A very brief history of Lunigiana

Lunigiana was first occupied some 10,000 years ago, with evidence of Neanderthal man being found in the caves of Equi Terme.  Stele statues, human figures carved in stone and dating back to the third millennium BC, continue to be discovered in the region.

stele statues from lunigiana

Photo credit: Museum of Stele Statues Pontremoli

Lunigiana takes its name from Luni, a Roman town built near the coast in 177 BC on the site of an Etruscan settlement. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Lunigiana was occupied by the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, the Lombards and the Franks. Lunigiana lies on the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome dating back to the year 725, and the region has a long history of hospitality to pilgrims.

In the year 802, Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the first Holy Roman Emperor, handed the region over to the Adalberti family, the ancestors of the Malaspina family, who ruled Lunigiana through various lines of the dynasty for six centuries. It was during the time of the Malaspinas that the many castles were built in Lunigiana, giving it what is thought to be the highest concentration of castles in Italy. Over the centuries, it is estimated that around 160 castles and forts were built in Lunigiana, of which maybe 60 remain today, half of which lie in ruins. The feudal system that existed under the Malaspina disappeared with the Napoleonic occupation in the eighteenth century.

castles map lunigiana

Because of its strategic position, Lunigiana continued to be fought over by neighbouring and other city states. The Guelfs and the Ghibellines divided the region, and the French and the Spanish both invaded as part of their campaigns to conquer Italy. In the first part of the nineteenth century, the region was subject to various territorial exchanges between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, the Duchy of Modena, and the Duchy of Lucca. With the Unification of Italy in the middle of the nineteenth century, most of Lunigiana was incorporated into Tuscany, the remainder into Liguria.

During World War II, Lunigiana found itself just north of the Gothic Line and occupied by the Germans, who heavily defended the strategic route to the North over the Cisa Pass. The region was badly bombed by both the Germans and the Allies, destroying many historic buildings and bridges. The population suffered terrible deprivation. Starvation was widespread, as were the brutal German reprisals for local Partisan activities.

Today, around 55,000 people live in modern Lunigiana. Some of the land lies abandoned following mass emigration in the early twentieth century, and more recently the need to move to the cities to find work. However, there is a new movement of people back to the land. They are young, bright and full of energy, they have studied and worked in the big cities, have modern ideas, and are fighting to move Lunigiana into the twenty-first century, building on all that was good from its past.  They are introducing modern farming techniques, developing the tourism infrastructure, while being mindful of the region’s culture and traditions and the need for a better way of life.

A very brief history of Lunigiana appeared on Ciao Lunigiana on 9 April 2013. (c) All rights reserved.