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Sarzana

 

“Contra lo meo volire Amor mi face amari donna di grande affari – troppo altera, perché lo meo servire non mi por[r]ia aiutari ver lo suo disdegnari – tant’è fera; chè la sua fresca ciera già d’amar non s’adotta, né giorno non anotta – là du pari.” (Paganino da Serzana)

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Sarzana is an elegant, mediaeval town situated at the crossroads where the ancient towns of the Lunigiana meet the River Magra. It is one of the most populous centres of the province of La Spezia, in Liguria. The town developed on the last tract of the River Magra, a few kilometres from the estuary, on a fertile plain called the ‘piana di Sarzana’.

To the north is the district of Aulla, and to the south the Ligurian sea and the area of Marinella of Sarzana. To the west is the small fortified town of Santo Stefano Magra, and the other towns of the Val di Magra including Vezzano Ligure, Arcola, Lerici and Ameglia.

To the east the districts of Ortonuovo and Castelnuovo Magra, within the province of La Spezia, and Fosdinuovo, historic town in the province of Massa Carrara. It is not far from the mountains of Carrara, home of the quarries of the famous white marble.

Thanks to its strategic position, from the earliest times, Sarzana has been a crossroads of important lines of communication between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. In the middle ages it was being described as an important religious and legal center, being a bishopric and the location of courts of law. Just behind Sarzana are the hills of Sarzanello, only about 100 meters above sea level, with the fortress of the same name, and in the same area begin the roads and paths for the Apuan Alpes. The district is within the regional nature reserve of Montemarcello-Magra.

Sarzana is an elegant, mediaeval town situated at the crossroads where the ancient towns of the Lunigiana meet the River Magra. It is one of the most populous centres of the province of La Spezia, in Liguria.

The town developed on the last tract of the River Magra, a few kilometres from the estuary, on a fertile plain called the ‘piana di Sarzana’.

Sarzana

To the north is the district of Aulla, and to the south the Ligurian sea and the area of Marinella of Sarzana. To the west is the small fortified town of Santo Stefano Magra, and the other towns of the Val di Magra including Vezzano Ligure, Arcola, Lerici and Ameglia.

To the east the districts of Ortonuovo and Castelnuovo Magra, within the province of La Spezia, and Fosdinuovo, historic town in the province of Massa Carrara. It is not far from the mountains of Carrara, home of the quarries of the famous white marble.

Thanks to its strategic position, from the earliest times, Sarzana has been a crossroads of important lines of communication between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. In the middle ages it was being described as an important religious and legal center, being a bishopric and the location of courts of law. Just behind Sarzana are the hills of Sarzanello, only about 100 meters above sea level, with the fortress of the same name, and in the same area begin the roads and paths for the Apuan Alpes. The district is within the regional nature reserve of Montemarcello-Magra.

Food & Wine

One of the strengths of the local cooking is the perfect combination of sea and mountain derived food. The union of recipes of first courses, and processed pork of the Tuscan Lunigiana with those poor but tasty dishes from the Ligurian sea- faring tradition.

We’ll start with starters, incomparable are the dried cod fritters, or those of ‘bianchetti’, but also the classic octopus salad; the cuttle-fish or small octopus fragrant with basil cheer us before the first course. Unusual are the vegetable or rice pies, or variations borrowed from the Genoese ‘torta Pasqualina’ , with rich ingredients like egg and cheese, and also beet or spinach. A recipe which figures both as an antipasto and as a rich first course, unique to this area, is that of testarollis, little soft pancakes similar to crepes, to serve with sauces; the hand made “trofie”, a short pasta to be boiled very lightly are very good with pesto, a sauce fragrant with basil that grows both wild and cultivated. Alongside come the ‘panigacci, piadine’, cooked on a wood fire, very good with cheese and cold cuts of the season, and typical of La Spezia are ‘sgabei’ or fritters, fried dough and served fragrant. The focaccia with oil and salt, sometimes flavoured with rosemary, the sweet focaccia made with cornflour, the ‘pattona’ and the ‘castagnaccio’ made with chestnut flour, go well together.

