Pietrasanta, the little Athens of Versilia
Pietrasanta is a town located in the hinterland of Versilia in the province of Lucca. Located at a distance of 5 km from the sea and about 30 km from Lucca, Pietrasanta is famous for its artistic liveliness so as to be nicknamed “the little Athens of Versilia”. Thanks to its proximity to the marble quarries of the Apuan Alps, since the Renaissance the city has been the destination of many internationally renowned artists, from Michelangelo Buonarroti and Vasari to the more recent Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, Igor Mitoraj, Pietro Cascella, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Joan Mirò and Botero. The passage of these great masters has left the city a remarkable artistic heritage to be discovered. Even today Pietrasanta stands out for its artistic production, especially related to the processing of marble, and for this reason in recent times has jumped to the honor of the chronicles even on foreign newspapers such as the New York Times and the Telegraph.
Things to do in Pietrasanta, visiting guide
Pietrasanta has a small but well-kept historic center, rich in art and monuments. Walking through the streets and squares of this Tuscan town, you will come across many monuments and works of art and every time you come back, you will find something new.
- Rocchetta Arrighina
- Piazza del Duomo
- Archaeological Museum
- Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
- Museo dei Bozzetti
- Rocca di Sala
Our visit starts from the train station area where there are also numerous parking lots. In the square in front of the station there is a work by the artist Kan Yasuda, entitled “Chiave del Sogno” (2004), this is one of the many sculptures scattered around the city that make up the Parco Internazionale della Scultura Contemporanea (International Park of Contemporary Sculpture).
Continuing further, we quickly reach the Rocchetta Arrighina and the Porta pisana, the only city gate that has been preserved. The city had two other doors placed on the route of the Via Francigena, Porta a Massa and Porta a Lucca, but unfortunately they no longer exist. The Rocchetta Arrighina was built in 1324 by Castruccio Castracani to reinforce the defensive system of the city. Initially, the fortification was also equipped with a moat with a drawbridge and acted as the low point of a defensive system that culminated with the Rocca di Sala. The fortress was destroyed by the Florentines in 1484 and rebuilt a few years later; the last changes date back to the nineteenth century when every military function had been abandoned.
Piazza del Duomo
Passing through Porta Pisana you reach Piazza del Duomo, the heart of the historic center of Pietrasanta. The square collects most of the main points of interest of the city such as the Clock Tower, the Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum, the Museo dei Bozzetti, the Church of St. Augustine, some historic buildings such as the Palazzo Pretorio. In addition to these monuments, you can admire various statues, some of them placed for temporary installations, which make the square a real open-air museum.
Duomo of Pietrasanta
Named after San Martino, the Cathedral of Pietrasanta was built starting from the 13th century. The exterior, entirely covered in marble, is very elegant; the facade is enriched by an extraordinary rose window and opened by three beautiful portals with historiated lunettes. The interior, with three naves divided by columns and arches, is very rich. Every element is noteworthy; the nineteenth-century frescoes by Luigi Ademollo are the background to a series of works by various artists such as the marble choir, the pulpit and the devotional altarpieces made in the seventeenth century.
The bell tower, built in the first half of the 16th century but never completed, has a brick surface that in the initial project was to be covered in marble just like the Cathedral.
Also known as the Baptistery, the Oratorio di San Giacinto is located to the right of the Duomo. Inside there are two imposing baptismal fonts transferred here in the 19th century when the oratory became part of the Duomo’s work. The first of the two fonts, dated 1389, is a hexagonal basin attributed to Bonuccio Pardini. On its sides there are bas-reliefs depicting the virtues. The other baptismal font is a sixteenth-century work by Donato Benti. Inside the baptistery there are some wall paintings by Pietro Cavatorta and an altarpiece by Filippo Martelli.
