Via Francigena: All Roads Lead To Rome — Part 2

After the Alps, Italics Magazine continues with you down the road that leads to Rome, stage by stage, along Via Francigena

From Piedmont to Emilia Romagna – 199 kilometers

Leaving the city of Vercelli, the route, following the Sesia riverbank, crosses the border between Piedmont and Lombardy reaching the city of Pavia. Then, just like the Archbishop Sigeric in 990 AD, you will cross the Po River via ferry in Soprarivo of Calendasco, entering the Emilia-Romagna region.

Pavia

Famed art heritage and college town of the Lombardy region, Pavia was such a well-loved step for the pilgrims. Beyond the covered bridge, destroyed and rebuilt after the Second World War, the city offers a lot of beautiful historic churches and monasteries. Among these, the Basilica of St Michael Major, the most important medieval church in the city and masterpiece of Lombard-Romanesque style: devoted to St. Michael Archangel, patron saint of Langobardians people, in this church King Louis III and the Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa were crowned. The other main church is the Basilica of St Peter in Golden Sky; here, a wonderful Gothic arcade keeps the relics of St Augustine, beyond those of the Roman philosopher Severino Boezio, executed by the king of the Ostrogoths Theoderic right here in Pavia and also mentioned by the supreme poet Dante Alighieri in his “Divine Comedy”.

The Covered Bridge of Pavia

Piacenza

On the other bank of Po River, Piacenza owns quite a number of interesting churches, places and gardens, characterized by their Gothic style. The oldest church is the Basilica of Sant’Antonino, the patron of the city, in Romanesque style. The Piacenza Cathedral, built later, is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and to Saint Justina, and regarded as a great example of Romanesque architecture in nothern Italy, with subsequent Gothic influence. The dome is a marvel to be seen, with frescoes by Guercino. Last but not least, in this not-to-be-missed area along Via Francigena, is the Palazzo Comunale, best known as “Il Gotico,” which impressively stands out in the Piacenza main square, called Piazza Cavalli for its horses statues.

The Palazzo Gotico in Piacenza

Chiaravalle della Colomba

On this pilgrimage route to Rome, leaving Piacenza, we meet an important Circestian monastic complex, the Abbey of Chiaravalle della Colomba, within walking distance from the little town of Alseno. Founded in 1136, the first monks here had to, among other jobs, clean up the marshlands. Next to the church you can admire a simple but solemn cloister, and, still today, if you come here in May or June, you will be wowed by celebrations of the liturgical solemnity of “Corpus Domini.” For centuries in the Abbey, the monks, for centuries, have displayed the famed “Infiorata”, a beautiful flowery carpet depicting sacred scenes.

The interior of the Abbey

Fidenza

The last stage in Emilia-Romagna along the Via Francigena was important and has a touching history. In fact, the city of Fidenza is one of the greatest example of Romanesque style’s preservation in the entire Po Valley. Its Cathedral, with an amazing facade, is closely linked to legends and miracles, and dedicated to Saint Domninus, who was martyred right here. But the Cathedral has also been an inextricably crucial part of the Via Francigena: in front of the cathedral, on top of a column, there is a statue of Saint Peter, holding a scroll, who is pointing toward the direction of Rome. The bas reliefs around it, depicting the pilgrims headed to Rome, give us some important evidence of the ancient pilgrimage and of the Christian faith in Europe. Finally, the Cathedral Museum is also worth visiting. And don’t worry, if you get lost, you only need to look at the Apostle Peter, and he will show how to continue your divine route.

The statue of the Apostle Peter

From Emilia Romagna to Tuscany — 197 kilometers

The final push at a high-altitude, Via Francigena crosses the Tuscan-Emilian Apennine, through the Cisa Pass known in Middle Ages as the “Langobardians Mountain.” Entering the Tuscany subregion of Lunigiana, our itinerary also goes through a small part of the Liguria region, touching the cities of Sarzana and Luni, an old Roman colony. This point of the Via Francigena was very important because, in addition to showing amazing landscapes between the sea and the mountains, it was the crossing point with the route from and to Spain, leading the pilgrims toward Santiago de Compostela, another main Christian pilgrimage.

Pontremoli

The Via Francigena approaches Tuscany in this historic town which was in ancient times the Roman city of Apua. The most important locales are the cathedral and the Piagnaro Castle, dominating the old town. The castle houses the interesting “Museo delle Statue Stele,”, an archaeological museum with several Bronze Age stone sculptures representing human figures from Lunigiana, evidence of the golden era of this subregion.

A view of Pontremoli and its castle

Pietrasanta

Literally “Holy Stone,” Pietrasanta is the native city of the Italian poet Giosuè Carducci. Laying at the foot of the Apuan Alps, the city is closely linked to marble, which it is rich in, and to their diggers and sculptors. With the Rock of Sala and its Fortress on the background, the old town is framed by several and relevant medieval buldings: the Collegiate Church of St Martin, with its beautiful white marble facade prominent on the main square, and the former church of Sant’Agostino in Romanesque style, are unmissable. Finally, every June, a book festival by the Italian publishing house Mondadori takes place here, in which the authors introduce their works in advance.

Pietrasanta from the top

It’s time to rest dear Italics pilgrims, but in the last part of our Via Francigena we will get you over to Rome!