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10 things to do in Massa

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Discovering Massa

Capital of the province of Massa Carrara together with the nearby city of Carrara, Massa is a city of very ancient origins that experienced its heyday when it was the capital of the Duchy of Massa and Carrara under the government of the Malaspina and Cybo-Malaspina. The city stands at the foot of the Apuan Alps and just 5 kilometers from the sea, in an area that was inhabited even before the arrival of the Romans.

The historic core of Massa developed during the Middle Ages although it cannot be excluded that the city was built on the remains of an ancient Roman settlement. Over the centuries, many took turns in the city government; among these there were the Obertenghi, the Lucchesi, the Malaspina and Cybo-Malaspina who governed between the XV and the XIX century, Elisa Baciocchi sister of Napoleon and princess of Lucca and Piombino, and finally the Este family.

Things to do in Massa: visit to the historic center


The Duomo of Massa, or rather the Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Francesco stands at the top of a staircase a short distance from the main square of Massa. Erected in the second half of the fifteenth century, the church was originally named after only San Francesco, but in the early nineteenth century it became a collegiate church of Saints Pietro and Francesco following the demolition of the collegiate church of San Pietro which took place on the occasion of the expansion of Piazza Aranci. In 1821, when the Diocese of Massa was created, the church of San Pietro and Francesco was elevated to the rank of cathedral.

The church has a beautiful marble facade with two orders of loggias built in 1936 in neoclassical forms. Inside the Cathedral there are the tombs of the Cybo Malaspina family which are kept inside the cappella del Santissimo Sacramento and in the sepolcreto Cybo Malaspina e dei vescovi located in the basement of the cathedral.

Among the numerous works of art present, some of which come from the collegiate church of San Pietro, there are the fifteenth-century baptismal font, a Madonna part of a fresco by Pinturicchio, and a wooden crucifix of the fourteenth century.

Duomo (Photo by ALE3200 / CC BY)

Piazza Aranci

The spacious Piazza Aranci is the centerpiece of the historic center of Massa. The current shape of the square dates back to the nineteenth century when it was enlarged by Elisa Baciocchi and the orange trees from which the name of the square derives were planted; in the middle of the 19th century, the central obelisk was erected. The square has three sides surrounded by a double row of orange trees and one side occupied by the majestic Palazzo Ducale, a unique, very suggestive shape, which in the past has also affected some great writers such as Giacomo Leopardi and Giosuè Carducci.

What to see in Massa - Piazza degli Aranci, the main square of Massa
Piazza Aranci, the main square of Massa (Photo by Piergiuliano Chesi / CC BY)

Palazzo Ducale

The great Palazzo Ducale, which once belonged to the Cybo Malaspina family, occupies an entire side of the square, ennobling it with its elegant and refined shapes and decorations. Today the seat of public offices and partially open to visitors, the palace was built starting from the 16th century and has a style between the Renaissance and the Baroque. The whole structure is organized around a large central courtyard which leads to the so-called ninfeo, an environment in which there is a fountain embellished with a statue of Neptune riding the waves. The palace is often also used as an exhibition venue.

What to see in Massa - Palazzo Ducale
Palazzo Ducale in Massa (Photo by Piergiuliano Chesi / CC BY)

Museo Diocesano

Inaugurated in 2003, the Museo Diocesano of Massa is hosted in the Palazzo dei Cadetti located in Via Alberica. The museum preserves numerous works of art, goldsmiths, sacred vestments and various furnishings from the churches of the diocesan territory and in particular from the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Francis. Among the most important works we find a San Leonardo by Jacopo della Quercia, the Pietà by Felice Palma and a stationary cross attributed to Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Piazza Mercurio

Not far from Piazza Aranci and the Museo Diocesano, we find another beautiful historic square, really full of charm: Piazza Mercurio. Once known as Piazza del Pozzo for the presence of a well that was at its center, Piazza Mercurio owes its current name to the statue of the god Mercury which is located on top of a column placed in the center of the square, right above the fountain. All around the square you can admire several beautiful colorful buildings, including the Palazzo Bourdillon, and the Chiesa di San Giovanni decollato, which was built between 1639 and 1641. Piazza Mercurio is one of the symbolic places of Massa, home to the market and one of the main meeting places in the historic center, if you are looking for a place to relax and have a drink, you are in the right place.

