Sarzana is an Italian town of 21.985 inhabitants in the province of La Spezia in Liguria.
Considered the historical heir of the ancient Roman city of Luni, Sarzana is an important center of the Val di Magr
a. Thanks to its position, it has been a crossroads of important communication routes between Liguria, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna since its foundation. Since ancient times, it has been an agricultural and commercial center of great importance, and already in the Middle Ages an important religious and legal center, with the bishop’s seat and the court.
The name Sarzana appears mentioned for the first time in a diploma of the emperor Otto I dated to 963, in which the possession of the castrum Sarzanae is recognized to the bishop of Luni. At the time, it must have been probably a small fortified village, located where the fortress of Sarzanello currently stands, controlling the streets that ran along the valley floor.
The toponymy of the place is probably linked to the Roman conquest of the Lunense plain: the name probably derives from the female predial Sergiana da Sergius, to which the military denomination of castrum will soon be added.
Sarzana is the second most populated municipality in the province of La Spezia, it is located in a historically strategic position, overlooking the Gulf of Poets, already a crossroads of important maritime communication routes between Liguria and Tuscany in the Middle Ages.
Benefiting from a particularly mild climate, by virtue of its proximity to the sea, it tends to mitigate both the rigors of winter and the summer heat, Sarzana, especially in recent years, finds in tourism one of the main resources of its economy.
The territory of Sarzana reserves for its tourists many beaches, full of equipped bathing establishments. The coast has a sandy bottom and extends for about 3 kilometers, along which free beaches and state concessions alternate. The Sarzanese coast is renowned and appreciated for its convenience, in relation to the ease of access, and for its proximity to the main urban centers of the area. In addition to seaside tourism, the village of Sarzana contains many attractions from an artistic point of view, easily accessible to all, for its architecture, sculptures, various paintings present both in the buildings and in the churches of the city.
The traditional events organized in Sarzana are numerous: Attic in the street, antiques market, Calandriniana, manifestation of painters and artists, Napoleon Festival Historical, re-enactment of Napoleon, Festival of the Mind, festival dedicated to creativity and art, International Street Theater Festival, theater review in the streets of the village, traditional hazelnut fair, gastronomic event
In addition to tourism, the Sarzanese economy is traditionally linked to agriculture and livestock. In fact, in addition to the cultivation of olive growing and the production of excellent olive oil, Sarzana area produces excellent qualities of white wines, such as the prestigious Vermentino from the Luni hills.
Let’s start our journey in this lovely small town of Liguria!
Fortress of Sarzanello
The fortress of Sarzanello is a military fortification that rises in via alla Fortezza on the hill of Sarzanello, near Sarzana, in the province of La Spezia, and dominates the Val di Magra from above. Its nature and its position make it one of the symbols of the city of Sarzana.
Since December 2014, the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities has been managing it through the Liguria Museum Complex, which in December 2019 became the Regional Directorate for Museums.
The Fortress is made up of two distinct factory elements: the first, real castle is the main element of the fortification and has a triangular plan, with three bastions at the top. This element of the factory houses the actual structure of the castle; the second is a huge ravelling in the form of a triangular fortified embankment, almost the same size as the fortress. Contrasted to the first and connected through a flying bridge, it forms a sort of rhombus with the first element consisting of two triangles.
Access to the fortress happens by crossing the stone bridge, which crosses the large and deep fortified moat.
The slow and progressive decline of Luni, which began as early as the 4th century, led its inhabitants to migrate to the surrounding hills in search of safety, giving rise to the increase if not the birth of new villages (Nicola, Ortonovo, Castelnuovo Magra, Ameglia ) and the hill of Sarzanello itself was populated by exiles who settled there, gathered around the most important residence of the Bishop.
The existence of a structure for military purposes is mentioned for the first time in a diploma of Emperor Otto I, in which the possession of six castra is granted to the Bishop of Luni, including that of de Sarzano.
With the passing of the years and with the changing political-military situations, the fortress acquired more and more importance, such as to host one of the bishop’s residences in the valley around the end of the 10th century.
The strategic position, dominating the plain of the Magra river, could not remain without a garrison for the control of such an important communication route between northern and southern Italy.
With the victory in the war of Serezzana, a showdown of the Florentine and Genoese aspirations on the Sarzanese territory, it was Lorenzo de ‘Medici who ordered the construction of the fortress in its current form: after the victory, the need emerged to radically restructure the defensive system of Sarzana, a place that for the Florentine lordship acts as a buffer, able to contain the pressures of the enemies located to the north.