We link up with the country cooking of the lower hills with vegetable soup, and ‘mesciua’ of chick peas and legumes. There are many excellent vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, artichokes and green beans, greatly appreciated in home recipes. On the dining tables in Sarzana, thanks to the hills and mountains nearby, a real gold mine of provisions for gourmets, mushrooms play an important role: field mushrooms,’finferli’ and ’porcini’. Meat, whether, beef or lamb is not as native to Sarzana as game. On account of the difficult territory, the efforts of the first breeders was concentrated on rabbits and courtyard animals, so therefore we find braised rabbit, or rabbit ‘alla cacciatora’, or stuffed guinea fowl or simple boiled meat.

Cold meats coming from processed pork or boar, above all cheeses mature or mild like ricotta, according to the season, tasted with jams of peach, apricot and figs literally swollen with taste, thanks to the sea air, all please the palate. As for the fish, borrowed here from the Gulf, we can have stockfish and ‘baccalà’, but don’t underestimate the recipes based on anchovies and mussels ( the latter farmed in the area of the Cinque Terre), to be stuffed, cooked in sauce, or cooked lightly with parsley and lemon. A curious association of the tradition of sea and hill food is stockfish in sauce with polenta, something which you can try in any restaurant in the area. As for sweet things, there is the ‘castagnaccio’, the ‘buccellato’ the ‘croccante’ of almonds, the ’bugie’ or ‘chiacciere’ of carnival time.

Deserts made with eggs, milk and sugar and cooked over boiling water, and, finally the famous ‘spongata’, Sarzana’s own, filled with candied fruit, jam and dried fruit. Particular mention of products DOP: the oil of the Cantina of the Cinque Terre, the Vermentino wine of the Colli di Luni, of a delicate straw colour, and excellent served with cheese and fish.

Hospitality, Tourism and Events

In nearby Luni, there is an archeological site which must be visited. Its Roman amphitheater, with its perfect circle is very well preserved.

The usual visit recommended concentrates on the most important part of the old Roman colony: the forum, the capitolium the temple dedicated to the goddess Luna-Diana, the amphitheater and at the end the National Archeological Museum displaying the finds discovered during the excavations, small objects of everyday use, like vases, utensils and coins.

For experts in the field , Sarzana is well known for its antique shops, and for other initiatives, all happening during the summer. In August there is the National Show of Antiques, and the event ‘The loft in the Street’, a great occasion for acquiring something vintage for a few pennies. In March the Festival of the Hazelnuts is celebrated in the square, in May, the Festival of Music and Sound, with workshops for schools, and expositions in the Firmafede Fortress, in June young opera singers come for the Spiros Argiris competition, and from July to September, concentrated at Santo Stefano, Follo, Lerici and Castelnuovo, shows, festivals and gastronomic stands with local produce and traditional dishes to suit all tastes. Now at its twelfth edition, the Festival of the Mind, the first European festival dedicated to creativity, takes place in the first weekend of September, with the patronage of the foundation Cassa di Risparmio of La Spezia and of the District of Sarzana. In a period of three days, in the most beautiful buildings that we have described above, the festival holds meetings, workshops, laboratories and shows with artists, scientists, and philosophers from all over the world. If all this is not enough to bring you to Sarzana, in nearby La Spezia the new port Mirabello, joined to the promenade by a bridge (the Thaon di Revel), well illuminated at night, is the real reference point of the whole Mediterranean for luxury tourism. The tourist has at his disposition more than 30 shops, bars, wine bars, restaurants and was completed in just over two years, in total respect of the environment, receiving the “Bandiera Blu” 2013 for Touristic Docks.

How to get there

BY AIR

The nearest airports are Galileo Galilei of Pisa, 40 minutes’ drive, and Christopher Columbus of Genoa, a little more than an hour’s drive. Both are reached using the A12. Alternatively, arriving at the big airports of Milan, Malpensa, Linate and Orio, having shuttle connections with Milan’s central station, allow one to reach La Spezia in a little over two hours.

BY LAND

It is possible to reach Sarzana by the motorway A12 Genova/Livorno exiting at Sarzana, or by the A15 Parma/ La Spezia exit Sarzana, or exit Santo Stefano/La Spezia following a tract of the Cisa main road in the direction of Sarzana. For those coming from places nearby, the Aurelia S.S.1 is convenient. Sarzana can also be reached from La Spezia using the ATC bus company.

