the terreplein of the castle hill. The first challenge is to understand if the current wall is the original one or has been reconstructed. Certainly, the municipality of Brusaporto started works of requalification in 1984, due to the fact that it was in a state of degradation. It is uncertain if at that time the Sator Square was already in the castle walls. Could it be a reused stone found nearby, and therefore pertaining to the Rivola Castle?

The mysterious sandstone slab

The sandstone slab where the Sator Square of Brusaporto is engraved looks different from the other stones that compose the walls. Unfortunately, this is also why the slab is gradually crumbling, losing parts of the engraving. In the Middle Ages, sandstone was used to make jambs and architraves in the area. . Therefore, it could be a lintel from the portal of a castle, or a religious building included in it.

The enigmatic epigraph of the Castle of Brusaporto

A different challenge is to understand whether the inscription is contemporary with the slab or was added later. In particular, comparing the inscription with the rest of the stone, the former appears less corroded. This suggests that the Sator was made more recently than its support. Moreover, a stylistic comparison with other Medieval Sator Squares shows important similarities.es.

In particular, the Sator Square of Siena (13th century) has several epigraphic similitudes with the Brusaporto finding.

The Sator Square in the external perimeter of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Siena

There are similarities between the uncial e, with the exception of the first e of Tenet in the Brusaporto finding, which appears mysteriously different. However, the character of the a, in the Sator of Brusaporto has a broken crossbar. In both findings, the characters belong to a Gothic writing style. Thus, it is possible to assume that the Sator of Brusaporto is Medieval, although the doubt persists that someone made it more recently, inspired by the style of that time.

Samuele Corrente Naso

Map of places

Notes

  1. Chronicles by Johanes Mozi de Brembat, banker lived between 1325 and 1409, who reported “Giacomo Pii Capitanio from Bergamo and Giovanni Lisca, provision of Bernabò (Visconti)… robbed Brusaporto, mercilessly burned it, and moving to Bagnatica and Mezzate, robbed all”. ↩︎
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