The project was entrusted to a team led by the architect Francesco di Giovanni known as “Il Francione”, who was also entrusted with the renovation of the old fortress, called Firmafede, in the historic center of Sarzana, whose works ended in 1492.
In the middle of 1493, the same team of experts also put their hand to the fortress of Sarzanello and the old medieval keep was demolished. The construction site was suspended in November 1494, due to the upheavals resulting from the descent of the French sovereign Charles VIII, who came to Italy to conquer the Kingdom of Naples. The works resumed in 1496 when the Banco di San Giorgio of Genoa became the new owner of the city of Sarzana and completed the Florentine project. In September 1502 the fortress can be said to be finished.
The fortified plant has never been involved in major war events and this largely explains how it could reach the present day while maintaining its original appearance almost intact.
Today the Fortress is open to visits all year round and home to public and private events.
The Firmafede Fortress, also known as the Citadel, stands on the edge of the city walls within the historic center of Sarzana. During the 15th century, the city became an important strategic point and Lorenzo the Magnificent decided to transform the village into a military stronghold of the Florentine lordship.
Around the middle of the 13th century the Pisans, allies of the Sarzanesi, began to surround the city with walls and to build a first fortress called Firmafede. In 1314, Castruccio Castracani, appointed viscount of Luni by the bishop Gherardino Malaspina, had a castle built, the exact location of which remains uncertain. The destruction of this first fortification took place in 1487 by the Florentines whose troops, defeating the Genoese, entered Sarzana on 20 July under the guidance of Lorenzo dei Medici. The new lords decided to fortify the city again and entrusted the project for the construction of the new defensive work to a team formed by the best military architects of the time, to whom we owe the construction of the fortress of Volterra and Pietrasanta: Francesco di Giovanni, called Francione, Francesco d’Angelo, known as Cecca, his pupil and expert in mechanical engineering, Giuliano da Sangallo, Domenico di Francesco, known as the Captain and Bernardo di Tommaso Corbinelli.
The works lasted from 1487 to 1492, when the citadel was already inhabited. The materials recovered from the walls and demolished fourteenth-century houses were used for the construction. Particularly interesting is the system adopted for the construction of the barrel vaults of the corridors and casemates that appear to be built on ribbed ribs and the traces, found in some domed vaults of the towers, of “herringbone” masonry warping, a self-supporting construction system that reveals the common experience between the workers employed in Sarzana and those of Brunelleschi training (Dome of the Duomo of Florence).
In 1496 the fortress passed to the Banco di San Giorgio and from 1562 to the Republic of Genoa, remaining there until 1797.
In that period, the fortress underwent several interventions. In the nineteenth century, with the annexation of the Republic to the Savoy kingdom and with the radical changes in defensive strategies, the fortress was used first as a police barracks and later as a prison until the 1970s.
Between 1985 and 2003, a series of restorations made the fortress usable again, which currently represents a pole for many cultural activities of national appeal. Since September 2016, a part of the fortress has hosted the MUDEF (acronym for Museum of the Fortresses) a multimedia museum that in its 27 rooms deals with the history of the fortifications in the Lunigiana area and the life within these castles.
The Firmafede Fortress rises on the south-eastern border of the fortified village, born at the beginning of the 13th century from the unification between the old village and the contiguous one that grew around the church of S. Maria, in a particularly favourable geographical and environmental context. The location stretches out in a border area, crossed by a dense network of roads and paths.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a place of Catholic worship located in the municipality of Sarzana, between piazza Niccolò V and via Giuseppe Mazzini, in the province of La Spezia. The church, co-cathedral of the diocese of La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato, is the seat of the parish of the same name in the vicariate of Sarzana.
In November 1947, Pope Pius XII elevated it to the dignity of a minor basilica. Located in the center of the medieval village of Sarzana, today’s basilica-co-cathedral was built on the area and on the foundations of the original parish church dedicated to St. Basil. The latter religious building is mentioned in a papal bull of Eugene III dating back to 11 November 1148.
With the increase of Sarzanese importance in La Spezia and Lunigiana panorama, at the expense of the ancient Roman city of Luni, now in decline and in the grip of malaria, it was the same Canons of Luni who requested and obtained from Pope Innocent III – with a bull dated 7 March 1203 – the transfer to the parish church of San Basilio. It was the pope himself, in 1204, who officially transferred the episcopal see – but not the title – from the city of Lunense to Sarzana with the commitment, taken by the Sarzana community, to build a new cathedral and bishop’s residence.
