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                                                        GARFAGNANA

 

ImageThe portion of the Serchio Valley located in the Province of Lucca is called Garfagnana.  This valley lies between the Apuan Alps,  celebrated for their pure white marble and the Tosco-Emiliano Appennines. The region is characterized  by a rainy season and, therefore, has abundant water which nourishes the valley's rich vegetation.  Luxuriant forests and thriving meadows rise from the bottom of the valley almost to the summit of the mountains.  The Garfagnana Valley includes two Natural Parks:  L'Orecchiella Natural Preserve on the Appennine side, and the Regional Park of the Apuan Alps, which includes the entire calcareous chain that divides the Serchio Valley from the coast of Versilia.

Garfagnana has been inabited from distant ages, actually as far back as prehistoric times. Today, the region is a stronghold of ancient customs and remnants of a troubled past, as withnessed by its many fortresses,  castles, and walled towns.  Since the Middle Ages,  Garfagnana's ancient roads have made the region one of the most important transit areas between Northern and Central Italy.

 
GARFAGNANA HISTORICAL NOTES


ImageIn the Middle Ages the entire Upper Middle Serchio Valley north of the bridge and gorge at Calavorno was called Garfagnana. In modern times the region's boundaries have included the territory of what was once Garfagnana Estense - belonging to the ducal famity of EsteImage - and of the adjacent Lucca Vicariates of Gallicano, Castiglione, and Minucciano.  It is clear from the local place-names that  this area was settled in prehistoric times by the Uttibrians who were later ousted by the Etruscans.  Some really first-rate archeological finds of the Etruscans have recently been unearted in the area. Later, the Ligurian-Apuanians, who left traces of their civilization in the numerous cremation tombs (in the form of a box made of stone slabs) predominated throughout the region.

The Ligurian Apuanians constituted a great  hindrance to Roman expansion and upon their defeat in 179 B.C. they were deported en masse to Sannio . Their defeat paved the way for the Roman colonization of Garfagnana.  The Romans absorbed the residue of the local population and gave birth to the new, proud people of Garfagnana who to this day preserve a recognizable ethnic integrity. This period left a rich legacy of Latin praedial toponymy,  an Imageextensive  network of  roads ( including ancient Roman roads branching out from the floor of the Valley toward the Appennine passes of Carpinelli, Pradarena, Forbici, Radici and Saltello) and trading centres of considerable importance such as Barga, Pieve Fosciana, Piazza al Serchio, Sillano, Gallicano and Castelnuovo, famous for its Castle, Rocca Ariostesca as the temporary residence of the great Italian poet, Ludovico Ariosto while governing the territory.

After the fall of the Roman Empire it was the Lombards (570-774) who, in the succession of barbarian  invasion, left the most lasting signs of their presence in this region. Their settlement in Garfagnana gave rise to the rapid spread of Christianity. There followed the dominion of the Franks and of the Italic kingdoms.  Around the year 1000,  the riseImage  of the Holy Roman Empire helped to stabilize the region, an influence that lasted almost up to the Unification of  Italy, although under fluctuating authority (Lucca, Florence, Pisa Modena, etc). During the12th century, Lucca,  already a free commune,  was carrying out its continuous expansion in the Serchio Valley. The more than 100 other  free communes of Garfagnana were also in the process of being united under the tutelage of the Republic of Lucca and under the Dominion of Castruccio  Castracani  (1316-1328). Following his death, there was a century of severe struggle and strife, broken only by 30 years of Pisan domination (1342-1369) and another 30 years of peace under the rule of Paolo Guinigi (1400-1428).

ImageOnce it was no longer defended by the Republic, Garfagnana fell easy prey to both the Dukes of Ferrara and to the Este family while the Barga territory voluntarily joined with the Florentines. Although these occupations were intended to be temporary, they dragged on until the unification of Italy, except for a temporary period of French occupation and of the Napoleonic principality of the Baciocchi (1805-1814).  

 

Peace in the Province of the  Dukes of Este was disturbed by  three violent wars fought between 1583 and 1613 between Lucca and Modena for the dominion and possesion of Garfagnana.    In 1859 Garfagnana was united to the newly formed Province of  Massa; it only reverted to the Province of Lucca in 1923.

The military campaigns conducted in Garfagnana during the Second World War are well known. The Gothic Line, which crossed the upper Serchio Valley, just north of Barga,  was the scene of violent positional warfare which brought enormous ruin and sacrifice to the land and its people. During this period strong partisan groups of "Volunteers for Liberty"  operated in the area. Remarkable was the battle for Sommocolonia that saw the sacrifice of Lt. Fox and his men from the all blacks Buffalo division of the US Army.

   
A HOLYDAY IN GARFAGNANA

           
The following article was published in The Times, London, on August 9, 1997.  The author stayed in a farmhouse very close to Barga.

                              Walking back to health and happiness

What do I remember best?  Wild flowers in a Coca-Cola bottle at a tiny shrine for the Virgin, beside a
 mountain path; trees hung with cherries and red geraniums in window boxes; an aching bottom from
 riding a mountain bike too fast down a long track newly-surfaced with small limestone boulders; the
 Gothic windows in the apse of the cathedral at Barga, glazed with thin sheets of coloured marble;
 fireflies lighting up a hillside, like Harrods at Christmas, and fields of long stemmed wheat, each
 one, said a cynic, waiting, for its cheque from Brussels.

