The first known settlings of the Val di Magra (the valley that runs through the Lunigiana along the A15 Autostrada) took place a thousand or so years before Christ. The standing carved stone stelae or statue-menhirs) found in the area attest to the earlier culture; we call them the Ligui-Apuani but don't know much more than they raised cattle (see below for more on the statue-menhirs of the Lunigiana).
The name Lunigiana is thought to have come from the Roman settlement at Luni, which is now actually outside the boundaries of modern Lunigiana. You can visit the ruins there, which date from 177 B.C. You can see originals of these statues at the six room Piagnaro Museum in the Castello del Pianaro, Pontremoli.[The Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Luni e Scavi is located in Ortonovo on Via S. Pero. Telephone: 0187-66811. Hours 9am-7pm. Closed New Years and May 1. There is also an Ethnographic Museum in Ortonovo on via Cannetolo. It's free, but open by appointment only. Telephone 0187/690111 (the number is the Comune, the town hall, so you'll probably have to know a little Italian. Ask to visit the Museo Ethnographico.) There is a smaller museum at Casola, in the ancient townhall, called the "Museo del territorio dell'Alta Valle Aulella".]
The Val di Magra fell under Byzantine rule in the early middle ages, when Luni was the base for the Byzantine fleet which had its main port in the Island of Sardinia. The Longobards came in 643, then from the tenth century, on Luni hosted a bishop installed by Emperor Otto I.
From the 12th century power settled into three divisions, the north, dominated by the prosperous town of Pontremoli, the center, dominated by the Malaspina family centered in their castle at Oramala, and the south, ruled by the Genoa republic. But the Malaspina's wanted more, and with their power increasing, clashes with Pontremoli and the Bishops of Luni became more frequent. In 1306 Dante Alighieri (who, after his exile from Florence received refuge and protection from the Malaspinas) was called in to make peace between the family and the Bishop of Luni at Castlenuovo Magra.
But as all this was happening Castruccio Castracani, head of the Gibellines in Tuscany, set his eyes on the region and started a period of the Valley's plundering by various signori, most notably the Visconti, Carlo V, the Genoa Republic and the Spanish.
Today the Lunigiana is a borderland between the north of Italy and the rest of Tuscany--olive trees and grapevines mingle with chestnut and beech trees. Pristine medieval villages, seldom visited, are ripe for the tourists cameras. There are over 100 castles that dot the area.
Statue-Menhirs of the Lunigiana
A millennium or so before the Roman conquest, three particular types of statue-menhirs were erected by the Lunigiani. It's hard to tell what they mean, since other archaeological finds such as related burial sites haven't been found. We do know that most of the statues have been found in rural and restricted areas such as pastures, fords, and mountain passes, and may have been part of a navigation/spiritual protection system for passing shepherds. You can see originals of these statues at the six room Piagnaro Museum in the Castello del Pianaro, Pontremoli.
Location: Castello Del Piagnaro, Pontremoli
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 9-12 and 14-17 (Winter) - Tuesday-Sunday 9-12 and 16-19 (Summer) Closed Monday.
Visiting the Lunigiana Region of Tuscany
For a Map of the Lunigiana and traveler's essentials for visiting, see our Lunigiana Map and Essential Travel Resources