Valpromaro and the Via Francigena
Tracing the origins and history of a small village like Valpromaro means recognizing the reasons for the processes of transformation, growth and development of a settlement. The position of the town, its urban layout, the recurrence and permanence of particular place names confirm that Valpromaro owes its historical stratification and its territorial function to the road; that is, to the passage of a connecting infrastructure, as we will say today, around which local but also international flows are organized and which identify that path, already in the Middle Ages with the Via Francigena.
The Via Romea or Francigena followed the Lucca / Pietrasanta / Camaiore route, important “mansiones”. For those coming from the NORTH, the road, dominated from above by some fortresses, climbed the Montemagno hill and then began to descend the Val Freddana until it reached Valpromaro. The dense vegetation that covers both sides of the valley today must have been present in the Middle Ages: some place names (Carpinelli, Frascalino, Querceto, Mortelletto, Castagnino – Hornbeam, Ash, Oak and Chestnut) remind us of the importance that forest resources once covered to produce energy, heat, make work tools and furniture and for the fruits produced. The north side, less steep and sunnier, was scattered with hamlets and farmhouses and in the Middle Ages it was the subject of struggles and disputes between the local lords. Along the bottom of the valley the greatest dangers were caused by the Freddana, which, due to it’s potential to flood and the tortuous course, created large marshy areas. Useful information on the nature and characteristics of the places in those epochs are offered once again by the place names that have come down to us such as Padula, Infernetto, Fontanina, Purgatorio, Campacci – Marsh, Hell, Fountain, Purgatory and Poor Field.
The final stretch of the stream, near the confluence with the Serchio, was difficult to navigate. Despite the interventions of water regulation and land reclamation carried out around the year 1000 at the behest of Bishop Anselmo da Baggio.
The road, having passed Montemagno, in the locality of the Rena encountered an important crossroads that led to the Romanesque Pieve ad Elici and from here to Massarosa. The hospice referred to as Lotus Dominorum Piscopana stood in the area of Purgatory in the 13th century: until a few decades ago a small chapel in the place called La Maddalena was remembered in that area. The village of Valpromaro was then reached, built on the right of the Freddana, at the point where the stream formed a loop, received a tributary and the section of the valley widened considerably.
We are not sure when the first rural settlement took place: perhaps already in Roman times. Certainly, the place was chosen for being easy to defend, placed as it was on a type of peninsula protected on three sides by streams and close to the hill. The oldest section of the town can be found in the buildings located between the current bridge over the Renipoli canal and the bridge over the Freddana, the area that is still called Canonici or Calonaci today.
With the passage of time the structure of the inhabited center has changed and from that of a small village it has taken on the typical conformation of street villages, with buildings aligned on both sides of the street, which over time has served as a ribbon develpoment of urban development. Dating back to this period are the remains of probable fortifications visible in a wall portion, incorporated into the perimeter wall of the “royal court”. The place name is very interesting as it indicated an “ancient land of taxation included in the royal property (VIII and IX centuries)”.
Also in Lucca, then the capital of Tuscia, the two named curtis regia has been preserved in reference to the area that included the structures and the center of Lombard power. The name “Valpromaro” could confirm the strategic importance that the village had even in the Lombard era as an inevitable road junction to access the city from the north-west. On the other hand, that the Romea road crossed the town is explicitly shown in a document dated 27 November 1101, drawn up in Piazzano, in which the sale of land by the Chapter of San Martino di Lucca to Lanfranco and Sigifredo is discussed. In the description of the boundaries of the plots we read: “Unam petiam de terra, q. est silva (…) on site ubi dicitur Vallicella in Valleprimai a iuxta eccl. S. Martini (..); una petia de terra, quod est campus, in predicto loco Valeprimaia, que tenet: unum caput in strada Romea, aliud cum uno later in suprascripto rio Fredana, aliud caput in predicto rio Trignani… “. Among the names mentioned, the locality Vallicella is the one that in another document is called “Planitho” and should be the land behind the church and the town, close to the Renipoli Canal which is the Rio Trignani mentioned here or also called Ritrignano or Ritignano in other cards.
Of great interest is also the reading of Valpromaro’s estimate of 1410, where one often reads strata and via in reference to properties located in Burgo At that time in the village there was a church dedicated to San Martino, the patron saint of the Franks: it was very large and was oriented according to the Romanesque rite with the apse to the east. Traces of the ancient wall are still visible at the base of the bell tower, in particular there is a large stone, roughly squared and different from all the others.
The road, leaving the village of Valpromaro, continued leaving on the left the bridge known as the Malandrone, an interesting place name that recalls the numerous cases of names linked to roads or taverns with the prefix or suffix Mal. The route then followed a path indicated as via a piè di monte, the current via delle Gore, to connect to via delle Gavine, go up to Piazzano, a typical street village and then descends into the Contesora valley; from here we reached the Serchio, crossed in the Nave area and then to Lucca.
In this way, following this route of movement, the Vallebuia area was avoided, which was almost impracticable/unpassable at that time. On the way there were then several hospitals that could offer hospitality and shelter to wayfarers and pilgrims. Besides that of Valpromaro there are the hospitals of Piazzano, dedicated to San Frediano; of San Michele along the Contesora and that of San Jacopo alle Beltraie in the area of San Macario in Piano. In later times other itineraries were certainly used to reach Lucca from the coast, both passing through the Massarosese territory, and continuing after Valpromaro along the Valfreddana road, to cross the Serchio over the Monte San Quirico bridge, the closest to the city.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]