Tuscany Planet

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At the gates of Tuscany: things to do in Pontremoli

Pontremoli and the Via Francigena

Pontremoli is a beautiful medieval center located near the confluence of the Magra river and the Verde river, in the northern part of Lunigiana.

Defined as “key and gateway” between northern Italy and Tuscany by Emperor Federico II, Pontremoli is known as an obligatory stop on the Via Francigena since 990, as reported by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury . The history of this village is closely connected with the Via Francigena and in fact when Pontremoli began to grow, it developed it along the route of this important pilgrimage road.

Because of its important strategic position, Pontremoli has long been disputed by many Italian and foreign powers. During the fourteenth century, Malaspina, Antelminelli, Scala from Verona and the Visconti of Milan alternated as its lords. In the following centuries it first entered the orbit of France and then of Spain and Genoa, until the passage to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1650; finally, from 1847 until the Unification of Italy, Pontremoli was part of the Duchy of Parma.

Guide to visit Pontremoli

The historic center of Pontremoli winds along the two banks of the river Magra, in a succession of beautiful buildings, churches and various monuments; the main ones are:

  • Chiesa di San Giacomo d’Altopascio
  • Oratorio di Nostra Donna
  • Ponte e Torre del Casotto
  • Torre del Campanone
  • Duomo di Pontremoli
  • Castello del Piagnaro
  • Museo delle Statue Stele Lunigianesi
  • Chiesa di San Francesco
Things to do in Pontremoli
Pontremoli (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Chiesa di San Giacomo d’Altopascio

Arriving at Pontremoli by train, you immediately reach the southern and most recent part of the historic center; here, a stone’s throw from the station, we immediately find the Chiesa di San Giacomo d’Altopascio. Recently restored, the church presents is richly decorated and preserves some works including an Ascension by Giuseppe Bottani.

Oratorio di Nostra Donna

Walking through the main street to the end you’ll reach the pretty Oratorio di Nostra Donna, a beautiful example of Rococo architecture, dating back to the eighteenth century. The interior, full of stuccos and sculptures, preserves two altarpieces, Crucifixion and Madonna with Saints Cosma and Damiano, made by Alessandro Gherardini and Giuseppe Galeotti.

Oratorio di Nostra Donna in Pontremoli
Oratorio di Nostra Donna (Photo by Davide Papalini / CC BY)

On the right, a medieval pointed arch that connects the oratory to the Torre di Castelnuovo, leads to the bridge that cross the Magra and bring to the oldest part of the historic center.

Torre and Ponte del Casotto

Pontremoli is also known as the “city of bridges” and in fact in its coat of arms we find a bridge accompanied by a tower: these are the Torre and the Ponte del Casotto which are a short distance from the confluence of the Magra and the Verde rivers. Nearby there is also a beautiful public garden where you can enjoy a particular view of the city.

Torre and the Ponte del Casotto in Pontremoli
Torre and the Ponte del Casotto in Pontremoli (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Torre del Campanone

Going along the main street of Pontremoli, you reach the heart of the historic center, where we find the two central squares: Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza del Duomo. The two squares are separated by the Torre del Campanone which was once part of a defensive structure, known as the “Cacciaguerra”, which was equipped with 3 towers joined by a curtain wall. This fortification was built by Castruccio Castracani in 1332 to divide the upper part of the village (“Sommoborgo”) which was Guelph, from the lower part (“Imoborgo”) where people were Ghibelline, thus preventing clashes between the two factions.

Torre del Campanone in Pontremoli
Torre del Campanone in Pontremoli (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Duomo di Pontremoli

The Concathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was built between 1636 and 1687 on a project by Alessandro Capra, in place of the previous church of Santa Maria di Piazza. The cathedral has an elegant façade in white marble, built in the late nineteenth century, and is surmounted by a dome. The interior, in Baroque style, is very rich and features decorations and paintings ranging from the 18th to the 19th century.

Cathedral of Pontremoli
Cathedral of Pontremoli (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Castello del Piagnaro

Just beyond the Duomo, a detour on the left leads to the ascent towards the spectacular Castello del Piagnaro. Born around the tenth century, the castle was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt until the current configuration was reached with the last eighteenth-century additions. It is a beautiful fortress, very well preserved, from which you can enjoy a remarkable view of the surrounding valley and the town.

Castello del Piagnaro in Pontremoli
Castello del Piagnaro (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Museo delle Statue Stele Lunigianesi

The Museo delle Statue Stele Lunigianesi is located inside the Castello del Piagnaro; it is a very suggestive museum that tells the story of a peculiar and mysterious artistic phenomenon, that of the Stele Statues, one of the most important of European prehistory. The Stele Statues are male and female figures carved in stone between the fourth and first millennium BC. Characterized by bizarre abstract forms, these works are part of an artistic phenomenon that also extended to other European areas. Given the large number of findings made in the area, the Stele Statues are to be considered as one of the symbols of Lunigiana identity.

October-May: every day 9.30-17.30
June-September: every day 10 am-6.30pm
August: every day 10 am-7.30pm

Castle: 4 euros
Castle and Museum: 7 euros; reduced 4 euros; group 5 euros; free for disabled and children up to 6 years


Stele Statue
Stele Statue

Chiesa di San Francesco

The church of San Francesco, the parish church of Saints Giovanni and Colombano is located just outside the historic center, over the Verde stream. Founded, according to tradition, by St. Francis in 1219 and enlarged in the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, the church preserves some works such as the polychrome marble bas-relief Madonna with Child attributed to Agostino di Duccio and some paintings including St. Francis receiving the stigmata of Giambettino Cignaroli.

Chiesa di San Francesco in Pontremoli
Chiesa di San Francesco in Pontremoli (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

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