Pontremoli in the Lunigiana area, Province of Massa and Carrara, in northern Tuscany


Pontremoli is a charming little town situated in the Province of Massa and Carrara very near the border with Emilia Romagna, making it the northernmost town in Tuscany. It is located at north-western end of the Lunigiana region in the high valley of the Magra river, at the confluence with the Verde stream and the Valle del Verde. Pontremoli lies on one of the oldest routes that connect the Val Padana with Liguria and Tuscany, the Via Francigena route, and is still on the route of important road infrastructure including the A15 motorway and the Pontremolese railway line, which directly connect Parma with La Spezia.

There has been much speculation regarding the origin of the name Pontremoli. The most popular hypothesis is that it comes from the Latin name “pontem (or pons) tremula“, for an ancient bridge, now long gone, over the Magra river, probably built in Populus tremula wood (aspen), which appears in the first noble and later municipal coat of arms of Pontremoli. Another hypothesis is that the adjective “tremula” is due to the precariousness of the bridge, subject to the numerous floods that have always affected the area. Other more complex hypotheses derive the name from the ancient Tuscan-Ligurian dialect.

In any case, Pontremoli was one of the first stops along the Via Francigena in Tuscany. Pontremoli is mentioned by Sigeric, Archbischop of Canterbury, in his diary of his journey to Rome from England along the Via Francigena in 990 A.D.

Bridge at Pontremoli
Bridge at Pontremoli

Religious Architecture of Pontremoli

In the town of Pontremoli there are a total of 47 churches, including oratories and parish churches.

  • Co-cathedral of Santa Maria del Popolo was built in the 17t C and dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. This church houses a number of interesting sculptures and paintings. The dome of the cathedral, together with the bell tower, dominates the historic centre.
  • Ancient parish church of San Colombano (demolished in 1913). This pieve was founded in the Lombard period. In 1154, it depended on the Abbey of San Caprasio di Aulla as A hospice for pilgrims on the Via Francigena and later on the Pieve di Saliceto. iT became an autonomous parish at the end of the 16 C under the title of SS. Colombano and Giovanni Battista, deriving the second dedication from the simultaneous demolition of a church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista. With the construction of the Zambeccari Bridge in 1913, the church of San Colombano was demolished and its parish functions were transferred to the church of San Francesco which since then has taken on the title of San Colombano.
  • Church of the Santissima Annunziata, with the Augustinian monastery. This church was built at the end of the 15 C, following an apparition of the Virgin, which is believed to have taken place at the location of a sacred shrine within which an Annunciation was frescoed.
  • Church of San Francesco and of the saints Giovanni and Colombano, founded in 1219, according to tradition by the San Francesco d’Assisi. Since the demolition of the ancient parish church of San Colombano in 1913, this church has been the seat of the parish of SS. Giovanni and Colombano.
  • Church of San Geminiano, baroque in style, is located in the square where Pier della Vigna was blinded.
  • Church of San Giacomo al Campo, or Church of Mercy.
  • Church of San Giacomo d’Altopascio.
  • Church of San Giorgio.
  • Church of Sant’Ilario.
  • Church of San Martino and San Lazzaro.
  • Church of San Nicolò. This church preserves an ancient wooden cross.
  • Church of San Pietro.
  • Church of Santa Cristina.
  • Former Convent of the Capuchins, today the Church of San Lorenzo.
  • Oratory of Nostra Donna, in Rococo style, stands near the gate and the bridge of Castelnuovo.

Military Architecture of Pontremoli

  • Piagnaro Castle, named after the typical tiles of this area, known as piagne, was built in the 11 C, but suffered numerous attacks with consequent reconstructions, until 1790, when the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo, delivered the last cannon to the Municipality to melt down the bronze and make the city bell. Piagnaro Castle currently houses the Museum of Lunigiana Stele Statues, which represent the oldest and most mysterious heritage of this area.
  • The Campanone or Cacciaguerra tower is located between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Repubblica and is the symbolic bell tower of the town. Built in the 14 C by the will of Castruccio Castracani as part of a fortified system that divided the city into two parts, it was adapted to its current use in the 16 C.
  • Porta Parma is located on the northern edge of the Pontremoli town and was built as a fortification in the early Middle Ages.
  • Porta di Castelnuovo, located between the oratory of Nostra Donna and the Teatro della Rosa, completed the defenses of the city and protected the Castelnuovo bridge.
  • Porta dell’Imborgo formed the southern access to Pontremoli. It was built where the primitive parish structure of Santi Giovanni e Colombano in via Caldana, also known as San Francesco di sotto, was demolished to build the adjacent Casotto bridge which crosses the Magra river.
  • Porta della Cresa is an ancient access to the village from the west, preceded by the pre-Romanesque pedestrian bridge (11 C) over the Torrente Verde stream, called Ponte della Cresa or also Ponte di San Francesco, as it leads to the ancient Church of San Francesco (13 C), formerly with the parish Church of Saints John and Colombano.
Castello del Piagnaro
Castello del Piagnaro

Pontremoli civil architecture

  • Ponte della Cresa, over the Verde stream, built of stone in the 14 C.
  • Ponte Stemma or Ponte del Casotto, on the Verde just before its confluence with the Magra, was built at the end of the 14 C.
    Ponte dei Quattro Santi, over the Magra stream, built in the 19 C, and named after the four statues of saints present at its four summits: Santa Zita da Succisa, San Francesco Fogolla, San Geminiano and San Francesco d’Assisi.
  • Ponte Zambeccari, built in 1914 on the Verde stream, following the demolition of the ancient church of San Colombano the previous year.
  • Ponte del Giubileo (Ponte del Castelnuovo), on the Magra river, was also built at the end of the 14 C and destroyed by the Germans in April 1945. It was rebuilt in its original form in 2000.
  • Ponte dei Chiosi, situated in the countryside north of Pontremoli.
  • Villa Dosi Delfini, built in the 17 C by the wealthy Dosi family, who also built the Casa dei Chio.
Pontremoli in the Lunigiana region of Tuscany
Pontremoli in the Lunigiana region of Tuscany