The Via Francigena, also called Franchigena, is a main road used in the past by pilgrims to reach the three major Christian places in the medieval era: Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem. The groups of pilgrims walked on foot 20-25 km per day, and were marked by three signs of recognition (the shell for Santiago de Compostela, the key to St. Peter's in Rome, the cross for Jerusalem).
The road was also used for the movements of armies and for commercial purposes. This continuous passage of people led to the construction of hospices, villages, monasteries and castles, which, being kept intact until today let us admire interesting examples of Romanesque architecture.
The city of Lucca, because of its location, was a focal point of the routes to Florence, Parma, the Po Valley, Luni and Pisa. It was reached by the road "via de supra", which crossed the old town of Feliciano, and the road "via de subtus", which passed through the ancient Lombard village of Tempagnano.
The merchants of the city of Lucca were able to make the most of the economic traffic generated by the numerous pilgrimages. This led to the increased of the wealth of the town.
The historical importance of the Via Francigena has been kept alive thanks to important studies and research, but especially thanks to the pilgrims who continue to travel it over time.
The Via Francigena (so callede because it comes from the land of the franks) is part of a group of roads, also known as the Rome Pilgrimage Routes, which lead from Central Europe to Rome. As far back as the 10th century, Bishop Sigeric described the Francigena path he took to return from Rome to Canterbury. In the Europe of the Middle Ages, this route already represented an important road communications system. In 1994 the Via Francigena was designed a "Council of Europe Cultural Route" giving a supranatural importance, on a par with the Camino of Santiago de Compostela.
The land and the city of Lucca are crossed by the Via Francigena that, at the time, in addition to the pilgrimage, was used for trade and military movements. These opportunities and luck led to the development of the city and of the territory crossed, indeed many religious structures were equipped for the accommodation of travellers (monasteries, churches, etc.), service providers (hospitals), villages and castles.
Even today, Lucca, jewel of art and culture, rich in ancient atmospheres, welcomes the Pilgrim with the same hospitality, giving secular refreshment to the body and the spirit.
The stretch of the Via Francigena from Lucca starts coming from the town of Camaiore and past the Monte Magno, in the Valley of the torrent Freddana then go back towards the town of Piazzano you enter on the road along the river Contesora where is the little church of S. Michele Arcangelo (formerly adjacent to a hospital for pilgrims now destroyed said "Hospital de Contesora").
Continue towards San Macario in Piano and the follows the Cerchia stream to the village of Ponte San Pietro. Here, before the construction of the bridge, the Pilgrim could cross the Serchio boat, as is testified by the name of the village "Nave" (boat) shows, and thus reach the city by following the road along the left bank of Serchio River, crossing in part the current River Park, a protected area and scenic environment rich in Marsh flora and fauna.
Left behind River Park, after a few hundred metres, Lucca's imposing Renaissance walls come into view and you enter the city through Porta Santa Maria.
From here starts a real path of worship: the basilica di San Frediano with beautiful mosaic on the top of the façade; the Church of San Michele in Foro (built exactly in the Centre of the ancient Roman Forum) style façade lucchese-Pisan topped by the imposing statue of the Archangel; St. Martin's Cathedral which houses a wooden statue of the Holy face and where, on a marble pillar adjacent to the Tower, there is a mysterious carving in the shape of "Labyrinth" by the various meanings. Also in the city centre, in one of the oldest churches of Santa Giulia and in the adjacent lane of Altopascio, there are some remains of the venue of the mansion of Lucca, of "Tau"-monastic order of chivalry that from XI century offered help and hospitality to Pilgrim Wanderer defense.
Progressing eastward through the medieval Porta San Gervasius and Protasius, and then the neoclassical Porta Elisa (made in honor of Napoleon's sister, Duchess of Lucca) on the walls and just outside the walls, is a must visit to the sanctuary of S. Gemma.
From here the Route continues East, meeting the area churches and villages of ancient memory in surrounding municipalities of Capannori, Porcari and Altopascio, Montecarlo.
So travelling, slowly, the modern traveler can understand the soul of places, can discover slowly this itinerary of faith, rich lucchese history, legends and traditions, can meet great monuments and small curiosity, can truly "walking to know" and increase their cultural heritage as well.