San Nicolò village and its three administrative divisions of Roncaglia, Roncajette and Rio, are situated in the South-East area of Padua crossed by the Bacchiglione or Roncajette river. It was probably already inhabited by the Romans (and according to the historian, Il Gloria, a Roman road connected Padua to Codevigo passing through Ponte S. Nicolò). The history of the town starts in about one thousand when the Retrone river (which is the ancient name of the Roncajette river) flowed across a huge forest called Onedo, Olmedo or Onido, which means "Elm Forest".
Roncaglia got its name from the verb "roncare" which means "to deforest": The agriculture focused on the production of legumes and cereals, which is why watermills were built in Roncajette and Ponte S. Nicolò. Also the houses were located near the river where people built a bridge called "Sancti Nicolai" which was originally made from durmast. In 1228, the Padua Republic created the first stone structure with three imposing arches, which are still represented in the town coat of arms.
The town was hit by floods many times over the centuries but three of them were documented, the floods in 1882, 1907 and 1966, probably caused by watermills.
After the floods in 1907, the inhabitants decided to knock down the stone bridge and a new metal bridge was built and inaugurated in 1913.
The remains of the stone bridge and mills belonging to the Turcato house can still be seen under the current bridge.
The bridge has been the passage point for people, goods, political and military events for centuries. It was the crucial point during the war to free Padua from the domination of Ezzelino da Romano (1256); Cangrande della Scala (1317 - 1318) camped close to it, and thousands of refugees from Saccisica crossed it to run away from the Serenissima Republic raids (1372-'73); the bridge was completely ruined when the emperor Maximilian of Habsburg (1509) besieged the town.
The first group of houses near the river were established and depended on the Padua cathedral clergy and later they became a "comune et homines Pontis Sancti Nicolai", that is a village, in 1277. Roncajette (named Roncaliutari because it was a place full of bushes to be cut using a "roncola") is the oldest site and reported in documents back in 918. In fact on 20th April 918, King Berengarius allowed the Padua clergy to receive the tithes from this village.
It was also a river port where boats loading salt, linen, leather bags and terracotta cups (lots of earthenware was found on the riverbed by the divers of the Esus Association) landed. All the area located to the south of Roncajette, along the right bank of the river, was occupied by a wide wood called "Ponteglese" in 1050. The chapel of S. Fidenzio in Roncajette is reported for the first time in 1130, now it has an 18th century outline. Inside there is an interesting series of paintings dating back to the 16th century which represent the Virgin and the Saints and are framed in ten compartments and placed in two rows. The work was by a painter known as the Master of Roncajette.
According to a certain tradition, S. Fidenzio was an Eastern, maybe Armenian and was a martyr in the first Christian times.
The devotion to this saint spread over Padua in about 1000 and the clergy decided to dedicate the churches that people built in the new villages to him.
In 1027 Emperor Conrad II granted the clergy of Padua cathedral a privilege and in that document Roncaglia was quoted for the first time. In 1055 Roncaglia was clearly defined as a "villa" that means a village. In 1171, people built a chapel dedicated to S. Basilio, a hermit belonging to the Greek tradition who was worshipped in this village of Padua diocese.
In 1130, people felt they needed a church dedicated to Saint Nicolò, the protector of sailors. The first chapel was built on the other bank of the river and not where the town church is situated now.
San Nicolò bridge and village were probably founded between 1205 and 1212. In 1215 one of the first pieces of news of a "bridge of S. Nicolò" was reported. Later, in 1291, a church dedicated to the Virgin was built "ecclesia nova Sancte Marie in capite pontis Sancti Nicolai". This church became the parish church in 1452.
The current church in gothic-Lombard style was started in 1898. Work was interrupted during the first world war and re-started in 1922. It was consecrated in 1966 and its bell tower was built between 1946 and 1950.
As concerns Rio, the village was built in about 1209 and got the name of Rivus which means canal because a canal flowed across the village. The important "Da Rio" family lived in the village during the 14th century, they did not have noble origins but were politically important. The Da Rio family were professionals, traders, bankers and notaries. The family is still remembered by the villa "da Rio". Initially the present church depended on Voltabarozzo and then became independent in 1945. It is dedicated to Saint Carlo Borromeo but originally it was dedicated to Saint Antonio Abate, a humble hermit from Egypt who was known as a protector of pets and as a healer of people suffering from "St. Anthony's fire ".
Among the people who contributed to medicine and natural sciences we should remember Avezuto da Roncaglia and Matteo da Roncajette, both professors at Padua University between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th and contemporaries of the philosopher and scientist Pietro d'Abano.