AND HISTORICAL CENTER
VIA FRANCIGENA AND HISTORICAL CENTER
Via Francigena of Altopascio: discover a journey through the footsteps of medieval pilgrims..
Via Francigena path is an important cultural itinerary which connects Canterbury to Rome and thrills those who continue to tread traces left over the centuries through uncontaminated passages and historical-artistic beauties. This historical european road running through Tuscany represents an unique opportunity to discover, for almost 400km (divided into 16 stops), the ancient route crossed by pilgrims, merchants, travelers, through woods, hills and medieval villages, between history, art, food and wine.
A stage of 18.6 km begins from Lucca and the time indicated is approximately 4 hours. We leave Lucca from Porta San Gervasio for an easy and flat route, interesting for many historical and religious buildings that we can find along the route. Capannori is reached passing by the parish church of San Quirico and then, shortly after Porcari, with a detour of 500 meters we arrive in Badia di Pozzeveri. We arrive at the church of San Jacopo, a stopping point in Altopascio. In this territory formerly covered with woods infested by brigands, the hospitable of the Tau’s Knights was a safe haven for pilgrims.
Altopascio is a great hospitable center and has a particular historical and artistic importance, especially linked to the hospitality of pilgrims who still pass through it today, many of whom are staying overnight in the guesthouse managed by the municipality. Altopascio’s history begins with Tau’s Knights, at the ending of the 11th century.On the Via Francigena took place an intense activity of hospitality, assistance to pilgrims,to the sick and the poor. Very active, the friars founded several dependencies in Italy and Europe, so much that in 1191, at Filippo Augusto’s time, Altopascio was simply called “Le Hopital” i.e. the hospital par excellence. Boccaccio, Machiavelli and Shakespeare wrote about it.
In the premises adjacent to the Farm grain silos, reachable through a suggestive corridor at the end of which an important archaeological excavation is also visible, a little but interesting archaeological museum is placed. The content of the exhibition testifies the multiple aspects of the material life of the territory, from the 12th to the 19th, showing various types and objects of different age, shape and function, technique of manufacture, decoration and value. Digging into the historical events of this town means to immerse yourself in a fascinating wealth of information: traditions, characters, heritages and cultural exchanges that have left deep traces since the end of the year 1000 until the modern era.
From Altopascio, with a new stop of 29.53 km within 6 hours, we can reach San Miniato. In the initial part of the path, in Galleno, we can walk on the pavement of the ancient Via Francigena. Then we pass the hills of Cerbaie, wild and deserted, to head towards Ponte a Cappiano, with the Medici bridge recently restored. From here, along the embankment of Usciana canal, we cross an ancient swamp, now reclaimed, to reach the historical center of Fucecchio. After passing the Arno river walking through the embankment, we arrive in San Miniato, the rich and powerful medieval village still perfectly preserved.
Water and refreshment points in Chimenti, Galleno, Ponte a Cappiano and Fucecchio.
ALTOPASCIO AND ITS HISTORY
Altopascio is a delightful village, situated along the Via Francigena. It is a mixture of smells, flavors and sensations, waiting to be discovered. Not only a place: a world of experiences, emotions and life. It’s a small town located in the Piana of Lucca territory, famous for its bread: it is, in fact, renowned as the city of bread because it was able to maintain this ancient cereal tradition over the centuries.
The historical center preserves works of considerable artistic value such as the church dedicated to Saint Jacopo, built in 1100 during the period of the Hospitallers Order's greatest splendor.
Next to the church, we can find the grand bell tower of Romanesque-Lucca origin, built in 1280, still maintaining its medieval fortress aspect.
A must see: Hospitalleri square, the most suggestive spot of the historical downtown which preserves, in its centre, an interesting octagonal shaped water well.
