The term “Via Francigena” refers to the set of roads and paths, travelled by pilgrims from the end of the tenth century, which connected Rome to the Western Alps up to France in the north and that continued south towards Apulia, where there were ports of embarkation to the Holy Land.
The Via Francigena is part of a wider network of roads and routes linking the three great shrines of medieval Christianity Rome, Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem among to each other and to the major places of spirituality of the time.
These itineraries were constantly travelled by pilgrims from all over Europe and is still widely used today, walking it is not uncommon to meet travellers with backpacks on their shoulders. In fact, after centuries in which it was abandoned, today the Via Francigena has been rediscovered and there have been numerous interventions, both public and private, for the recovery of large stretches that make it viable again.
Along the Via Francigena’s paths were born on castles, abbeys and facilities to accommodate all travellers, even those less wealthy.
The Via Francigena is therefore an important cultural and faith path that crosses Tuscany with stops not too far from our farm. In the Middle Ages the Tuscan section of the paths was divided between the dioceses of Lucca (see our article about the “Mensa di Lucca”), Volterra, Siena, Chiusi and Arezzo.
Let’s see which is the Tuscan route and which are the main destinations. The first important stop coming from the north is Lucca, one of the main destinations of the whole Via Francigena, place of pilgrimage to the Holy Face (a wooden crucifix of medieval age located in the cathedral of San Martino) and the relics of important saints, such as San Regolo and San Frediano.
Leaving from Lucca, the pilgrims had two alternatives, to continue towards Bientina along the Monte Pisano or to follow the main path to Altopascio passing through Porcari. From here they crossed the Padule di Fucecchio towards the Arno river, in Fucecchio they crossed the river.
The next stops towards Siena were San Miniato, Castelfiorentino, Certaldo and Poggibonsi, or via a secondary path they could pass through San Gimignano. In the late Middle Ages Siena assumed importance because of its position along this road.
From Siena, the road followed the Arbia valley to San Quirico d’Orcia, from here it climbed up the splendid Val d’Orcia and then continued to Rome.
Today as said the original route of the Via Francigena was recovered where possible, with some detours to avoid busy roads and highways that in the meantime were born along the ancient path. Many travellers walk along these paths, inspired by religious and spiritual feelings or simply taking advantage of this millenary road to seek peace, silence and enjoy the nature.
The Altopascio – San Miniato stretch is 25 kilometres long, it can be covered in about 6 hours. It begins with a first part on the pavement of the original medieval road arriving in the impervious hilly area of Cerbaie, here anciently pilgrims were exposed to the danger of bandits. Then you enter in the “Padule di Fucecchio”, the largest inland marsh in Italy with its 2,000 hectares, cross Ponte a Cappiano, where a hostel has been built inside the ancient Medici bridge and go back to the historic centre of Fucecchio. After crossing the Arno river, follow the embankment towards San Miniato.
The San Miniato – Gambassi Terme stretch is 24 kilometres long, it can be covered in about 6 hours. This part of Via Francigena that crosses the hills of Val d’Elsa is characterized both by a very beautiful typical landscape with breathtaking panoramic views and by a high number of churches, monasteries and hospitals. Particularly worth seeing are the parish churches of Coiano and Santa Maria a Chianni.
The Gambassi Terme – San Gimignano stretch is 13 km long, it can be covered in about 3 hours of quiet walk on a flat road and allows you to easily reach the beautiful medieval city of San Gimignano.
For more information visit the Via Francigena website.