BY SEA

The seasonal docking facilities at Marinella of Sarzana offer a link with the island of Palmaria at Porto Venere, Porto Venere itself, the various harbours of Lerici, Tellaro and the Cinque Terre. Even Portofino and the aquarium of Genoa can be reached by boat with an afternoon or day trip (the cost of the tickets averages 11 euro, but varies according to the season). These boats are run by the ‘Consorzio Marittimo Turistico 5 Terre – Golfo dei Poeti’, and boarding facilities are also available at Marina di Cararra, Lerici and La Spezia. The tourist harbour of Bocca di Magra is also of great interest, not far from Sarzana, immersed in the natural area of the river, located near restaurants, shops, camping sites and touristic facilities of various kinds. It has 256 moorings with related assistance, meteosat, wifi and all the most modern services. It is an area with period villas in beautiful positions above the riveBr and the coast.

A bit of history

The name of Sarzana officially appears for the first time in association with Castrum Sarzanae, built during the period of the Roman conquest. At that time we are talking about a small fortified town, in the place where we now find the Fortress of Sarzanello, and was probably built to control the roads which went down the valley.

In fact, as we can see at Luni, the area was already populated in the Neolithic age, witnessed by finds of stele statues which characterize the cults of that age. Not until about the year 1000 was an inhabited nucleus of a certain size forming farther down the valley at the crossroads of the Via Aurelia and the Via Francigena, in the area where, since then, the way opened towards Parma and Piacenza. The draining of the marshes of Versilia, and the decline of nearby Luni caused by innumerable Saracen attacks, and geographical changes, helped Sarzana to grow, which came into the news a couple of centuries later when Pope Innocenza 111 decreed the transfer of the bishopric from Luni to Sarzana.

When the Ghibellines seized power in the Republic of Genova In 1270, Nocolò Fieschi, who governed from Lavagna to the Magra Valley, had to hand over the land in his possession to that seafaring republic. On 6th October 1306 we find a great name of Italian literature involved in the history of Sarzana: Dante Alighieri receives the power of attorney from Conte Franchescino Malaspina, at Castelnuovo Magra to sign a peace treaty with the bishop of Luni, himself a temporary of power since Federico 1 conceded to the bishop political power in 1185, giving rise to tension between the Guelfi faction of the church, and the relative dissension of the Ghibellines.

In June 1316, the bishop Gherardino Malaspina names Castruccio Castracani Vicount of the diocese, so Castruccio dominated the city from 1314 to 1328. After several conflicts in which the Pisans, the Visconti, the Genoese and the Florentines fight over possession of Sarzana, the Florentines in 1487, under the guidance of Lorenzo the Magnificent overcame Genoa.

After that with the help of the bank of San Giorgio and finally in 1562, Sarzana returned to Genoa, under which it remained for another two centuries. In 1815 the territory was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia and later to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Sarzana, since the Risorgimento, participated energetically in the struggle for Independence.

During the second world war Sarzana, as did most of the region, contributed to the struggle of the Partisans, and saw the formation of spontaneous groups in the hills around the river. The fight undertaken by these bands was vital in limiting the oppression of the German occupation, which was in fact responsible for mass killings in the Lunigiana and the Garfagniana. Also today Sarzana is the nerve center for cultural initiatives in the area, distinguishing itself not only for its history, but also for the continuing presence of a rich program of themed events that we shall discover below.

A place of interest

We invite you to visit the small town of Ameglia, almost on the border with Tuscany. The localities of Bocca di Magra, Cafaggio, Fiumaretta, and Montemarcello are in the district, and in the nature reserve, and Lerici and Sarzana are nearby. It is a very historic area; a necropolis dating back to 300 A.D. was excavated there, and there are many Roman remains, including the sea-side villa of Bocca di Magra.

The origin of this town is a fishermen’s village, and at Fiumaretta the spirit of its ancestors remain in its sport and fishing activities, very well regulated, and involving the most elderly citizens, very often concentrating on filling the baskets with fish until late in the evening. The area is beautiful to visit also by car; we recommend a trip on the road which connects Ameglia to Lerici, the road 28, that crosses the mountain called Caprione from Montemarcello, passing above Tellaro. There one can admire the Gulf of La Spezia in its entirety, and on very clear days, one can see the outline of Corsica. Looking at the architecture of Sarzana, the “Citadella” competes with the “Fortezza” in authentic beauty, and also the houses and city gates, and in its austere sobriety, the parish church of Sant’ Andrea. This church is the most ancient building of this town, built on the foundation of a pre-existent mediaeval structure. It became the baptistery in 1204 and legal courts of the town until 1300. On the façade it is possible to see the mediaeval outline of the three naves of the ancient church.

