Precipitous Sassi

The village of Sassi, with around two hundred inhabitants, is yet another example of how varied settlements can be in Garfagnana. It is situated on the east side of the Apuans and is reached via the hill route alternative between Gallicano and Castelnuovo

Sassi was built in the shelter of a rocky cliff and on one side has a drop of about 470 metres plunging into the Turrite Secco valley, one of the tributaries of the Serchio.

The first evidence of the village dates back to 849.  Countess Matilde di Canossa (who was also responsible for the construction of Borgo a Mozzano’s Ponte Del Diavolo (see my post at visited Sassi in 1168.

On July 28, 1524, Ludovico Ariosto, the famous poet and governor of Garfagnana visited the fortress of Sassi to assess its condition and vainly prevent it from being demolished by Duke Ercole II for economic reasons.

Some of the houses are quite noble-looking (or “signorili” as Italians like to describe them) and point to a considerable period of prosperity when the town passed under the domination of the Este family and became a strategic defence post.

The site of the largely demolished fortress is occupied by a beautiful church: that of San Frediano. Its origins are rather uncertain but, again, its construction may be due to that remarkable lady, Matilde of Canossa around the twelfth century.

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With a campanile that dominates the whole valley and looks out on one side onto a sheer drop in to the valley of the Turrite Secco it’s said that one can count one hundred church steeples from Sassi’s tower but we didn’t even begin counting them!

Unfortunately the church was closed when we first visited it in December 2007 and it was only at the charming mediaeval Festa in July 2008 that we managed to get a look in. The remarkable panelled painted wooden ceiling, built in 1788, is very impressive but the whole church is in dire need of restoration. In fact, since the building of a second church closer to the centre of Sassi in 1820, San Frediano has largely become redundant as it is difficult of access for less-able persons and also subject to frequent lightning strikes.

However, it’s really worth seeing this church when open.

Near the village is the church of Our Lady of the Snows which commemorates a miraculous event when it snowed in summer (well it nearly did last summer here – or rather it hailed!)


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