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Aulla: what to see, things to do, how to get there

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Aulla in Lunigiana

Aulla is a town in the province of Massa Carrara located in the historic region of Lunigiana. The city is located in a valley floor, at the confluence of the Magra river and the Aulella stream, not far from the border between Tuscany and Liguria.


Like many other towns in the area, Aulla also flourished during the Middle Ages, in particular when the Via Francigena established itself as one of the main connecting arteries throughout Italy.

Before then there had been a small settlement in Roman times and a Byzantine fortification located on the hill overlooking the city.

With the development of commercial traffic and the constant influx of pilgrims who used the Francigena to go to Rome, Aulla became one of the most important centers in the area.

For a long time Aulla was part of the possessions of the Malaspina family. In 1522 the fiefdom was bought by Giovanni de’ Medici, famous as Giovanni delle Bande Nere, who intended to build a personal state of him. It was he who built the Brunella Fortress, one of the symbols of Aulla, but his reign did not last long and the city returned to the Malaspina family after a few years.

In the following centuries it passed to the Centurione family of Genoa and then back to the Malaspina family. With the Restoration (after Napoleon…) it became part of the Duchy of Massa which in 1829 was incorporated by the Duchy of Modena. In 1860 it was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia and, consequently, it then became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

What to see in Aulla

The two main monuments of Aulla are the Abbey of San Caprasio and the Brunella Fortress. Both are home to interesting museums. Inside the abbey we find the San Caprasio Museum while in the fortress you can visit the Museum of Natural History of Lunigiana.

Abbey of San Caprasio

The Abbey of San Caprasio in Aulla dates back to 884 and is the oldest monument in the city. Founded by the Marquis of Tuscany Adalberto I, it was initially dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. Only from 1050 the church was dedicated to San Caprasio, who was a French hermit saint. There are no other churches dedicated to this saint in all of Tuscany. You may be wondering why in Aulla they decided to name the most important church in the city after this saint. The explanation is quite simple: according to tradition, around the 7th-8th century, some monks of the order of San Colombano brought the remains of San Caprasio to Aulla, with the aim of saving them from Saracen raids. So, since there were the remains of the saint, it was decided to name the church after him.

Today the church is very different from how it used to be. Very few traces remain of the first period, mostly concentrated in the apse basin. The abbey complex has been the subject of some archaeological excavations which have made it possible to find the remains of a seventh-century church, part of the building founded in 884 and above all the tomb of San Caprasio, thus confirming the popular tradition.

 San Caprasio Museum

The San Caprasio Museum preserves the findings of the archaeological excavations carried out at the abbey and the relics of the saint. The collection is exhibited within some rooms that are part of the abbey complex, such as the chapter house, which in itself is very interesting to visit.

It is a rather eclectic collection: visiting the museum you can admire works of art, coins, liturgical furnishings, ceramics, objects of common use and some magnificent sculpted capitals such as the one with winged dragons made by Oberto Ferlendi, sculptor and builder active between the end of the XII and the beginning of the XIII century.

For information on timetables and tickets, I refer you to the museum’s official website.

Brunella fortress

Built in the first half of the sixteenth century, the Brunella Fortress is strangely little documented as regards its foundation and in fact there are various hypotheses as to who could have built it. The most accredited one indicates Giovanni de’ Medici as the financier of the work also because the architecture of the complex refers to the style of Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, an architect very close to the Medici family.

Called Brunella (dark) because of the color of the rock on which it stands, this fortress is an admirable example of Renaissance military architecture and is also the most powerful of the fortresses in the whole of Lunigiana. The Fortezza della Brunella looks like a solid complex with a square base with solid walls reinforced by four corner towers. Like the other fortresses of that period, this one was also designed to face attacks with cannons and firearms.

Purchased in 1977 by the Italian State, the fortress is now the seat of the Lunigiana Natural History Museum.

Brunella Fortress
Brunella Fortress  (Photo by Valerio Orlandini / CC BY)

Lunigiana Natural History Museum

Housed inside the Brunella Fortress in Aulla, the Lunigiana Natural History Museum focuses on the Lunigiana landscape and the relationship between human activities, especially agricultural ones, and the natural environment. The museum itinerary develops along four exhibition rooms in which the finds are accompanied by didactic panels complete with infographics.

Things to do and what see in the surroundings of Aulla

In the surroundings of Aulla there are some medieval villages that deserve to be visited. Often these small villages are perched on the hills and each of them corresponded to a medieval castle like that of Bibola of which the remains are still visible. Another village to visit is Caprigliola where the Church of San Niccolò and the high cylindrical tower stand out. In Pellerone, on the other hand, there is one of the oldest mechanical cribs in all of Italy and also a small museum always dedicated to nativity scenes.

Via Francigena

In recent years, within everything that we could classify as “slow tourism”, more and more people have rediscovered the Via Francigena, the ancient connecting road that started from Canterbury to get to Rome. Aulla is one of the stops on this historical itinerary since the first description made by Bishop Sigeric in the year 990. In addition to the Francigena, the Lunigiana is crossed by many other paths perfect for lovers of trekking and mountain biking.

Other places to visit in Lunigiana

Lunigiana, like every other part of Tuscany, is full of interesting places to visit. Here there are several historic villages, castles and naturalistic beauties. Among the most interesting hamlets to visit are Fosdinovo, Fivizzano, Licciana Nardi, Villafranca, Bagnone, Mulazzo and Pontremoli.

How to get to Aulla

Aulla is located about 32 kilometers from Carrara, 35 from Massa, 75 from Lucca and 140 from Florence.

Aulla has the train station which is not in the historic center but it is not very far either.

Here the regional trains arrive that make the Lucca-Aulla route in about 2 hours (it takes so long because they make many stops). Aulla can also be reached by train from Florence, however the travel time is around 2 and a half hours; half an hour is enough from the Massa Centro and Carrara stations.

Those traveling by car, whether coming from the north or south, must take the A15 motorway to the Aulla exit. If, on the other hand, you are starting from Florence, you must take the A11 towards the sea and then continue on the A15.

Where to sleep in Aulla

In Aulla and its surroundings there are many farmhouses, hotels and holiday homes where you can sleep.

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