Castle of Luni Bishops in Castel Nuovo di Magra
Comune di Castelnuovo Magra: via Veneto, 1 - Castelnuovo Magra (SP)
Telefono: 0187 69 38 01
Fax: 0187 67 01 02
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Lunigiana, a land of castles, soaked in antique tradition, where proof of the Roman era and Medieval times meet. Travel along Via Francigena, climb up the gentle slopes of the Ligurian Apennines until Castelnuovo Magra, once chosen by the Bishops of Luni as the seat of their personal power. Don’t wait to discover this village with the Liguria Heritage audio-guides. After all, if the great poet Dante Alighieri went there, why shouldn’t you?

Castelnuovo, a ledge on the Magra

The view from Castelnuovo Magra is earned after having travelled the 4 km upwards along the road that leads to its historical centre from Aurelia. The town lengthens along the ridge and even from a distance you can clearly see its important points: the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena and the Bishops’ Palace. By just walking along the streets it becomes clear that the village is antique. The presence of small winding alleys, portals and the view of the castle declare origins dating back to Medieval times. The mansions on Via Dante, the main road, have been retouched however, probably between the 17th and 18th centuries and Piazza Querciola, the square where the road merges, is of the same period.

We are in the highest part of the town, this area was once called Borghetto, therefore if we were in the position of having to choose a point in Castelnuovo to build a fortified outpost, I don’t think there would be any doubts about building it in this square, where once Bishop Gualtiero II positioned an initial defensive outpost, probably when the town was being built. The view from here includes an extremely vast area, you can see Sarzana, Sarzanello castle, the antique site of Luni, and obviously the Magra, from which the whole area takes its name. 

Castelnuovo arose in the period from 1187 to 1203, together with the conflict between the Luni bishops and Malaspina, who fought for power in Lunigiana. It was certainly not a simple period, with plundering and devastation; this was one of the reasons why bishop Gualtiero wanted a new castle to be built in the section of land between Fosdinovo and Carrara in order to control the viability and keep it safe. The castle, initially named “of Santa Maria”, represented the focal point around which the most ancient living area of Castelnuovo developed.

The 13th century was extremely complex for this region, the anxiety between the Bishop and the nearby villages became bitter: Sarzana proposed itself as the symbol of this restlessness, demanding release from the Bishop’s reins. Castelnuovo joined forces with Sarzana, but was then obliged to reach compromises because the Episcopate, which always seemed to be on the point of crumbling under the weight of the continuous fighting, continued recovering, often because of some skilled and politically active people who every now and then were able to give renewed energy. This was the case of Bishop Guglielmo who, in 1230, managed to invigorate his power and get Castelnuovo back on his side, which in compensation obtained reinforcement with surrounding walls.

In the meantime the Luni Episcopate fell into the hands of Enrico da Fucecchio, the last person who truly tried in every manner to restore the Luni comital power. This extremely interesting personality decided to build a second episcopal mansion in Castelnuovo, the palacium with the turrim magnam mentioned in documents, and also to purchase an impressive quantity of property. Following the stipulation of peace for Castelnuovo, nestled inside the walls of the new episcopal mansion, the conflict between bishops and Malaspinas formally ended, but factually it was also the end of the bishop’s supremacy in Lunigiana.

Walk through the village alleys, the shape of which state their Medieval origin. At the end of the main road you probably didn’t expect to see a square as big as this one, slightly higher, and in which the sheer size of the bishop’s castle grabs your attention. Listen to the audioguide 1 and discover when and why this building was constructed!

Dante, a special guest

The Pace di Castelnuovo peace treaty is an extremely important document for the history of this region, but even more for the town of Castelnuovo Magra which, thanks to this episode, can proudly say that it hosted Dante Alighieri, signer of the document on behalf of the Marquis Francesco Malaspina together with Bishop Antonio da Camilla.
There are indeed two documents that witness this fact, both dated 06th October 1306, in which Dante is given the role of executor, procurator and ambassador for the true peace treaty.

Dante’s duty was not simply nominal, because in addition to signing the treaty in the place of the marquis he had the power to establish the conditions of this peace, an element that helps to understand how much the Malaspina family esteemed him.
It is evident that this peace was strongly desired by the Bishop, he in fact pushed to apply the conditions of peace quickly, cancelling processes that were under way and cancelling censures. Additional proof of the good relations that were established from this peace was the nomination of Malaspina as the executor for the Bishop.

Castelnuovo castle hosted the famous poet, but why was Dante Alighieri in Lunigiana? Thanks to the audioguide 2, you can find out!

Towards the end of the Middle Ages

Following the peace in Castelnuovo, the interference of the Bishop in Lunigiana became minor, and from the start of the 14th century the village of Castelnuovo became ever more involved in the events of Sarzana.
In 1316, exactly like Sarzana and the majority of the towns in the region, Castelnuovo came under the power of Castruccio Castracani, Lord of Lucca, who obtained the nomination of Viscount that was made legitimate by the Emperor himself, taking advantage of a rest period for the Luni comital power. His power in a region that extended from mount Cisa to the river Magra was such and so tied to his political and strategic skills that upon his death the situation changed suddenly and the majority of this region was passed to those from Pisa, as is witnessed by the fact that it was a person from Pisa who dealt with the surrender of the Sarzana district to the governor of the Republic of Genoa during the 15th century.

Castelnuovo changed substantially while in Genoese hands, with the surrounding walls being reinforced. It was the Florentines, when they succeeded, who transformed the castle, which at that point was destroyed and no longer residential.

Having returned to Genoese hands towards the end of the 15th century, the village remained the property of the Republic, joining the Sarzana region up to the conquering of Napoleon and the subsequent absorption into the Kingdom of Sardinia, which occurred in 1815.

The intervention

The buildings that make up the site of the castle of the Bishops of Luni were in ruins, with only limited portions of the old curtain wall visible near the tower, the only architectural feature to survive the deterioration caused by time and the wars of the 1800s, though it has suffered rainwater damage.

As part of the Development of the natural and cultural resources of Liguria project (Level 4 of Por Fesr 2007-2013), the renovation project will involve the conservative restoration of the walls and the medieval tower and their reinforcement, with the installation of any fixtures and fittings necessary to ensure that the site can be used for events such as exhibitions and the installation of wiring and/or plumbing.

The plans also include the creation of a tourist itinerary thanks to the restoration of an old footpath using local stone and the creation of parking areas and facilities for visitors so as to make sure the site is usable.
There are also plans to install safety systems and lighting.

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