Pontremoli is not what it appears to be
Don’t mean to offend anyone, but Pontremoli is not exactly the most sexy part of Tuscany. Yet the town with the trembling bridge turned out to be a lot more interesting than we’d first assumed.
If you associate Tuscany with rolling green hills dotted with lean cypress trees and fields of sunflowers, Pontremoli may come as a disappointment. The old town locked between River Magra and the Verde stream has the typical characteristics of Italian mountain villages including too many churches, a declining population and a mass of grey skies hanging in the distance. Not a lot to write about, if it had not been for the enthusiasm, dedication and expert guidance of Francesco Bola and Simona Polli from the private sustainable tourism organisation Farfalle in cammino.
Room full of humanized stone pillars
Francesco lives in Pontremoli and as an art historian and tour guide, he knows where to go and what to see.
We started in the castello del Piagnaro. A medieval castle designed to guard the main roads leading through the Apennine Mountains to Rome. In these giant halls that used to house soldiers, pilgrims on the Via Francigena can still find shelter for the night for 11 Euro a head, but other figures have taken permanent residence in the building. The museum holds a unique collection of statue menhir dating back to the European Neolithic era and there is something profoundly touching about these humanized stone pillars with their friendly smiles, fancy jewelry, pretty page cut and pointed breasts. A very special experience that really deserves a separate blog post.
After admiring the views from the top of the castle, Francesco led us back through Pontremoli to another museum with more prehistoric pieces.
– This museum is normally closed, he explained, and produced a key to demonstrate the kind of heritage the city council cannot afford to look after, let alone keep open for the public.
A town that used to be divided in two
We had reached the central square in Pontremoli that according to Francesco used to be divided by a local version of the Berlin Wall due to some disagreement that for centuries had split the population in two. Now the only road is passable in both directions right down to the point end of the peninsula.
We entered the Duomo and Francesco fed a coin in the electricity metre to lighten up all electric candles and display the church in its baroque splendor. The golden cherubs gave the impression on a royal palace and made the church seem much more aristocratic than the last stop on Francesco’s tour, which was Palazzo Dosi – Magnavacca. A private residence building from 1700 where the current owners occupy only a third floor apartment due to the cost of maintenance and heating. In better days the artist Antonio Contestabili (1716-1790) had painted the interior of the palazzo with an extraordinary trompe l’oeil.
Something I chose to see as a beautiful reminder that in spite of all the apparent riches everything is not always what it appears to be.
A big thank you to Francesco and Simona for an inspiring city walk. And for pointing out that Pontremoli is within commuter distance from great sights like Cinque Terra, Carrara, Parma, etc. There is even a train service to take you there.