the via francigena (or via romea) - an alternative pilgrim route to rome

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  The "Via Francigena"  

An Alternative Pilgrim Route to Rome for the Jubilee in 2000

The Via Francigena or Via Romea was first documented in 990 by Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Diary regarding the places he passed through as he returned to Canterbury after receiving from the Pope, the "pallium", a circular band of white wool with pendants, worn by archbishops over the chasuble. The roads that Sigeric followed became known as the Via Francigena (the road to France) or "Via Romea" (the road to Rome) and was for centuries used by merchants, prelate, soldiers and pilgrims traveling back and forth from the north of Europe to Rome and Jerusalem carrying ideas as well as money and produce. These people travelled on foot, or on mules and horses, rarely by cart as the conditions of the road varied continually.
The road was built and maintained by the local lords, because it was not constructed with the idea of connecting places of great importance and distance like the Roman road, was a series of local paths and trails of various widths and various materials, which linked mountain passes, bridges, ferry boats and villages. However, there were two outstanding characteristics; the first being the location of the places where one could find refuge for the night, closer in distance if the travelling was difficult and wider apart if the going was easier. The second was the constant danger involved in a trip of great distance; bandits, difficult terrain, animals and health problems. In fact, because of the constant dangers involved there was a ritual, regarding the preparations, to be observed if one undertook a pilgrimage. Usually the pilgrims were men, but women could undertake the trip as well. The person had to pay their debts, make a testament, receive from his local clergy his pilgrim dress, ask forgiveness of anyone who he might have offended and then say goodby to everyone before leaving.
Many things were specified in the testament, for example; his heirs, the purpose of his trip, the length of time he was supposed to be away, and the places he was supposed to visit. This last item was prooved his return by the "souvenirs" he brought back. In case the pilgrim had not returned after the length of time he was supposed to be away, plus one year and a day, his property was given to his heirs. The testament was followed by his being dressed and blessed by his local clergy or Bishop. Doing this the person entered into the "Order" of the pilgrims and he probably wore a kind of habit which consisted in the XI Century of a pilgrim staff which was a stout stick with a metal point, of a long dress of rough texture and dark colour and a leather bag which hung at his waist and which he used for food and money. This outfit also had various symbolisms attached to it; for example: the staff, the dress and the bag represented Faith, Hope and charity as well as having been blessed, protected him against the temptations of the devil etc.
The Souvenirs brought back were usually small items or symbols of some kind that could be shown off as proof of where he had travelled; for example the shell from Santiago, the palm of Gerico, or little lead figures of the patron saints of the places visited.
The diary of Sigeric begins in Rome and precedes north to Canterbury, but because this is a route we are suggesting to the "pilgrims", or other travellers of the year 2000 who wish to travel to Rome for the Jubilee, we will begin to illustrate it from the north to the south.
Today the Via Francigena enters Tuscany at the Cisa Pass in the area called Lunigiana north of Pontremoli and goes south toward Acquapendente in Lazio passing through Lucca and Siena. It is still possible to follow approximately the ancient road and to find refuge in most of the same villages mentioned by Sigerico. The route passes through four distinctive geografical areas where the landscape, the building materials and the gastronomic traditions follow their own local traditions occasionally reflecting the medieval influences.
The first of these four areas begins at the Cisa Pass, the crossing point from the Emilia Romagna Region into the Tuscany Region, north of Pontremoli in the Appennine mountains, and follows the valley of the Magra river down to Aulla and Sarzana. This area is called Lunigiana, after the roman port city of Luni, today an archeological site, where marble was sent by ship to the rest of the world similar to the port of Carrara today. Sarzana, further inland, became an important intersection where the Roman road, called Aurelia, and the Francigena met. This area is characterized by castles, walled medieval villages and isolated monasteries, constructed primarily of the gray calcare stone found locally. These places are never of great size and were built on the steep slopes of the mountains along the principal road and were easily defended. All around these locations there are woods, small tributaries and natural caves. Certainly of unique beauty.