To keep the agreements made, it was decided to carry out a complete transformation of the ancient parish church of San Basilio, thus avoiding the construction of a new religious building, actually carrying out an extension and enlargement work. The work immediately took shape, continuing over time between interruptions and resumes as evidenced by acts and documents of the time, and already in the mid-fourteenth century the new cathedral of Sarzana could be considered finished or almost finished. The church, based on Tuscan late Gothic architectural styles, has a Latin cross shape, divided into three naves (separated by arches and columns), a major apse and two chapels; the wooden roof was made up of exposed trusses.
Once the church was completed, with the title of Santa Maria Assunta, the officialization of Sarzana as the new diocesan seat was still pending, a title that was still linked to the nearby and historic city of Luni. A first step was taken in 1447, simultaneously with the election of the Sarzanese Tommaso Parentuncelli to the throne of Peter with the name of Niccolò V, and definitively in 1465 when Pope Paul II transferred the episcopal title, and related rights, from Luni to Sarzana; the church of Santa Maria Assunta was then elevated to the title of cathedral of the new diocese of Luni-Sarzana. In the same years, the internal decoration and the completion of the facade was completed (1474) by Leonardo Riccomanni da Pietrasanta.
New embellishment works, especially related to the new Baroque artistic forms, were completed in the seventeenth century, involving the areas of the aisles with the construction of the side chapels (by Francesco Antonio Milani and the apse. After the conclusion of the works, in 1735 the statues of Saint Eutichiano in the center, of Pope Sergio IV on the left and of Pope Nicholas V on the right were placed on the facade.
Inside, there are paintings by Francesco Solimena and Domenico Fiasella, such as the Visitation of the Madonna to St. Elizabeth, the Martyrdom of St. Andrew (1653) and the Massacre of the Innocents, Renaissance sculptural works such as the altarpiece of the Purification and the Coronation altar, by Leonardo and Francesco Riccomanni, a terracotta from the school of Luca della Robbia and two marble busts by Giovanni Baratta. In the chapel of the transept, there is a work by the sculptor Domenico Sarti, representing the Purification of Mary.
Regional Natural Park of Montemarcello-Magra-Vara
The Regional Natural Park of Montemarcello-Magra-Vara is a protected natural area of the Liguria Region, in the province of La Spezia, and includes the promontory of Caprione, the lower course of the Magra river and the lower and middle course of the Vara river, its main tributary.
In the Park area, there are many hiking trails and it is crossed by the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri, the Liguria Trail and the Alta Via del G The river area is characterized by a rich riparian vegetation with willows that plays an important stabilizing work on the alluvial substrate. The most common are the white willow (Salix alba), the red willow (Salix purpurea) and the ripai willow (Salix eleagnos), less common are the basket willow (Salix triandra) and the endemic Apennine willow (Salix apennina) .
In the rearmost belt and far from the main stream, on silty-sandy deposits, more evolved woodlands develop characterized by black alder (Alnus glutinosa), black poplar (Populos nigra), white poplar (Populus alba) and tree willows. Among the submerged species of stagnant waters we find the increasingly rare common water yarrow (Myriophyllum spicatum), the common ceratophyllum (Ceratophyllum demersum) and various species of brasca, on the banks along the banks of waterways and canals we find reeds marsh reed (Phragmites australis) and major bone (Typha latifolia) or narrow-leaved bone (Typha angustifolia) formations while herbaceous plants such as inula viscosa (Cupulia viscosa) on river banks.
You can also admire several other environments: from the pine forests of maritime pines (Pinus pinaster) with heather, at the edges of which grow the prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) and the terebinth (Pistacia terebintus), to the holm oak groves (Quercus ilex). There is no shortage of meadows, gorse (Spartium junceum) and large ampelodesma bushes (Ampelodesmos mauritanicus) that grow in the midst of limestone rock formations.
The Promontrorio del Caprione presents a difference in the vegetation cover on both sides of the hills due to exposure, winds and the influence of the sea or river. The slope on the Magra river is characterized by pine forests, in the hills of Bocca di Magra, and by the mixed deciduous forest (Turkey oak, downy oak, black hornbeam etc.). On the sea side, you can find extensive pine forests of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) and other typical Mediterranean formations: the holm oak wood, of which only small strips remain, the maquis, formed by an intricate set of evergreen shrubs and lianas and the garrigue, composed of low shrubs and herbs and rich in aromatic species olfo.