The main entrance door, enriched with white marble of Carrara, shows an eight pointed star emblem of the ancients of the city hall of Sarzana. Inside the church marble sculptures of Saint Andrew are kept, and also of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Citadel is also called the Firmafede Fortress, being obviously a military fortification. It was first built with the help of the Pisans together with the city wall, and Castruccio Castracani modified its defensive systems, but a large part of the building was lost with the arrival of the Florentines.

The Citadel we admire today was built on the ruins of the preceding one on the orders of Lorenzo di Medici, who had at his disposal the greatest Florentine architects of the time. It is built on a four cornered foundation and surrounded by an important system of defense walls surrounded by a deep moat. The main entrance is a stone bridge leading to the principle door and reaches a patio in the inside courtbyard. In the last century the complex was used as a prison; today it houses cultural manifestations for the town. The fortress is open to visitors all the year. The extraordinary thing is that, as if one were not enough, there is also the Fortress of Sarzanello two kilometers away, the nucleus of which is older than Sarzana, the great central keep or castle intact.

You can get there following several precise routes, ant it too houses exhibitions and concerts every year. The city wall that defended Sarzana had several towers in it which indicated the entrances to the town. Today we can see the Testaforte tower in the south west of the wall, the Genoese and the Stella tower in the north, and St. Francis tower in the north east. Entrance from the south is given today through Porta Romana, while on the opposite side of the town, at the other end of Via Mazzini, Porta Parma closes the circle.

Porta Parma connects with two of the other towers in the ring, the Genoese or St. George’s tower, and the Stella tower. All this inheritance, this wealth of detail, coming down through the centuries make the historic center of Sarzana a joy to see, a collection of themed marvels. This center is divided into neighbourhoods with their villas and houses ( the city hall alone is an exultation of renaissance elements), and more bucolic areas lie in the outskirts, such as Marinella and San Lazzaro.

Nature

The River Magra, which is fed by the Calcandola stream in the area of Sarzana, is one of the major natural attractions in the area of Sarzana. The river originates from Monte Borgognone near the border of Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, and, notwithstanding its short course, it is rich in detail. The variety is seen starting from ‘Stagni della Vallata’ a short walk from the town, and reaching the great sandy bed of the estuary, gathering place for many species of bird, and ideal for a week’s camping in the peace of nature. Half way down this afore mentioned valley, in the district of Ortonovo, the river crosses that arch of land known as ‘the valley of the Hundred Castles’, a mystic area, home of ancient communities which stretches from Pontremoli to Ameglia, following the paths of the Via Francigina, coming out in the lower’ Val di Magra’.

From here onwards its visitors are welcomed by the quiet beaches of the Ligurian coast, Punta Corvo, Fiumaretta and Marinella of Sarzana are the most characteristic. The beaches which are easy to reach like Marinella and Fiumaretta are not far from ones more difficult like Punta Corvo, in some points difficult to get to, but don’t be put off by a walk down a steep path. The ‘Bassa’ is the amphitheatre of the regional nature reserve of Montemarcello Magra which covers an area of 4,320.80 hectacres distributed in districts of Ameglia, Arcola, Bolano, Borgetto di Vara, Brugnato, Carro, Carrodano, Lerici, Santo Stefano di Magra, Sesta Godano and Vezzano Ligure. Founded in 1995 it works for the conservation of animals and plants, undertaking restoration of natural sites where necessary.

The area of the river, naturally within the park, has marshy areas, agricultural areas and also rocky hights which enclose the river Magra and continue up the river Vara, its principle affluent, up to Ponte Santa Margherita. The higher ground is represented by the promontory of Caprione, near Ameglia, which you can reach through Mediterranean maquis, shady holm oak and steep rocky slopes covered with maritime pines going down headlong to Punta Bianca( so named because of its layer of very ancient white limestone). The lower and more temperate part of Caprione, preferred by the birds and animals, distinguished by many willow woods, is towards the Gulf of La Spezia, and the river flood plain where Sarzana lies, and the old colony of Luni. In summer, at dusk and at early dawn it is possible to see families of red or grey heron, which have become permanent inhabitants of the river area, and in the area of Carro and Carrodano one can be captivated by the views of the mountains, all well marked by the paths of the CAI.