Located inside the beautiful Palazzo Moroni, the Archaeological Museum exhibits finds ranging from prehistory to the Middle Ages. The museum itinerary starts from the section dedicated to the Copper Age with finds dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. such as arrowheads, daggers and other objects of daily use. Ample space is dedicated to the Etruscan period with finds from the site of San Rocchino located near Lake Massaciuccoli. Here there was an Etruscan emporium active around the fifth century BC, which has returned numerous materials. Other finds exhibited in the museum refer to the Ligurian people and to the ancient Romans. In the nearby Centro Culturale Luigi Russo, located in via Sant’Agostino 1, there is a collection of medieval and renaissance ceramics.
For further information about the museum, please visit the website of the municipality of Pietrasanta.
Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
At the end of Piazza del Duomo, just beyond the Archaeological Museum, is the Church of Sant’Agostino. Built in the fourteenth century according to the project of Antonio Pardini, the church has a beautiful marble facade with three large blind arches and a series of Gothic trilobate arches supported by small columns. In the lunette of the portal you can admire the Annunciation made by Igor Mitoraj in 2013. Next to the church there is the convent that develops around a beautiful cloister. The complex, now deconsecrated, is home to the Luigi Russo Cultural Center, the municipal library and the Museo dei Bozzetti.
Museo dei Bozzetti
The Museo dei Bozzetti (Museum of sketches) collects over 700 sketches, models and drawings of sculptures made by 350 Italian and foreign artists. The pieces on display represent the idea behind the final works. These preparatory works are themselves true works of art and in some cases come very close to the completed works. A very interesting aspect of this collection is that it allows us to see the techniques and tricks adopted by the artists during the creation phase. It is not uncommon to find signs left by the authors that indicate the changes to be made, the materials to be used or other. The museum also offers activities for children with educational workshops where they can create works and feel like little artists.
For all the information on schedules and activities of the museum I suggest you visit the official website.
Rocca di Sala
To the left of the Church of Sant’Agostino, the ascent to the Rocca di Sala begins, which is located in a dominant position on the top of a hill. At the foot of the castle is the Giant Bench which is part of the Big Bench Community Project. From the bench you can enjoy a great view of the historic center of Pietrasanta.
Built at the time of the Lombards to defend the village of Sala, along the Via Francigena, the Rocca di Sala was enlarged and strengthened in 1324 by Castruccio Castracani, at the time Lord of Lucca, with the aim of reinforcing this important center of Versilia. In 1408, Paolo Guinigi built a palace of which unfortunately few traces remain but that in the chronicles is remembered as one of the most beautiful and refined of the whole area. The fortress has a square base with four angular towers; once it was equipped with battlements, drawbridges, moats and a large central tower.
Marina di Pietrasanta
Located between Lido di Camaiore and Forte dei Marmi, Marina di Pietrasanta is one of the most famous seaside resorts of Versilia. Along its 4 km of coastline are some of the most famous clubs such as the Bussola and Twiga. Starting from the thirties of the twentieth century, Marina di Pietrasanta has seen its popularity grow as a vacation destination and still today tourism is the main economic activity of the city. In addition to the clubs and beaches, I suggest you to visit Villa La Versiliana, once a historic holiday home frequented also by the poet D’Annunzio, which today hosts the activities of the Festival La Versiliana. The villa is immersed in the magnificent Parco della Versiliana, a real green lung with an extension of 800,000 square meters.
How to get to Pietrasanta
It is not hard to reach Pietrasanta since it can be easily reached both by car and by train.
By train: Pietrasanta has its own railway station, located just a few meters from the historic center, which is regularly connected with Viareggio and other cities in Tuscany.
By car: from Florence via A11 until Lucca, then take the slip road towards Viareggio and finally the A12 towards Genoa until the Versilia exit. From there, follow direction Pietrasanta. From Milan you have to take the A1 freeway until Parma, then take the A15 until La Spezia and A12 and exit at Versilia. If you come from Rome you should take the A1 freeway until Florence and then the A11 until Viareggio and the A12 until the Versilia exit.