Even the history of Italy has passed through Lunigiana several times, tracing the vital communication routes that cross it, uniting northern Italy with the sea. Touched by the Via Francigena, it is still today an essential point of contact in the hinterland between Liguria and Tuscany, here both reaching out towards Emilia. And it is in Lunigiana that you can feel the atmosphere of a middle ground that joins different traditions in a unicum of great charm.
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Lunigiana is a historical region (not drawn by any institutional map). The locals sometimes have differing views regarding its boundaries. Nevertheless, a historical definition of this territory can undoubtedly be given by drawing it among the ancient villages controlled, in medieval times, by the Marquises Malaspina, influential feudal lords of Tuscan origin (descendants of the Obertenghis). Among these are Aulla, Fosdinovo, Pontremoli, Fivizzano, Zeri, and Podenzana, and many other smaller localities (14 are the municipalities), all characterized by the presence of a castle, religiously preserved stone buildings, by the hilly, sometimes mountainous context, from pristine woods and a still slow and peaceful pace of life.
However, this definition leaves out the region’s direct access to the sea, which was strategic for its development, and significant landmarks such as the ancient Roman city of Luni, which even gives its name to Lunigiana. Sarzana, hardly counted among the cities of Lunigiana, in its “Porta Parma,” marks the beginning of the via Cisa, which crosses the Lunigiana along its entire length.
From a geographical point of view, what really unites Lunigiana are the communication routes that determined its importance in medieval times. The Magra is the river which, like all rivers, traditionally favored contacts between inhabited centers, the contamination of the language and customs. It flows at the bottom of the valley, has its sources in the Pontremoli area, flows into the sea at Bocca di Magra, just a few kilometers from Sarzana and Luni, and is fed by the innumerable creeks that flow through all the villages of Lunigiana.
Lunigiana encloses the oldest and most continuous evidence of all this composite territory, with finds dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods which highlight the presence of populations coming from the northwest of the peninsula. The Stele Statues are extraordinary menhir statues with highly stylized anthropomorphic features found throughout the Lunigiana area (perhaps they define Lunigiana?) and have come down to us from the Eneolithic (end of the 4th millennium BC). These relatives of other stele statues found in Corsica, Sardinia, Puglia, and Valcamonica have almost always been found in a completely random way, as in the case of the warrior of Sorano, and collected in the Piagnaro castle in Pontremoli and also in some specimens in the Castle of San Giorgio in La Spezia.
The significant evidence of the presence of the Ligurian Apuans dates back to the Iron Age, often at the origin of the foundation of many villages in Lunigiana, from the peaks at the foot of the “Apuan Alps” to the sea. It is widely believed that the current Pontremoli is originally the very ancient Apua, the city of the Ligurians. In even more recent finds on Monte Caprione behind Lerici, the testimonies of this proud population of invincible warriors, partly contaminated in their customs by the Celts and Etruscans, are particularly interesting. They fought fiercely against the Romans until they were defeated in 186 BC: “the Apui got tired of pursuing rather than the Romans of fleeing,” according to some historians. Following this defeat, the Ligurians were deported en masse by the Romans to Sannio, while Rome colonized Luni.
The Middle Ages was the period of most remarkable expansion and economic growth in the Lunigiana region, mainly thanks to the communication routes that connected northern Italy with the sea. Christianity also finds its way from the influential monastic abbey of Bobbio founded by San Colombano with the construction of many monasteries throughout the Lunigiana and up to the foundation of the monasteries on the Palmaria Island in Le Grazie. Oil, wood, spices, wine, and salt were transported on the Magra River and towards the sea. In this context, the dominion of the Malaspina family was born, the protagonist of the defense, with the construction of essential fortifications along all the communication routes and of the political control of the entire area. The division between the “dry branch” and the “flowery branch” of the family dates back to 1201, divided by the course of the River Magra. Dante’s visit dates back to 1306, hosted in Lunigiana by the Malaspina dello Spino Fiorito to sign a vital Peace that stopped the territories’ continuous divisions.
