Map of Lunigiana
Map of Lunigiana

At the beginning of the second millenium, Europe was covered from a multitude of pilgrims towards the sacred places of the Christian religion. Three were the poles of attraction: Rome, the Gerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. One of the most important road leading to Rome was the Francigena Way or Romea Way. The memory of the Francigena Way was saved by great pilgrims of the past, the most famous and the first in describing it, Sigerico, Archbishop of Canterbury. He records his pilgrimage throguh eighty steps from Rome until England, and in particular the six stages passing through Lunigiana: the monastry of San Benedetto next to the step of the Cisa (Montelungo), Puntrembel (Pontremoli), Aguilla (Aulla), Santo Stefano, Sanctam Mariam de Sardena (Sarzana) and finally the Luni.
The Francigena Way was the most important road in Italy of the Middle Ages. The Longobards chose it as strategic axis for the conquest of byzantin dominions. In fact, its original denomination, "Via di Monte Bardone", came from "Mons Langabardorum". From Pavia, center of the italic reign, to Rome, the Appennine route of the step of the Cisa, (coinciding with the step of the longobard mount Bardone), was an obligatory choice for the Longobards. The coastal roads, Aurelia, Flaminia, Emilia and the inner one, Cassia, in the byzantin Esarcate territories were too dangerous. The Longobards kings ensured the safeness of the way through the foundation of monastries and abbeys, controlling politically and administratively the territory and at the same time, giving "spiritual" services and first recovery to the pilgrims.
From the IX century, this road was called Via Francesca, coming from the reign of the Francs, and then took the new denomination of Francigena. The importance of the pilgrimage, related to the deep spirituality of the Middle Ages, contributed to the development of the Way under the cultural profile, creating an encounter of languages and people.
In Lunigiana, the Francigena Way began passing the step of the Cisa, reaching Montelungo, where the Monastery of San Benedetto, today destroyed, offered ospitality. It came down then to Pontremoli, where in the church of San Pietro is still conserved a fragment in sandstone representing the Maze, symbol of the pilgrimages. The road headed towards Filattiera, throug Ponticello, with the pieve di Sorano and the church of San Giorgio. Here there is a stone with an epigraph of the VIII century, witnessing the passing of the pilgrims. From Filattiera, the Francigena Way continued to Villafranca, where the Malaspina family imposed heavy tolls for the passage at the Malnido castle, today in ruins. In Fornoli, overpassed Villafranca, there is still a walkable part of the old pavement near "la Chiesaccia". The Francigena coasted then the Magra river reaching Aulla and then entering Santo Stefano Magra and then into Luni, passing for Avenza and finally to Massa.