The second area begins at Sarzana and goes past Lucca to Altopascio. The principal characteristic is that the road hugs the foot of the Apuane mountains and stays inland from the Sea coast. The main towns one sees are Sarzana (were they have an antique fair in August), Carrara, Massa and Pietrasanta, all in the marble working area, Camaiore which is the only village mentioned by Sigeric after Luni. It is a flat area with hills just before Lucca and was dotted with numerous churches, abbeys and hospitals. The most famous being the Abbey of Camaiore, which goes back to the 8th century and certainly where Sigeric stayed. Lucca was already an important city at the time of Sigeric as it was under the seat of the Duchty. Within the walled city of Lucca the traveller today can visit many different kinds of museums, churches, particularly the Cathedral where there is a very venerated crucifix said to be the real face of Christ. Lucca is also the starting point for trekking in the famous Garfagnana area where many foreigner artists and musicians have settled. This section ends at Altopascio which was, at the time of Sigeric, a very large center for the tourists/pilgrims with places of refuge and hospitals.
The third area is the longest segment of the Francigena and runs from Altopascio, down to Fucecchio, and on to Siena passing through Castelfiorentino, Certaldo, Poggibonsi, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni before it arrives in Siena. The road goes through very open lands near Fucecchio, which were at one time swamps and which is still the crossing point of the Arno river, or rolling hills beginning near Castelfiorentino. All the cities were walled and the Medieval atmosphere is kept intact by the narrow streets, gates and the buildings made with the local sand stone. Often there an old part and a more modern part. The northern part of this segment has always got small industries related to the tanning of leather and the southern part is dedicated to the production of wheat, wine and olives. If one stops around Fucecchio it is possible to take several trips to places such as Galleno, to see the longest recuperated stretch of the original Via Francigena (ll50 meters) or to Vinci the home of Leonardo, or Coiano mentioned by Sigeric, but today out of the way. The food is good and so is the local wine. After Fucecchio one goes near San Miniato, a medieval village, through Castelfiorentino, Certaldo, Poggibonsi and San Gimignano. This last mentioned village is a very famous medieval walled city, today very active, famous for the towers of the 13th Cent., and the Collegiata, where Ghirlandaio painted the chapel dedicated to the local saint, Santa Fina. Here again there are many places to visit; museums churches and in the area some of the finest vineyards. Not far away there is Montelupo known for is pottery and ceramics. Then one proceeds to Colle Val d'Elsa, famous for its glass and crystal industry as well as for its historical past. Monteriggioni, another walled town, so small that it seems like it was just placed there for you to visit. This is where one can again begin trekking and in fact there are remains of the via Francigena, near here as well.
The fourth area begins in Siena and goes south to Abbadia San Salvatore. The geography is quite distinctive; the open rolling hills planted with golden wheat, the gray balze and some of the most famous monasteries and great Abbeys are located in this area. Siena has always been an important political, economic and cultural area, and differs from the rest of the Tuscan cities in that it received many influences from France. The area is so worth a visit that like Sigeric, a stay of a few days will just not be enough.
From Siena south the Via follows close to the Cassia, another of the old roman roads. A visit to Isola d'Arbia, Buonconvento Montalcino and San Quirico d'Orcia are all places of interest. However the last two stops of Sigeric, Bagno Vignoni and Abbadia San Salvatore, are the most spectacular. Bagno Vignoni is where for centuries people have gone for health cures because the sulfur water baths. The Abbey of San Salvatore is the best conserved of the medieval villages with a great Abbey attached, it was already famous in the 8th century.
In conclusion, as an alternative road from the super highways the Via Francigena is well worth the trip, and is an excellent way to see what Tuscany is really like. The food and wine is of the best. According to our calculations it would take 5 and a half hours to go from Pavia to Acquapendente, well beyond our scope, but I would suggest at least 5 days, as there is so much to take in and assimilate. It is restful because the roads pass through the country side, and offer places for picnics and time for doing nothing but musing about the views. Some of the most important Italian artists and poets came from these places such as Leonardo, Boccaccio and Petrarca. Popes and bankers have donated libraries, decorated churches and founded schools, which make it today one of the most cultural areas you can visit and certainly a place you will never forget. We have discovered that the poeple living in this area are very proud of their heritage and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. This is in itself a recommendation.<
In addition we just want to mention that there are also areas where one can observe botanical species not known out of certain small area, such as the Apuane mountains or the swamps from Massaciuccoli (Puccini's home) to Bientina and Fucecchio. Or sourthern Tuscany where wild-pigs, foxy and porcupines abound as well as deers and other animals. There is more to Tuscany east of the super highway around Arezzo and Assisi and to the west around Grosseto there is the famous Maremma. So on your next trip there is still more to see in Tuscany.

Gastronomic specialties:

Sfoglia di farina e castagne, testaroli, ravioli di bietole e vitello, capretto arrosto, funghi ripieni.

Ravioli al branzino, spaghetti con le seppie, sugo di verdura, cacciucco.

Minestra di farro e legumi, torta di ceci, dolci di castagne, buccellato.

Pinci, polenta con aringhe e pecorino, zuppa pasqualina, panforte.

Crespelle, polenta.

Piatti al tartufo.

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