The area around us is enormously rich in history, and the nearby castle of Compiano, with its variously-themed museums is close-to-home evidence of this. But there are many more historical landmarks to be found in the lower Parma region (Parmense), and also in the opposite direction – towards the Lunigiana and the coast.
Pontremoli, an antique town, is situated on the other side of the Brattello Pass – if you decide to take that route. But, for queasy travellers, a 30/40 minute drive on the highway is far more advisable. Pontremoli, or “Puntremel” as it was antiquely known, is in the province of Massa-Carrara, region of Tuscany, and was originally considered of great importance due to its position as a connection between Tuscany and Lombardy. This town is definitely worth a visit, thanks to the Piagnaro Castle, built by the Longobards, the museum of the famous “Stele” statues, which represent the oldest and most mysterious patrimony of this land, and much more. During the year, many events are held here, but one in particular seems to suit the town perfectly, setting it in a medieval scenario which fits like a glove.
Medievalis, which takes place every year in August, is a historical commemoration of the concession granted to Pontremoli as a free community in 1226 on behalf of Emperor Federico II, who defined the town as the “clavis et ianua” (key and door) between Lombardy and Tuscany – an expression which well describes the importance of Pontremoli in medieval times. The town developed around the Piagnaro castle and along the Francigena trail (Puntremel was recorded in 990 as being a resting place for travelling pilgrims) and was the stage of battles and ultimately of total destruction when, in 1495, the town was burnt down by Charles VIII of Switzerland and his soldiers, on the eve of the famous battle of Fornovo.
In order to commemorate these events, Pontremoli magically turns into a place from another era: for four days, vehicles are not permitted to enter the historical centre, conceding space to travelling merchants, carriages and horsemen. Townsfolk dress up to represent all the social classes of the time: clergymen, aristocrats, military figures, courtesans and farmers become the centre of attention for the tourists crowding the town in these four days.
Four days during which it is possible to encounter all the vices and virtues of medieval humanity: duels, falconers exhibiting magnificent examples of eagles and owls, dinners consisting of long-forgotten flavours, choreographic flag-waving and medieval dancing shows. But the highlight of the fair is the “Challenge of the Cazzaguerra wall”, a daily tournament during which the three historical factions – “Sommoborgo” (higher part of the town), “Imoborgo” (lower part of the town) and “Contado” (area in between) play out the age-old wars alternating different battle techniques. The winning faction receives the coveted “Palio di Medievalis” award, a bronze sculpture which represents the wall built in 1322 in the hope of quelling the conflicts between the Guelfi and Ghibellini factions.
While all this is going on, the centre of Pontremoli is also a-buzz with stalls selling every kind of article, from hand-crafted brass and iron jewelry, artisan leather bound books with hand-made paper and many other leather articles, to natural soaps and foods – you name it, you’ll find it! And at midnight of the fourth day, a spectacular firework display suitably rounds the whole event off with a bang! An exciting musically-choreographed exhibition has everyone with their nose in the air……..and then it’s all over – until next year of course! Make sure you are part of it next time….