Lunigiana is an Italian historical region, mainly located in Tuscany, but divided today by the border between Liguria and Tuscany, running a few miles from La Spezia. It takes its name from the ancient Roman city of Luni, situated not far from where today is Sarzana, at the mouth of the river Magra which flows through the region. Despite the short course of the river, the Val di Magra offers very different scenarios, from the mountains near the source, to the wide valley of its middle and lower reaches, the large estuary at the mouth.
Historically the Val di Magra is identified with the Lunigiana, but long-standing issues on its borders have created a lot of confusion: we reckon it can be stated that the Magra valley corresponds to the lower historical Lunigiana. The current administrative divisions have not deleted common traditions and customs, which identify the whole valley. But here you will find also a middle land bewtween two different cultures, the Liguria and the Toscana ones, joined together after centuries of wars for the predominance upon an area which used to be of the most strategic importance for the whole peninsula: communications routes taking from northern Italy to the sea were already outlined by ancient Romans.
Lunigiana is the ideal place to be for those who love tranquillity, beautiful incontaminated nature, well preserved ancient villages, who love history and traditions, amazing food and wine. If you like Tuscany, but long to be in a not too touristic place, this northern stretch hasn’t been discovered yet by the mainstream of vacationers visiting Italy. In the hot Italian summer, Lunigiana gives you shelter from the heat, especially at evenings. Besides, in Lunigiana you can join hiking in the mountains, with the most suggestive view of the sea and of the Carrara Marble quarries, as well as swim in the beautiful sea at the mouth of the valley and in the closeby Cinque Terre. It’s the best place to be in Tuscany with a car, allowing you to discover its hundred ancient castles, the villages perched on the hills and ancient parish churches unfolding according to a single thread that leads from Pontremoli down to Ameglia, following the route of the Via Francigena and its variants.
- By car: you can reach in different ways several places in the Val di Magra, depending on the starting point. Sarzana is situated on the A12 highway, and the Aurelia road leading to the sea here.
- By train: Important railway stations are the one of Sarzana and Santo Stefano Magra
Sarzana is a small city about 13 miles from La Spezia, a place with a long ancient history, a vivid cultural life, many great restaurants and clubs, worth to see when you get around La Spezia.
Sarzana can be easily reached by train or by bus from the center of La Spezia, if you have a car you can get there in a very short time and spend the night there. It can be a good idea to stay in Sarzana and be based there to visit La Spezia and its surroundings, also to reach the nearby Val di Magra and upper Tuscany.
Sarzana, as a matter of fact, is very close to Tuscany and is a point of partition between Liguria and Toscana administrative regions. If you have to chance to look at Sarzana from above and compare it with the La Spezia Riviera, you can clearly see the very different shorelines and landscapes, one sandy, linear and flat, the other jagged, high and rocky. The ufficial border is also the geophysic one, and is one of the aspects making this region so rich and varied. The view of the brigh white Apune Alps in the distance, sit of the Carrara marble quarries, is a unique frame to the whole picture.
The natural and political borderline always marked the history of the city, theater to many battles for the rule of this important center, crossroad of many commercial and pilgrim roads, such as the Roman Aurelia and the Via Francigena.
The birth and development of Sarzana are likely to be linked with the decline of the Roman port of Luni, which around year 1000 was rapidly depopulated following the changed geographical conditions (the formation of ponds and marshes, bearers of malaria). For these reasons, the Luni people preferred to move into the nearby village of Sarzana, in rapid expansion.
In 1204 the Bishop Residence was transferred from Luni to Sarzana, to which Bishops guaranteed a relatively broad independence, before the city was subjected to the dominion of the various neighbor lords.
Castruccio Castracani, lord of Lucca, dominated the city from 1314 to 1328; after various events, which saw the Pisani, the Visconti, the Genoese and the Florentines contend for the domination of Sarzana, the latter, in 1487, led by Lorenzo the Magnificent, who defeated the Genoese.
Later Sarzana returned again under the rule of the “Superbe” Republic of Genoa, under which it remained for two centuries. This is why it became part of Liguria, despite its slightly different culture, architecture and traditions from the rest of Ligurian cities.
Sarzana gastronomy, for example, is an evidence of the borderline nature of the city: influenced by Parma, from which over the centuries commerce roads of Lunigiana led to te sea right through Sarzana. Panigacci, Testaroli, the different kind of Focaccia bread are perhaps the strongest sign of a different Liguria identity in here.
To be mentioned, in the history of Sarzana, the date of 21 July 1921, which saw the city rise up against the fascist violence; bent but not defeated, Sarzana fiercely renewed its commitment to the anti-fascist struggle for liberation during fascism in many ways.
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