The Via Francigena

Following the same route described over 1000 years ago by Sigeric, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it’s possible today to make a similar journey, a truly moving experience through history, nature and traditions.

Arriving from northern Europe, passing through the Alps, the Po valley plain and finally the Apennine mountain range we arrive in Lunigiana, with its green hills, clustered villages, medieval castles and Romanesque pievi (churches). From Pontremoli to Aulla and from here over to the city of Sarzana, one of the most important stops along the Via Francigena, the relocated focal point of the territory’s culture and religion, heir of the ancient Roman town called Luni.

Today’s Via Mazzini in Sarzana crosses the town lined with stores, cafés and restaurants. It is the original via Aurelia, the much traveled pilgrim road leading to Rome.

Two ancient Romanesque churches, Sant’Andrea and Santa Maria stand as majestic and silent testimonies, each facing the street as if to welcome worshipers into their quiet havens, offering a moment for peace and quiet in prayer and meditation, admiring the works of art conserved within, leaving the noisy town outside.

But the road ahead is long and you must keep walking. The most difficult routes are already behind you and the road proceeds along the plain of Luni, through farm fields, vineyards,  small villages and newer construction. If you have decided to try the true experience, walking with your backpack, through these very same places as the pilgrims did in past centuries, moving along you can imagine the analogies and differences comparing your travels to their journey.  Following the signs, in about an hour and a half you will arrive at the archaeological area of the ancient Roman city Luni, where all the roads here once passed. Among these ruins that now lay still like sleeping warriors, you can still breathe the art and culture of a flourishing civilization where the history of Lunigiana was born.

The green hilltops of Luni are right in front of you, not far away you can almost hear the sound of soft waves lapping the in the port, shaped  like a half moon – hence the poetic name of this territory (moon=luna). Your walk can continue along the old via Emilia Scauri over to the town of Avenza, where Castruccio’s tower sits imposingly in its moat, a testimony to the presence of a powerful fortress that Castruccio Castracani built in the 14th century to defend the ships that were sailing from the nearby port towards the Holy Land.

From here the candid summits of the Apuan Alps will follow your route until you reach Massa, a town dominated by a majestic fortress built by the Malaspina family, one of the most fascinating and well conserved castles in all of Lunigiana. To reach the castle you must momentarily abandon the pilgrim route but we can imagine they themselves were also amazed by its beauty enough to make a brief detour. From the green hill top where the fortress stands you have one of the best views of the entire Via Francigena. Behind you the extraordinary chain of the Apuan Alps, with their suggestive marble quarries and below is the elegant city of Massa, with its churches, palaces, and large plazas, while in front of you the view extends out to sea and the Magra river delta where the two regions Liguria and Tuscany meet.

This part of the Via Francigena, in Lunigiana, is a longer and different trail that awaits you with lush greenery dominating the valleys that succeed one another along the course of the Magra river, a more naturalistic excursion framed by the blue of sky and sea and the stark white marble quarries on the mountain tops and occasionally the medieval architecture of the towns.


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