Places of Interest

We invite you to visit the small town of Ameglia, almost on the border with Tuscany. The localities of Bocca di Magra, Cafaggio, Fiumaretta, and Montemarcello are in the district, and in the nature reserve, and Lerici and Sarzana are nearby. It is a very historic area; a necropolis dating back to 300 A.D. was excavated there, and there are many Roman remains, including the sea-side villa of Bocca di Magra.

The origin of this town is a fishermen’s village, and at Fiumaretta the spirit of its ancestors remain in its sport and fishing activities, very well regulated, and involving the most elderly citizens, very often concentrating on filling the baskets with fish until late in the evening. The area is beautiful to visit also by car; we recommend a trip on the road which connects Ameglia to Lerici, the road 28, that crosses the mountain called Caprione from Montemarcello, passing above Tellaro. There one can admire the Gulf of La Spezia in its entirety, and on very clear days, one can see the outline of Corsica. Looking at the architecture of Sarzana, the “Citadella” competes with the “Fortezza” in authentic beauty, and also the houses and city gates, and in its austere sobriety, the parish church of Sant’ Andrea.

This church is the most ancient building of this town, built on the foundation of a pre-existent mediaeval structure. It became the baptistery in 1204 and legal courts of the town until 1300. On the façade it is possible to see the mediaeval outline of the three naves of the ancient church. The main entrance door, enriched with white marble of Carrara, shows an eight pointed star emblem of the ancients of the city hall of Sarzana. Inside the church marble sculptures of Saint Andrew are kept, and also of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Citadel is also called the Firmafede Fortress, being obviously a military fortification. It was first built with the help of the Pisans together with the city wall, and Castruccio Castracani modified its defensive systems, but a large part of the building was lost with the arrival of the Florentines.

The Citadel we admire today was built on the ruins of the preceding one on the orders of Lorenzo di Medici, who had at his disposal the greatest Florentine architects of the time. It is built on a four cornered foundation and surrounded by an important system of defense walls surrounded by a deep moat. The main entrance is a stone bridge leading to the principle door and reaches a patio in the inside courtyard. In the last century the complex was used as a prison; today it houses cultural manifestations for the town. The fortress is open to visitors all the year.

The extraordinary thing is that, as if one were not enough, there is also the Fortress of Sarzanello two kilometers away, the nucleus of which is older than Sarzana, the great central keep or castle intact. You can get there following several precise routes, ant it too houses exhibitions and concerts every year. The city wall that defended Sarzana had several towers in it which indicated the entrances to the town. Today we can see the Testaforte tower in the south west of the wall, the Genoese and the Stella tower in the north, and St. Francis tower in the north east. Entrance from the south is given today through Porta Romana, while on the opposite side of the town, at the other end of Via Mazzini, Porta Parma closes the circle.

Porta Parma connects with two of the other towers in the ring, the Genoese or St. George’s tower, and the Stella tower. All this inheritance, this wealth of detail, coming down through the centuries make the historic center of Sarzana a joy to see, a collection of themed marvels. This center is divided into neighbourhoods with their villas and houses ( the city hall alone is an exultation of renaissance elements), and more bucolic areas lie in the outskirts, such as Marinella and San Lazzaro.

The Surrounding Area

Sarzana represents, in a certain sense, the best preserved part of that luminous heart that was the seed of the ‘Risorgimento’ in Italy, above all in Liguria. As well as being well served by local transport, with hundreds of hotels, bed and breakfast houses, and rural family hotels, scattered all over the Magra valley and the upper Vara valley, Sarzana lies in the very center of an area that includes the castles and the historic panoramas of the Pontremoli area, very well connected by the motorways which connect Emilia with Lombardy crossing Parma,( so that, from Milan one can get to Sarzana in less than two hours, in favourable traffic); an area which includes the well- equipped beaches of Lerici and San Terenzo on the coast, the Cinque Terre, Porto Venere and the coast road at twenty minutes’ drive, with the possibility of visiting the provincial capital, travelling with the sea spray along the road that connects all in one marvelous journey, going on to the beauty spot of Sestri and on to the gulf of Tigullio.

Monumental Lunigiana in the presence of the witnesses of time

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