The valley of the Magra river represents an important migratory route for avifauna linked to aquatic environments. Approaching the river, it is possible to distinguish the characteristic song of the river nightingale (Cettia cetti), a typical inhabitant of the reeds. On the riverbed, it is not difficult to observe the little egret (Egretta garzetta) and the gray heron (Ardea cinerea) while the calm waters of the perifluvial lakes are home to numerous migratory ducks (Anas). Where the waters of the Vara and Magra rivers flow more slowly, you can see the kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) resting on the lower branches of the willows near the water, ready to dive to catch small fish or insects. The mouth of the Magra river near Fiumaretta and Bocca di Magra is instead an area of particular interest to observe herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and common gulls (Larus Ridibundus), shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii) and tern terns (Sterna sandvicensis) ), while the stretch of sea in front of the mouth is a destination for little grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis), scallops (Mergus), grebes (Podiceps cristatus), orcs (Melanitta fusca) and sea scots (Melanitta nigra) as well as cormorants.
Parish Church of Sant’Andrea
The Parish Church of Sant’Andrea is a Catholic place of worship located in the municipality of Sarzana. The church is the oldest building in the city. It is located a short distance from the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and its construction dates back to around the 10th century.
The first news about the church dates back to 1128, when a religious building dedicated to the apostle Andrew is explicitly mentioned in the medieval village of Sarzana.
The church of Sant’Andrea, initially built on the foundations of a medieval building of uncertain dating, has undergone numerous restorations and modifications, becoming the baptistery of the city and the jurisdictional seat of the Municipality from 1204 (until the 14th century). Thanks to the analysis of the stratigraphic sequences carried out following archaeological interventions, it is possible to retrace the construction phases with sufficient precision.
The primitive building (dating back to the first decades of the 12th century) was lower than the current building, as shown by the walls of the sides and the facade.
The statutes of 1330 provide for the displacement of a wall of the church and give way to demolition operations, which include the demolition of columns, walls and internal vaults; the construction of the bell tower can be traced back to this period. The three original naves were transformed into a single hall, new and larger windows were opened, and a general embellishment of the building was carried out with internal monuments and chapels. The pastoral visit of Bishop Benedetto Lomellini is documented on 19 March 1568.
A new overall review of the internal structure was started during the 17th century. The works, entrusted to the master Giacomino di Guglielmo, started in 1579 and involved the baptistery, the entrance portal, the apse area, the vault of the nave and the dome; in 1584 the church, still affected by structural changes, was visited by Cardinal Angelo Peruzzi.
Once the work was completed, on 23 September 1590, the renewed parish church of Sant’Andrea was consecrated by the bishop of Luni-Sarzana Giovanni Battista Salvago.
After the works of 1928-1929, in which part of the plaster was removed, it is possible to directly observe the medieval face of the ancient church with three naves.
The current facade, higher than the medieval one, consists of an entrance door embellished with a sixteenth-century portal in white Carrara marble with jambs adorned with two bare-breasted caryatids, surmounted by the eight-pointed star, the sidus, symbol degli Anziani of the municipality of Sarzana.
Also made of marble is the base of the baptismal font, inside the presbytery, which was built at the end of the 16th century by Giovanni Morelli, an artist from Carrara, the same person to whom the baptismal font of the church of Santa Maria a Vezzano is attributed. Ligure.
Inside, there are marble sculptures of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, depicting the patron saint of Sarzana, Sant’Andrea, and the saints Peter and Paul. Among the paintings, the Vocation of Saints James and John by Domenico Fiasella and a fresco of the Madonna and Child by an anonymous artist.
Noteworthy on the left altar is the venerated miraculous image of the Madonna delle Grazie which in 1480 “seemed to appear out of nowhere, almost painted by a divine hand”, on the wall flanking the ancient convent of San Domenico, which once stood where the Theater is now located. Fearsome.
Roderio Palace is a civil building located in Piazza Giacomo Matteotti in the historic center of Sarzana. Already the seat of the city government since the 15th century, it is still the seat of the Sarzanese town hall today.
The construction of a real “government palace”, where the political and management activities of the medieval Sarzana could be concentrated, was started in 1466 on a project by Antonio da Lucca. However, the work that was to represent the importance of Sarzana and celebrate the new title of City, obtained in 1465 by Pope Paul II, was interrupted and was not completed.