The historic core of Altopascio, in the shape of an irregular triangle and contained by walls of which some features remain and the three doors, corresponds to the medieval hospital, giving a clear idea of the dimensions of its ancient greatness. Here the three squares, correspond to as many courtyards, around which the functional structures were distributed, but sadly they were largely transformed when the complex ended up being a farm and an agricultural village. But some architectures are still a clear testimony of the importance that Altopascio once had. Starting with the mighty Romanesque bell tower, a true emblem of the hospital, punctuated by four shelves whose openings become progressively larger, built to host the bell, called “La Smarrita” (The Lost), the sound of which, at dusk, indicated to travelers the proximity of the hospice. The facade of the chapel is also beautiful thanks to the richness of its decorative apparatus, consisting of two blind and superimposed loggias. It was dedicated to San Jacopo, who, in 1830, became the transept of a larger neoclassical church.
The history of Altopascio and the Frau’s Hospitallers’ friars knew the maximum splendor right in the first half of the 13th century. But why and how Tau's knight order, in this part of Tuscan land between Lucca, Pisa and Firenze, became so important? The exact year of the foundation of the order is not yet known, but we can affirm that the hospital already existed in 1084, assuming its birth between 1073 and 1081.
The order of Altopascio took as its own symbol the "Tau". This greek letter evoked, in the first place, the characteristic shape of the pilgrims' bordone, but, at the same time, had also other symbolic contents such as, for example, the reference to the Cross. On 5 April 1239 the friars' Rule of S.Giovanni of Jerusalem, the so-called Jerusalemites, was granted to the Tau's friars from Pope Gregory IX, almost to seal the period most flourishing of the activity of the hospitable order. This officially gave the community the status of religious order, and above all, it sanctioned its independence from Jerusalemites themselves and from any other order. Between the end of the eleventh century and throughout the subsequent one, the Altopascese institution benefited from several donations, made by rich and modest landowners in order to earn paradise.
The glory and luster of Altopascio soon crossed the borders of Italy and the friars of the order founded dependencies also abroad, as in 1180, when they settled in Paris, on a land situated outside the city walls, where it now stands, precisely, the church of Saint Jacques du Haut-Pas, or in Spain, where the Magione counted dependencies in Astorga, Pamplona and Tortosa or, again, in England and in Germany.
In the church of Magione famous artists donated their works, such as sculptors of the Guglielmo school, who in the same years worked in Pisa at the factory of Duomo. Towards the end of the century the hospital was the richest institution in the whole diocesi, strong in dependencies and widespread ownership. A new phase however was announced between the end of the 14° and the beginning of the 15° century, when the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a new mercantile aristocracy increasingly favored the consolidation of the Lordships, which were evolving into stable and hereditary institutions, so to become real Principalities. The great crisis was evident in Tuscany: the development of the countryside slowed down and, at the same time, the development of the urban centers strengthened; Altopascio was also involved in the whirlwind of events: after being the scene of clashes in the regional wars between Florence, Pisa and Lucca, besieged and conquered many times, it saw its strategic importance drastically reduced. Also Tau’s knight hospital institution suffered becouse of the crisis that hit Tuscany at the end of the Middle Ages.
In 1459 therefore the chivalric order of the Hospitaller friars was suppressed by Pope Pius II, while the hospital continued to live under the guidance of the Florentine Capponi family and the Magione complex reduced to a rich landed property, enlarged and deeply restructured.
In 1773 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo I definitively closed the hospital and with it its centuries-old history, marked throughout the Christian world by the hospitality it had offered: nothing remained but a large main farm which included almost 40 farms characterized by a good agricultural production and nothing more. But at the end of 1700 the picture changed: under the impetus of the agrarian reform, the Grand Duke began to sell the farms to private citizens, and the dismemberment began; this fact will give impetus to an increase of population that will be perceivable especially in the following century, when Altopascio, in 1881, became an autonomous municipality (until then it was part of the Municipality of Montecarlo).
piazza Ricasoli - Altopascio
STAMP OF THE PILGRIM
Municipal library A. Carrara
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, 23 Altopascio
Tourism office - Municipal library A. Carrara
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, 23 Altopascio