Pontremoli, Lunigiana’s capital
To take a leap into the past and understand Lungiana in a few hours, a visit to Pontremoli is ideal because it can be considered the nerve center of the historical region. Today the northernmost municipality of Tuscany, its strategic position in the foothills near the sources of the Magra, has decreed its commercial and political importance for the whole region. The Via Francigena, a pilgrimage route to Rome from northern Europe, also passes through Pontremoli; the city was called Pontremel in the archdiocese of Canterbury, from which the Via started. The 10th-century Sigerico itinerary marks the village as the 31st stage of the pilgrimage. For this reason, the religious centers of the town are significant, such as its Cathedral, with its rich Baroque architecture, and the bell tower, a symbol of the city. Some fatal historical passages are reported in the city inscriptions, such as that of Charles VIII, who sacked it during his descent into Italy to conquer the Kingdom of Naples, and the passage that Frederick II made with the prisoner Pier della Vigna, a councilor who fell into disgrace. It was in Pontremoli that Frederick tortured him until he was blinded.
Another Pontremoli’s highlight for its military and commercial importance is the Castello del Piagnaro, built as a defensive fortress by the Obertenghi in 1200. Its name references the “piagne“, a local word for the tiles used to construct the roofs. Despite having suffered countless raids, it is still in excellent condition. In addition, it preserves and exhibits the most exciting collection of Lunigiana stele statues.
An important city of trade and market, in Pontremoli, the trattorias of excellent local food are traditional, loved by all the inhabitants of the Lunigiana to taste all the local specialties, the panigacci, and the testaroli, the chestnut-based recipes. While in the characteristic historical Caffé degli Svizzeri in Art Nouveau style, a stop to taste the Amor is a must.
The famous Bancarella literary prize is held annually in Pontremoli, inspired by the bookshop tradition of Lunigiana, in particular of nearby Monteriggioni, home to renowned booksellers, among the first traveling stallholders. Other events, such as Medivalis, a historical setting festival, and the Bonfire of San Nicolò, a historical bonfire challenge between the factions of San Nicolò and San Geminiano, are very heartfelt and spectacular.
Lunigiana, cosa vedere
With its history, nature, and traditions, Lunigiana offers many possibilities for visits and stays dedicated to culture and the outdoors. Even for those who love relaxation and good food, there are numerous things to do in Lunigiana.
10 cose da fare in Lunigiana
- Visit at least one castle, for example, that of Fosdinovo, setting to one of the best-known legends of Lunigiana.
- Assaggiare i testaroli e confrontarli coi panigacci
- Taste the pattona, the castagnaccio, or other specialties of the Lunigiana cuisine based on chestnut flour
- Visit Pontremoli to understand the region’s history
- Travel it by e-bike to fully experience its nature and enjoy its beauty between mountains, sea, and rivers
- Attraversare gli Stretti di Giaredo, tra le sue bellezze naturali più impressionanti
- Try the Amor at the Café degli Svizzeri
- Visitare la Pieve di Filattiera, antichissima testimonianza dell’importanza della Via Francigena, che ospita la Statua Stele del Guerriero di Sorano
- See the Stele Statues at the Piagnaro Castle or the San Giorgio Castle in La Spezia. Eating mushrooms in a typical trattoria
- Eat locally picked Mushrooms
Prenota un Bike & Taste in Lunigiana tour
Leggende di Lunigiana, terra di mezzo
Le leggende di Lunigiana sono tantissime, alimentate dall’aura magica che si sprigiona nelle strade dei suoi borghi, nei suoi castelli. Per lo più, sono racconti di fantasmi e streghe, come accade nelle terre di mezzo che spaventano, alimentano la tensione a chi è di passaggio tra il territorio conosciuto e qullo oltre il confine, che chissà cosa riserverà.
Ecco allora che le streghe si radunano a Monti sotto una quercia detta “di Morian”, che i folletti si divertono a intrecciare le code di cavallo e fare altri dispetti, draghi e serpenti animano le notti a Licciana Nardi.
A Pontremoli, le leggende su uomini affetti da licantropia sono molto accreditate, e i racconti del Lupo Mannaro del Castello del Piagnaro sono terrificanti.
All’interno del palazzo che ospita il centro studi Malaspina di Mulazzo, si narra di terrificanti incontri con presenze misteriose, che in molti riconducono alla vicenda della sfortunata Fanciulla violata del castello di Mulazzo dal signorotto Francesco di Malaspina.