Ancient Sources of Retorbido – Retorbido, Italy - Atlas Obscura

Ancient Sources of Retorbido

Retorbido, Italy

These four fountains are said to have healing properties, with a glass of the 'miracle' water being given to Louis XII of France. 


On the slopes of a hill, framed by a forest and wonderful vineyards, you can find the oldest fountains of the Staffora Valley, surrounded by the stench of rotten eggs.

There are four fountains fed by springs and named by the content of their water: drinking fountain, ferrous fountain, magnesian fountain, and finally the sulfurous one. Known since Roman times for their healing properties, the springs were made famous by many doctors. The first one was Teodoro Guainero, a professor at the University of Pavia, doctor and advisor to King Louis XII of France, in the 15th century. 

Guainero wrote about five fountains, each with a different property, on the slopes of a hill to the left of the Rile Creek, about a mile from the castle of Retorbido. The first, he wrote, was “sulfur water” and had an unpleasant taste; the second one cured the diseases of sight and was called the “eye fountain.” The third one, “fountain of the liver,” was held in the greatest esteem; the fourth was nameless; and the fifth, in the center of the square, was called “washing fountain” and was used to treat mange and ulcers.

For this Renaissance-era physician, these waters could cure many diseases if used in the proper way. He even called them “drinking gold” and he offered a glass of that miraculous water to his king, Louis XII of France.

In the 19th century, the lord of the village, tried to channel the water from the springs into the village to exploit them to the fullest. For the occasion, a thermal building was built at the foot of the Durazzo Pallavicini palace, a tree-lined avenue was planted, and a shuttle service was established at the Voghera station. Unfortunately, due to maladministration, the experience did not last long and, after half a century of activity, the fountains returned to their original position on the hill where Teodoro Guainero had found them centuries ago.

Nowadays, the old thermal building has been converted into private homes, and the fountains are owned by the Marquis Adorno. After being used a few years ago for parties in the summer evenings, they are now in a state of abandonment and have long been waiting to be restored to the splendor of their past.

If you are in Oltrepo Pavese, the fountains of Retorbido are a must. After a walk through the vineyards and a degustation of what, according to the inhabitants of Retorbido, is the best wine in Italy, you can cross a little forest and find yourself in a metaphysical place between Dante’s Inferno and the vineyards on the gypsum banks. 

Know Before You Go

The sources are located about 20 minutes from the town following Via San Francesco, in the area that the inhabitants of the village called Costiolo. The sources can be used by the inhabitants according to an ancient feudal custom of "civic use." The hills around Retorbido are full of sandstone, gypsum, and fossils, so it's very likely to find them on the way to the sources. Currently, a campaign by the Italian Fund for the Environment (FAI) is underway, which aims to restructure historic buildings or places, in Italy, dear to Italians. The sources of Retorbido have been proposed. 

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