We stayed between the Apuane Alps and a spur of the Apennines.  "Chiantishire" is far to the south
and, when English is spoken in the Garfagnana in northern Tuscany, it may well be with a Scottish accent.  In the depression at the end of the last century many people emigrated to Scotland, (but also to USA, Canada and Australia) Many have come back.  The apparently Italian manager of the Villa Libano hotel in Barga, where we ate on our first night, had played rugby for Scotland under-16s.

The base is in an old farm a few kilometres from Barga.  The stone outbuildings have been converted into comfortable bedrooms.  No group is bigger than 14 and there are always two guides for the walking or biking.  With one guide at the front and the other at the back, everyone can go at his or her  own speed.  Northern Tuscany can provide some rugged walking, but nothing beyond the ability of the reasonably fit and well shod.  Biking can be more demanding.  Particularly if the last time you cycled was a decade or three ago.  But old skills reassert themselves, although mountain-bike gears,  which make those on a four-wheel-drive truck seem unsophisticated, can take a morning to get used to. Muscles, unused and forgotten, can complain for days.  I prefer to walk.  In early June the countryside was still full of wild flowers.  Valerian grew out of dry stone walls, there were showers of dog roses in hedgerows, blood-red poppies, wild lupins, broom and, in the mountain meadows, tiny orchids and pinks.  We walked up through chestnut forest, then  through beech to the meadows above the tree line.  Like many Italian hills, the Pania di Corfino has a cross on its highest point.  We sat around it and looked out over the Serchio valley to the distant  Apuane Alps.  The limestone tops of the Apuanes are almost bald.  The white in many north-facing gulleys was  snow, even in June, but the largest expanse of white was a marble quarry.  The stone is cut into 20-ton blocks, each priced at about pounds 20'000, and today almost all of it goes to the Middle East.    Michaelangelo got the marble for his statues of David from the Apuanes, and it stands in the Galleria  dell'Accademia in nearby Florence.

The Apennines, on the northeast side of the Serchio, are older, softer and more forested. Reafforestation has been going on for decades.  Later in the year, guides will keep much of thewalking within the tree line, but in June the sun was hot but far from unbearable.  In February and March they will be leading snow-shoe walks along the high rides.  On a summer day it was difficult to imagine.  I go on walking holidays determined to lose weight.  Exercise puts an edge on appetite, food is good,  drink plentiful, and I end up telling myself that muscle weighs more than fat, as an unconvincing explanation of weight added, not lost.  We ate simply but well.  A typical picnic lunch was potato    bread, salami, cheese, quiche, porchetta, prosciutto, tomatoes and fruit.  Dinner was usually antipasto, soup, pasta, a meat dish, salad and a pudding. With one notable exception, the Tuscan white wines we drank were good and so were the reds.  One red was memorable.  We drank it on the terrace of a small restaurant in Albiano.  The label on the  bottle was stuck on with tape and read "Vino delle Colline di Albiano" (wine of the Albiano hill), a modest enough bush.  It has a rich blackcurrant colour and had a thick, earthy taste.  We sat on the  terrace, with antipasto and crostini, and the old bottle went to and from the barrel from which it was filled.

The awe-inspiringly bad white wine was made almost acceptable by the setting in which it was drunk.  And, to be truthful, we got through quite a lot of it.  We were eating at a table outside a farmhouse.  The sun had gone down, fireflies glittered and, here and there, a glowworm switched itself on or off to announce its availability to any other interested glow-worm.  Dinner was a huge, filling farm affair.  The wine was thick, acrid and smelt of apples. Every hill in Tuscany has its own town, or village, or hamlet "which, hid by beech and pine, like an eagle's nest, lies on the crest of purple Apennine", as Macaulay wrote.  The town of Barga is bigger  than most, partly walled and best entered through the Porta Reale, or Porta Mancianella.  From the old gate  steep little streets, hardly altered in centuries, climb up to the cathedral set on a small plateau at the top.  It commands not just Barga as it tumbles downhill, a jumble of red-tiled roofs, but the whole Serchio valley, and the far mountains.

The cathedral has an early 13th-century pulpit, which is a masterpiece of carving, in near-perfect condition.  The 13th-century Gothic apse should be seen, as I saw it, with its great doors open, the sun going down, and shadows beginning to darken the Apuane Alps across the valley.  Of all my memories, perhaps that will last the longest.

                   David Whitaker

 

BUYING A HOME IN GARFAGNANA

 
How many times in the ever increasing frenetic moments of the day, do  your thoughts flit to peaceful and inviting locations, a comfort from todays stress and confusion?

How many times have you promised yourself that you would, yes, buy  yourself a house by the sea or in the hills, only to be disappointed on hearing the asking price?

Garfagnana is a naturalistic area in the province of Lucca, circa one hour from both Florence and the Italian Riviera of Versilia, as yet an  undiscovered area, rich with environmental treasures.

The valley is divided by the river Serchio and its tributaries, offering a continually changing characteristic panorama, interspersed with mountainous peaks, gently undulating hillsides rich wood land pathways  and panoramas as yet undiscovered by en-mass tourism.

The atmosphere created by the subtle tones of the typical hillside towns, is complimented by the strong colours of the Appenine peaks and Apuan Alps.

The majestic peace of the woodlands and splendid mountain pathways together with the gaiety of village festivals offer a framework of rare cultural sobriety.

Being outwith the "major" tourist routes, the Garfagnana area offers a wealth of properties where prices still reflect, a true market value.  It is  infact still possible in Grafagnana, to buy property which will satisfy  the various family needs and still be sure that you have made a sound investment giving you the possibilty of enjoying unforgettable relaxing moments in direct contact with nature and the traditional, unchanged Tuscan culture.



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This site was last updated on March 3, 2007
Antonio Moroni, Ph.D., Copyright � 1999
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