The Most Important Road of the Middle Ages, from Canterbury to Rome
Pietrasanta’s thirteenth-century foundation occurred at a special time in Italy’s history, the passage from one period to a new one: the end of the feudal period (represented in Pietrasanta by the expulsion of the aristocratic lords of Corvaia and Vallecchia) and the establishment of municipal power.
Pietrasanta had considerable importance in the Middle Ages.
The town, founded by Lucca and originally under its domination, became the object of dispute and conquest by the republics of Pisa, Genoa and Florence, and was subjected to the alternating sovereignty of these four city-states, not only through countless wars but also transactions in which Pietrasanta was bought and sold.
Guiscardo founded Pietrasanta because Lucca needed to expand and also to control the coast and the Via Francigena.
The reason why Lucca and neighbouring municipalities had a long struggle over Pietrasanta was their desire to take possession of a territory that was crucial for its strategic-military position and economic importance, due to the presence of the major ancient sea port of Motrone (where now is Marina di Pietrasanta), of rich mining resources such as iron and silver, of agricultural resources, and for being crossed by the most important road of the Middle Ages, the Via Francigena.
The Via Francigena (or Via Romea) was the main route of travel, transit, trade and pilgrimage of the Middle Ages and the principal artery connecting Northern Europe with the Mediterranean. It was – and is, as it still exists – partially based on the previous Roman road network which, after the decline of the Roman Empire, had undergone a remarkable degradation.
As early as in Roman times, the Cassia, Clodia and Aemilia Scauri (or Aurelia Nuova) Roads converged in the Tuscan city of Lucca. When the Longobards made Lucca the capital of Tuscia, the city gained considerable importance as a road link between Padania in Italy’s north and the central-southern Dukedoms of Spoleto and Benevento. It is during the Longobard domain that Via Francigena came to acquire its definite form. After the Franks of Charlemagne conquered the Longobard (or Lombard) Kingdom, and since the tenth century, the road assumed the name it still preserves, which means “originating from France”.
The Franks themselves consolidated the pilgrimage tradition of the road, choosing the two great pilgrims’ destinations of Santiago de Compostela in Spain and of Rome, so that eventually it formed a big Y, at the bottom end of which was the city of Rome while at the top ends were Northern Europe and Santiago. These two great directions joined in the ancient Roman town of Luni, north of Pietrasanta, and then continued to Lucca, which became a primary stop on the road for the presence in the city of the wooden crucifix depicting the Holy Face: the fame of this statue was spread throughout Europe also by Lucca’s merchants.
Lucca thus became a compulsory meeting place and main junction of the Via Romea, attracting within its walls pontiffs, kings, emperors, saints and pilgrims from all over Europe. The Francigena Way, therefore, gathered travellers from the British Isles, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the Baltic states, and was also linked to the other major pilgrimage destination which is Santiago de Compostela.
The pilgrims, once they came to Luni, went through Pietrasanta (and Camaiore) and from there walked to Lucca, finding refreshments in the many inns, lodgings, and that exquisitely Christian invention that was the hospitals, along the Via Francigena route.