The mountain area of the Lucchesia comprising the Garfagnana and the Mediavalle (where our village is situated) through which the Serchio flows has always been Tuscany’s frontier region, its “wild west” if you like. It was so when the Romans were fighting the Liguri tribes back in the 3rd century BC. It was so during the governorship of Ariosto in 1522-5 when the Este and the Medici families combated for control against hoards of brigands. It became so again in WWII when Gerry built the Gothic line as a defense against the allied advance. As befits all frontier regions there are several castles and fortresses dotted around the area. Some of them are mere piles of stone, devoured by the forest like some Asian jungle temples. Others are more substantial and a few are truly spectacular and well-cared for.
Since we moved here two of them have been restored: the great fortress of Mont’Alfonso near Castelnuovo Garfagnana and the Fortezza delle Verrucole near San Romano. The last is sometimes the location of fairs and events and it was to one of these that we came in 2005. Verrucole is a long narrow construction built by Count Gherardini from 1285 onwards and crowns a hill with a grandstand view in both directions of the Serchio valley. It must have been very difficult to capture! The last time the fortress saw action was in 1520 when it came under the firm control of the Dukes of Este.
To start the festive event there was a procession of soldiers, lords and ladies (Please note: due to my camera at the time there is no sound on the following video clips).
This was followed by the characteristic sbandieramento.
The mediaeval dancing was graceful and fun at the same time:
Among those watching was a beautiful blind girl who spoke to us with full confidence about her future plans and was invited to join in the dancing. We wonder where she is now and whether her plans have been realized.
There was a ferocious fight which took place right in front of us while we were eating a focaccia in the area of the old keep. We pondered whether we would come out alive – the sound of swords swishing in the air was quite terrifying! Some of the soldiers complained that they hadn’t been rewarded by the authorities for their participation. They might have paid up if they saw the way the knights fought!
There has not been an event since on the scale of the one we attended, which is a great pity. I would like to go back to Verrucole as the southern tower has now been fully restored with a new conical roof and looks even more impressive.
Lunigiana is meant to be the best place to visit castles in Tuscany – certainly the Castello dell ’Aquila, owned by a friend (see http://www.castellodellaquila.it/castelloaquila/) just on the other side of the passo Carpinelli, is impressive and has been lovingly rescued from invading creepers.. But there is quite enough this side to keep one happy. Indeed, just within a radius of five miles from Longoio there are castles at Lucchio, Casoli, Benabbio (scene of recent archaeological digs which have uncovered the bones of cholera victims) and on the hill above Pieve di Controni – all in various state of abandon or ruin, but all worth a walk just for the views from them.
If you want to know more about the castles of Tuscany http://www.castellitoscani.com/castles_index.htm is an excellent site to visit. Meanwhile here are some further pictures from that memorable afternoon at Verrucole fortress: