Luni is a jewel of the area around La Spezia: don’t miss to pay a visit to its unique anphitheater which, regrettably not preseved as it should be, is a unique evidence of the long history of this region.
The name of the roman city of Luni possibly comes from the name Lunae, – the Latin name of the Goddess that brings light, the Moon – most likely for the semicircular shape of the ancient city. Others think that it comes from the pre-roman native name for swamp – luk – which is indeed the kind of soil that the romans reclaimed in order to build their important ancient harbor.
In both cases, Luni gave name to the middle-age region of Lunigiana that derived from it and which can be visited today.
Since ancient times, while under the control of the native Ligurians, the port of Luni was used as a landing both by the Etruscan and the Greek merchant ships.
The colony, with the name of the Lunae, was founded by the Romans in 177 BC, as a military outpost of the Roman legions during the campaign against the Ligurians. In that period, according to the testimony of Pliny the Elder, over 40,000 Ligurian Apuani were deported to Sannio (180 BC) and 2000 Roman veterans of the battle of Actium (31 BC) were settled here, according to the Roman use to colonize particularly resistant areas. Each veteran was awarded 51 and a half acres of land, with the intention to reclaim the swampy areas and fund an agrarian colony.
The Ligurians continued to fight the Romans until 154 BC, when the consul Claudius Marcellus subdued them permanently. In his honor it was erected a monument in the city, and possibly also the name of the nearby town of Montemarcello comes from the name of the Roman console.
The Romans failed to overcome the obstacle represented by the marshes to build the commercial roads to connect to Pisa and to the north of the Italian Peninsula. Yet the important Aurelia road, leading from Rome to the Gallia passed from Luni, making it one of the most important Roman ports.
In addition to its favorable location along a main road of the empire, in the first century BC the city took advantage of the massive use of white marble from the Apuan Alps (Carrara marble), of which it became the main loading port. Besides, its inhabitants exported timber (coming directly from the course of the Magra river), cheese, wines and handicrafts from the inland. In the era of its greatest splendor, the city grew to more than 50000 inhabitants.
One of the evidences of the city’s importance is in the sufficiently well preserved anphitheater of Luni, which can be still visited in the ancient area of Luni city.
In the Middle Age, Luni slowly lost its importance, and the end of the Roman empire determined the definitive failure against the marshes. People living in the area progressively left the area and moved to Sarzana and to the upper hills, to fund the villages of the so-told Lunigiana region.