Rifugio antiaereo della Martana

Now let’s leave the beauties of the city behind us and take a dip in one of the darkest periods in the history of Italy …

During the Second World War, Massa was on the Gothic Line, where the German army had built its fortifications in an attempt to stop the advance of the allies and for this reason, between September 1944 and April 1945, the the city was heavily bombed by the Anglo-American army until its release on April 10, 1945.

In anticipation of these clashes, some bunkers were built between 1942 and 1943 to protect the civilian population during the bombing. One of these bunkers is the rifugio antiaereo della Martana which is located in the historic center in via Bigini near Piazza Mercurio. This refuge, a rare example of a bunker that can be visited in Tuscany, is a great engineering work with a gallery over 400 meters long, entirely carved out of the rock, which was capable of hosting a few thousand people. The visit to the structure allows us to understand, also thanks to the support of audiovisual materials, what was the situation in which the civilian population found themselves during the conflict and how dramatic those moments were.

Castello Malaspina

The steep climb towards the Castello Malaspina begins near Piazza Mercurio. Small curiosity: the road leading to the castle (via Piastronata) is part of one of the tracks of the via Francigena.

The castle is composed of various structures that occupy the top of a relief in a dominant position over the town. The current complex is the result of various construction phases that over the centuries have completely changed the appearance of the fortress. The first nucleus of the castle was built in the 10th century by the Obertenghi who built a first tower and a curtain wall. Later, the castle was enlarged by Castruccio Castracani and was finally revolutionized by the Malaspina family, who built a large Renaissance residence between the 15th and 16th centuries.

The Malaspina Museum is definitely an unmissable stop on a tour in Massa. For all information on visiting hours and tickets, I refer you to the official web site.

Things to do in Massa visit the Castle Malaspina in Massa
Castle Malaspina in Massa (Photo by Davide Papalini / CC BY)

Teatro Guglielmi

The Teatro Guglielmi was built in 1886 according to the project of the famous architect Vincenzo Micheli. Named after Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi, the most illustrious musician from Massa, the theater is one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole city and has a beautiful neoclassical facade with a large porch that supports a loggia. The interior has an elliptical shape and is structured in three tiers of boxes, with a large upper gallery.

Chiesa della Madonna del Monte

The Chiesa della Madonna del Monte was built starting from 1589 and is part of the urban and architectural reorganization works of the city commissioned by Prince Alberico Cybo Malaspina. The official name would be the Chiesa della Beata Vergine della Visitazione, but it is commonly called the Church of the Madonna del Monte because it is located at the foot of Monte di Pasta.

The building is very elegant and has a beautiful facade marked by pillars and columns with Corinthian capitals that support a tympanum. The interior has a nave on whose walls there are 4 chapels with altars dedicated to Sant’Agostino, San Nicola da Tolentino, the Santissima Trinità and the Madonna del Buon Consiglio.

Villa della Rinchiostra

The beautiful Villa della Rinchiostra was built as a hunting lodge but in 1675 it was transformed into a country villa at the behest of Teresa Pamphili, wife of Carlo II Cybo-Malaspina. The owners who have followed one another over the centuries have made improvements to the villa and above all to the garden and park which have been enriched with various elements that are only partially visible today. Villa la Rinchiostra is a magnificent three-storey building that somehow recalls the Palazzo Ducale because of some architectural elements and as regards the use of the contrast between the red and the white color. Inside the villa there is an interesting museum dedicated to the sculptor Gigi Guadagnucci.

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