This quaint northern Italian hamlet was the site of several brutal witch trials and executions during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Today, a plaque on a 60-foot-tall medieval tower, known as Torre Federici or Torre della Famiglia Federici, commemorates the violent events.
Nestled along the Oglio River, among northern Italy’s Alpine foothills, the tower is located in the quaint hamlet of Sonico. One of the earliest official documents to mention the settlement dates back to the 14th century when a bishop named Enrico Da Sessa expanded his landholdings to include Sonico. De Sessa was the first owner of the medieval tower, though it’s unclear if he built the structure.
By 1423, the Federici family, a local noble family, owned the tower. Their coat of arms, featuring an eagle with its wings spread open, can be found above the main entrance of the tower in a narrow alley, known as Via Guglielmo Marconi. On a different external wall, a sundial and fresco depict the tower, beneath which a plaque reads, “In memory of Federici of Sonico accused of heresy and of the victims (burned) at the stake for witchcraft in the sixteenth century in Valcamonica.”
There were several witch trials in Valcamonica, the valley where Sonico is located. The region’s first recorded witch execution was in 1455 with later witch executions occurring in 1510-12, 1516-17, and 1518-21. Witch trials in the region grew so out of hand that on February 15, 1521, Pope Leo X petitioned for help from the bishops of Venetia. He wrote, “In the cities and dioceses of Brescia and Bergamo, a most pernicious kind of people were utterly damned by the stain of heresy, which was causing them to renounce the sacrament of the baptism that they had received, denying their Lord and giving their bodies and souls to Satan.” He goes on to say that in Valcamonica “people of this damned sort particularly flourish.” Even established families like the Federici’s faced prosecution; though it’s unknown if any members of the Federici family were executed as convicted witches.
The prevalence of witch trials in Valcamonica is likely due to the hold pagan, particularly Roman beliefs, had on the valley.
Today, the tower is still the tallest building in Sonica. Renovated several times through the centuries, the local Fanetti family now lives in the tower.
Know Before You Go
The tower is a private residence but can be viewed from the outside.
Torre Federici faces the charming Piazza della Torre. One side of the tower marks the end of a narrow alley (Via Guglielmo Marconi) while two newer buildings have been built on the tower's remaining other two sides.