About ten years later, around 1473, the project for a new palace, on the same site, was presented and followed by Giuliano da Maiano even if the new historical events (the wars and sieges between Genoa and the Medici for domination over the city) will lead to severe slowdowns of the works.
Now full possession of the Banco di San Giorgio, and of the Republic of Genoa, during the sixteenth century the construction of the building continued under the direction of Antonio Roderio who added his particular modifications to the Renaissance style of the da Maiano that put the building together (especially the external) to the shapes of the most famous Genoese palaces. The work could be considered completed in 1554.
New interventions on the structure, such as the portico and the terrace, were carried out during the 19th century.
Plaque on the facade in memory of the silver medal for military valour.
The structure of the building is quadrangular in shape. The internal courtyard is surrounded by a marble colonnade that supports the upper loggias and which in its forms recalls the style of the Genoese palaces.
In this place, many finds from the ancient Roman city of Luni, the sepulchral monument of the jurist Benedetto Celso and the coats of arms of the noble patrician families of Sarzana, are preserved.
A bas-relief depicting St. George killing the dragon, from 1554, is walled to the side of the access door to the Council room.
Inside the council chamber, there are the portraits of the most important city personalities such as the pope Nicolò V, the cardinal Filippo Calandrini, the jurist Francesco Cicala and the Jesuit Nicolò Mascardi. In another adjoining room there is the painting by the painter Stefano Lemmi depicting the Trinity with the Virgin Mary and Saints Andrew and Nicodemus.
Church of San Francesco
The church of San Francesco is a Catholic place of worship located in the municipality of Sarzana, in Piazza San Francesco. The church is the seat of the parish of the same name in the vicariate of Sarzana of the diocese of La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato.
The adjoining convent was the seat of the Sarzanese court for a long time, until its suppression. Today, the convent spaces are occupied by local offices and associations.
The church of San Francesco stands on a square just outside the walls. The first documented news of the religious building date back to 1238, but tradition has it that St. Francis himself passed through Sarzana and founded the convent. At the end of the 13th century, the convent was still under construction, while in the 15th century it was enlarged with the dormitory and the cloister.
The church has a gabled facade, opened by a semi-circular window that illuminates the interior. Above the portal, a 17th-century lunette depicts the Virgin and Child. The marble architrave depicts St. Bernardino of Siena surrounded by the Franciscan cordon, a sign of the presence of the Observant Minor Friars, who took the place of the Franciscans in 1462. The layout is a Latin cross and a single nave.
In the left transept, there is the sepulchral monument of 1328 of Castruccio Castracani’s son, Guarnerio degli Antelminelli, by the Pisan Giovanni di Balduccio, and in front of it is the tomb of bishop Bernabò Malaspina (1338).
On the door of the sacristy, it is possible to admire a frescoed lunette representing the Christ in piety between St. Clare and St. Francis, attributed to Priamo della Quercia, brother of the more famous Jacopo. The central chapel houses the wooden choir and the eighteenth-century high altar, decorated with marble putti with the statues of San Francesco and Sant’Antonio.
Several pictorial and sculptural works are preserved here: in the first right altar, the canvas of the Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Fiasella or perhaps attributed to Gherardo delle Notti; in the second altar the Madonna enthroned with the Child and the saints Peter, Girolamo, Antonio and Giovanni Battista by Antonio da Carpena known as il Carpenino; in the chapel to the left of the main one, the painting of the Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints, faithful reproduction of the canvas, dated 1528 by Andrea del Sarto, commissioned for this church and destroyed in the Second World War in Berlin; on the fourth left altar, by Fiasella, a Madonna and Child with Saints Bernardino and Salvatore da Orta; in the counter façade the Adoration of the Magi by Tommaso Clerici from 1656.
In memory of the sixteenth-century, you can find the German presence in the village of Sarzana – there were several Germanic mercenaries in the service of the Republic of Genoa – two particular inscriptions in Latin and in Archaic Bavarian Austro are visible in the church, rare if not unique testimonies of this kind in Italy. The first (a plaque) is located on the wall of the internal facade and recalls a sign holder that died in 1528; the second (a bas-relief) is positioned outside the church, above the left door of the facade, and testifies to the foundation in 1577 of a cemetery for German mercenaries. The two characters represented, kneeling under the cross of Christ, would represent the captain of the German militias and the captain of the Sarzana garrison.