Lunigiana: a borderland, a land of castles
Lunigiana is a historic region located between Liguria and Tuscany, in the most northwestern area of our region. The Lunigiana territory develops along the course of the Magra river between the province of Massa Carrara and La Spezia, closed between the sea, the Apennines and the Apuan Alps. This has always been a borderland where stories and cultures have converged, creating unique traditions such as the dialect spoken by those who live here, very different from those of the rest of Tuscany, and also the culinary tradition is unique.
The name Lunigiana originates from that of the ancient city of Luna (Luni). Founded by the Romans in 177 BC, Luni over the centuries acquired such importance as to determine the name of the entire region. There is an infinite number of things to say about the history of Luni, because this city was a very important port, it was a bishopric, it was long disputed by the barbarians, the Byzantines, the Lombards and was also the victim of an earthquake. The ruins of the ancient city have been studied for a long time by archaeologists and today they are part of the tour of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Luni.
The history of Lunigiana does not begin with the city of Luni but well before. Already inhabited by Neanderthal man, starting from the Eneolithic (end of the 1st millennium BC) this land saw the flourishing of an ancient civilization of which the famous statue stele (statue menhir) remain, enigmatic male and female figures carved in stone. In pre-Roman times, Lunigiana was inhabited by the Apuan Ligurians who did not easily surrender to the Roman conquest even if they had to capitulate around 180 BC.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was invaded over and over again until Charlemagne handed the region over to the Adalberti family. These were followed by the Obertenghi and the Malaspina from which a large number of small more or less independent marquisates originated. And so, on the mountain ranges and along the Via Francigena, dozens of castles and fortresses began to pop up like mushrooms that still characterize the Lunigiana.
What to see in Lunigiana
Off the beaten track and away from the chaos of the great cities of art, Lunigiana is a land rich in history and tradition, a welcoming land, full of places to visit with some of the most interesting castles in all of Tuscany, beautiful villages historical and a luxuriant and uncontaminated nature.
Let’s start immediately talking about Fosdinovo, a pretty town located in the southernmost part of Lunigiana. Capital of one of the many fiefdoms held by the various branches of the Malaspina family, Fosdinovo has one of the most beautiful castles in the whole region. The Castello Malaspina is undoubtedly the main point of interest in the hamlet and is certainly one of the main attractions of the whole area. Born with purely military purposes, the castle over the centuries has been transformed into a stately home while retaining the typical characteristics of medieval castles. Among other things to see in Fosdinovo are the Chiesa di San Remigio, the Oratorio dei Bianchi and the Museo audiovisivo della Resistenza, focused on the events that involved the city during the Second World War.
Aulla is one of the most populous cities of Lunigiana (the largest among the Tuscan ones) and already in medieval times, before the year 1000, it began to grow thanks to its strategic position and the presence of the Via Francigena (Aulla is one of the stages mentioned in the itinerary of Sigeric of 990). In the center of the city is the Abbazia di San Carpasio which was founded in 884 and over the following centuries acquired great importance becoming one of the most important religious centers in the area. The abbey has undergone several renovations that have profoundly changed its appearance, but it certainly deserves to be visited together with the Museo di San Carpasio where various medieval finds are preserved. Do not miss the Fortezza della Brunella, a magnificent example of military architecture from the Renaissance period. Inside the fortress there is also the Museo di Storia Naturale della Lunigiana (a natural history museum).
Fivizzano is one of the most interesting towns in the whole Lunigiana. Its territory, which largely lies between the Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Tosco-Emiliano and the Parco naturale regionale delle Alpi Apuane, is rich in attractions. During the Middle Ages the city was identified with the nearby Fortezza della Verrucola which certainly represents one of the main points of interest in the area. Among other things to see are the Piazza Medicea, the beating heart of Fivizzano, the Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Antonio, the Museo di San Giovanni and the remains of the city walls which were rebuilt in 1540 by Cosimo de’ Medici. The hamlet of Equi Terme which is a renowned spa town is also part of the municipality of Fivizzano.
Lunigiana is a land of castles and Licciana Nardi is no exception. In its municipal area there are many castles of great interest. Do not miss the mighty Castello di Bastia, with its four corner towers and the central tower, the Castello di Piano, built by the Malaspina (and who else?) in 1535, the Castello di Monti, which over time has been converted into a manor home, the Castello di Terrarossa and the lovely Castello di Licciana Nardi that can be admired during a walk in the historic center of the village.
Villafranca in Lunigiana
Villafranca is an ancient medieval town located in the heart of the valley at the confluence of the Magra river and the Bagnone torrent. Like other towns in Lunigiana, Villafranca was also severely hit during the Second World War and on that occasion also its castle, Castello di Malnido, was severely damaged. If you want to know the peasant life of the past, I suggest you visit the Museo Etnografico della Lunigiana, while in the surrounding area there are some small picturesque villages such as Filetto, Virgoletta and Malgrate where there is another castle of great impact.
We go up a little to reach the medieval village of Bagnone. Spectacularly crossed by the stream of the same name, Bagnone stands surrounded by greenery in a beautiful hilly position. Like many other towns in the area, Bagnone was also an autonomous marquisate and has its own castle. The village has a lot to offer travelers; among the main ones to see are the Museo Archivio della Memoria which brings together the documents of the municipal historical archive and those of various family archives, theChiesa di San Niccolò, the Chiesa di San Leonardo, the Oratorio di San Terenzio and obviously the Castle.
Another absolutely noteworthy center is that of Mulazzo which is located on the right side of the Magra river. This village was also the head of its own autonomous marquisate, ruled by the Ghibelline branch of the Malaspina family, called the Spino Secco, and in 1306 it hosted Dante Alighieri during his exile. Mulazzo still retains its medieval charm right from the entrance to the village through a stone door. Among the main points of interest are the so-called Torre di Dante and the Castello di Lusuolo which houses theMuseo dell’Emigrazione della Gente di Toscana. Montereggio also deserves a mention: this is a small town known as the “paese dei librai” (town of booksellers) due to some families of booksellers who periodically moved to the rest of Tuscany and northern Italy to open new bookshops.
With Pontremoli we reach the northernmost area of Lunigiana a few kilometers from the border between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. First stop on the Via Francigena in Tuscany, Pontremoli is a beautiful medieval village full of points of interest. The monuments to see are numerous: they range from the Oratorio di Nostra Donna to the Duomo, from the Torre del Casotto to the Torre del Campanone up to the Castello del Piagnaro which houses the Museo delle Statue Stele Lunigianesi. The museum is particularly interesting because it collects the famous statue menhir, which are an important testimony of an ancient culture widespread in Europe between the fourth and first millennium BC, as well as a true symbol of Lunigiana.