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Photo ©Alessio Grazi
Fortezza della Brunella, Aulla
A narrow strip of land between two rivers, once a fundamental hub along the Via Francigena

Aulla sits pretty on a narrow strip of land where the Magra meets the Aulella, a plot of ground that proved pivotal for the civil and religious life of the Lunigiana immediately after the year 1000. At that time Aulla was already a little town and its importance was linked to its position: the centre was decisive in defending the bridges and streets that led from Lucchesia and Liguria to the Passo della Cisa. This was a central zone in what were years of great fortune for the Via Francigena, both as a pilgrim way and as a trading route.

It isn’t accidental that the Abbazia di San Caprasio was founded in that period, whose earliest construction dates to 884 and whose control was entrusted to monks linked to the Malaspina family. The height of Aulla’s religious and economic influence dates to between the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when the monastery gained a plebeian role, exerting itself over most of the surrounding areas. Around 1070 the original building was altered, gaining the three naves it has today. It was reworked again in the fourteenth century as well as during the Baroque era.

A visit to the town also requires seeing the Fortezza della Brunella, named for the hill on which the fortress was erected in the mid sixteenth century. It is a typical example of Renaissance military architecture, established to defend against firearm attacks. The fortress is almost square in shape with large polygonal points that now (after systematic restoration) houses the Natural History Museum in Lunigiana, a playground and one of the rarest Italian pet cemeteries.

The area is wonderful for hikers and walkers.  In addition to traditional valley floor routes that follow the Francigena, Aulla vaunts more hilly options to Bibola-Sarzana. This is the point at which pilgrims from the Lagastrello (or Linari) passes met, as well as those arriving from Ospedalaccio, the fivizzanese and even wayfarers from the right bank of the Magra. Today’s tourists wishing to step back to those pilgrim days around the year 1000 can walk a variety of trails deep in the woods, reaching Sarzana in just over five hours. Along the Via Sarzanese, on the other hand, you reach the ruins of Burcione, a village that was mysteriously destroyed in the Middle Ages, once the rich and powerful residence of the rulers of Burcione. From here you can get as far as Bibola, set in striking scenery, once strategic for the control of the roads that flanked the Magra climbing up towards Fivizzano and the Garfagnana.

Around Caprigliola oak and chestnut trees cast shade over the trail, which at ground level is scented with rosemary and ferns, while the scenery opens out with panoramic views over the Apuan and Apennine Mountains, affording a summary of the spellbinding Lunigiana. At the highest points you can relive those same feelings as a medieval pilgrim did after five months of walking, having reached the mountaintop and leaving the Po plain behind them once and for all. Having reached this point, after a long walk, he saw the most incredible scenery of the Tuscan and Ligurian coastline unfurl before his very eyes: the long crescent moon of the beaches, the mouth of the river Magra, the reefs and Palmaria Island. Lower down, the vast Luni plain, with Sarzana, brimming in artistic treasures, can be reached by foot after a six-hour walk.

Around Aulla remember to check out the National Archaeological Museum of Luni, with its remarkable Roman and Etruscan remains, the most important of which is undoubtedly the beautiful Luni Amphitheater right by the museum.
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