The slow pace and the particular atmosphere that is always created during a walk allows to appreciate unknown landscapes, to capture the saturated colors of the countryside when the season is full or the thousands of shades in the passes of time, to enter slowly in the noise, in the tightest rhythms, in the flow of people you meet when crossing a city or a town.
In its stretch of Lucca, the Francigena route goes along the coast, climb up to the hills, then goes down again to Lucca and continues through the plain until Altopascio, the ancient monastery of the mighty knight monks of the Tau Order. Along this route, there are absolutely not-to- miss places, where to stop a little bit more to know the history of the route and its more contemporary aspects.
The Francigena route enters Lucca territory in Seravezza, in that historic Versilia whose memories are related to the extraction and processing of apuan marbles. A privileged space between the mighty and precious Apuane Alps and the fascinating lights of Versilia. The Medicians, Lords of Tuscany and Michelangelo himself, lived here in search of the "perfect marble" for their monuments.
The Medici Area, UNESCO site, is just off the village, along the river. At its center the Medicean Palace, with its Park and the former Grand Ducal Stables, hosting today's international exhibitions and events.
Headtown of the Versilia and international reference for marble and bronze work, Pietrasanta has become the elective home of sculptors from all over the world. In the historical center, with the characteristic regular design of the founding cities, Apuani sculpture and marble dominate everywhere: the Cathedral of San Martino (13th-14th century) is a true "sample" of marble and master crafts, from the stairs of the pulpit carved from a single block to the small fishes that "swim" in the water fonts. On the main square, which houses year-round exhibitions of the greatest international contemporary sculptors, dominates the rustic bell tower whose interior has an extraordinary helix stair which has remained almost unknown for about five hundred years. Other little treasures are the frescoes of the gates Hell and Paradise made at the church of Misericordia by Bolivian artist Fernando Botero and the centaur of the piazzetta by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj, honored citizens ... in the footsteps of Michelangelo.
Not far from Pietrasanta, a testimony to the passage of Via Francigena is the little Parrish church of saints John and Felicita of Valdicastello, which has had great importance for the territory of Versilia for centuries.
The first construction probably dates back to the XI-XII sec. but it has undergone several renovations over the times.
In the decorations of the church's architectural elements, some of the characters are seen, including a "traveling companion" with his stick and a hat.
Camaiore Museum of Sacred Art is housed in the building, near the church, once dedicated to pilgrims and travelers. A small building with remarkable works of sacred art from the churches of the countryside. Wooden sculptures, painted plates and precious ore crafts, 18th century wooden stalls, a large Flemish tapestry of 1516 and numerous paintings, wooden processional kits, liturgical parrots, silver sacred furnishings made by the most important eighteenth-century lucchese shops and enamel glasses of Sienese culture, cantilevered crosses. But it is worth visiting the small, beautiful wooden Madonna Annunziata, attributed to Matteo Civitali.
Just outside Camaiore two small churches remark important moments of the local history. The Pieve di Santo Stefano, now visible in the aspect assumed in the XII sec. but cited in a bishop's parchment of the year 817, it was the mother church or the first church with a baptismal font from which Christianity spread to Camaiore and the territory.The Badia di San Pietro. The foundation of the abbey by Benedictine monks dates back to at least the eighth century. In the following centuries, the abbey became an important complex consisting of the church, the bell tower, the arch, the cemetery and a cloistered monastery.
It's time to go down to the plain.
Valpromaro is an important milestone in the Tuscan Francigena for its position halfway between Camaiore and Lucca and for its numerous and organized services it offers is the Pilgrim Hostel open all year round and is run by volunteers in the village. The village is small but equipped with all the amenities for travelers with the spirit of the pilgrim. A small grocery, post office, pharmacy, and host of nightclubs, moments of sharing, and the "real" atmosphere of the Francigena, before heading to Lucca.
Modern walkers encounter a very different landscape than their predecessors. The Hospital of San Michele Arcangelo in Contesora, located between Piazzano and San Macario in Piano, was demolished in 1944 by German troops while the Church has undergone many changes over time.
The atmosphere, however, remains evocative and could not be different because of centuries the Church had welcomed pilgrims and travelers moving along the Via Francigena.
An inscription on the Church and Hospital facade reminds the founders, Ugolino and his wife, during the reign of Federico Barbarossa and the papacy of Alexander III in 1175. The rector of the Hospital was obliged to keep three beds in separate rooms to accommodate men and women, and nurture them for 3 days without asking for rewards and providing the burials of the dead. From here, the legends of the processions of the dead who have kept babies awake for centuries, before the contemporary monsters.
And here we are in Lucca.
Lucca became a fundamental milestone on the Via Francigena also for the presence of the crucifix known as the "Holy Face", one of the most venerated symbols of medieval Christianity, whose cult was spread throughout Europe by the lucchese merchants together with the precious silk worked in the town's manufactures.
The Holy Face, narrates the legend, was carved by Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin and a disciple of Jesus who, with Joseph of Arimathea, laid him in the sepulcher. The face of the Messiah, impossible to reproduce from human hands, would have been found already miraculously carved.
For divine intervention, the crucifix would then come to Lucca and be kept in the Cathedral.
The Renaissance wall is another of the symbols of Lucca. Built in the 16th century and used as an urban park in the nineteenth century, they enclose the historic center and play an important role for citizens who spend 4 km on leisure in the shade of secular trees between sports or leisure activities. From the Wall you can see the most famous city towers: Guinigi Tower, the characteristic tree-top, and the Clock Tower.
Leave Lucca, the path continues through the plain.
In a Lucca document of 745 it is told of a Lombard priest who founded in "Capannole", about six kilometers from Lucca, a chapel and a hospice to help pilgrims on their way. Capannori was then developed around the church of Santi Quirico and Giuditta of 786, as well as all the numerous fractions of this which is one of the largest rural municipalities in Italy constituting one of the most interesting concentrations of rural religious architecture of Tuscany.
In the heart of the "padule", the "Smarrita", the great bell tower of the Church of San Jacopo di Altopascio, was for a long time the reference point for the pilgrims who left Lucca on their way along the Francigena. Its size and the sound of the bells helped all those who got lost by mistake or because of the mist and hence its nickname.
San Jacopo was built in 1100, during the peak of the Order of Hospitallers who protected and welcomed the pilgrims into a remarkable Hall of Fame, whose traces are well visible in the Hospitallers Square offering refreshment, medical care and a fragrant bread which has remained in the local tradition.
Near Altopascio Badia Pozzeveri was for centuries the active Camaldolese abbey of St. Peter.
Since 2011 the archaeological area around the splendid ancient abbey church of this evocative place has become the venue for lectures and exercises of the Master in Bioarchaeology, Paleopathology and Forensic Anthropology of the Universities of Bologna, Pisa and Milan and the Puppet Field School in Medieval Archaelogy and Bioarchaelogy, an international school hosted by Ohio State University students and the University of Pisa.