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The Via Francigena

The Pilgrims' Road to Rome

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Sigeric recreated - Glastonbury Abbey

 

 

The newish EU Via Francigena Logo.  The medieval logo for Rome pilgrims was the vernicle, which was a badge depicting the face of Jesus as found on "Veronica's Veil".  A rather complex idea by comparison with Compostela's simple and pervasive scallop shell.

 

 

Pilgrimage, The Great Adventure of the Middle Ages, John Ure

 

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A "safe road" (avoiding Byzantine territory), based on a route developed in the 5 hundreds by the Lombards, further improved by Frankish Emperor Charlemagne in the late 7 hundreds when he became interested in Rome (and, on the way back, in the site where the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo now stands).  Documented in 990 in the "diary" (to be found in the British Library) of Sigeric the Serious (above, in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey), Archbishop of Canterbury in the days of King Aethelred the Unready.  Sigeric listed the 80 overnight stops his party made on its way back to Canterbury after he had been to see the Pope in Rome to get his pallium and cope.  In 959 a predecessor of Sigeric - Aelfsige - had frozen to death traversing the 2,473M Gran San Bernardo Pass on his way south on a similar mission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not an "intercity route" for wagons and legions like the great straight European roads built by Rome, but a windy collection of paths, trails and roads maintained by local rulers who benefited greatly as it became the main drag for commerce, pilgrims (especially in Jubilee years) and armies travelling from England and France to the Eternal City (Rome), or connecting with the other two great medieval pilgrimage routes to Santiago di Compostela (in Spain), and to Jerusalem.

 

In Tuscany the road descended across the Apennines via the Cisa Pass and past the famous marble mountains near Carrara to Lucca, then followed the valleys of the Elsa, Arbia and Orcia to the Abbadia San Salvatore in the shadow of the great volcanic mountain Monte Amiata (go there in late October to see the Autumn leaves on the Chestnut and Beech trees). 

 

In central Tuscany it passed through Certaldo, San Gimignano, Abbadia a Isola and Monteriggione, Siena, Buonconvento (with a diversion past the nearby Abbazia di Sant'Antimo, the most beautiful abbey in italy) and wandered into Lazio at Radicofani. Note the absence of Florence, which did not get a good North-South road (the reconstituted Via Cassia) until the 12 hundreds, and the hilly Chianti area which "evolved" from a series of juxta-positioned frontier Florentine and Sienese garrison towns and forts until Florence took over Siena in 1557, through feudalism and the mezzadria system into a very poor depopulated area for the first two thirds of the 20th century.  It was better known for poverty and brigands than roads for most of this time, and noone but noone had any inkling what changes the tourist and foreign property investor dollar would bring in the last decades of the 1900s!

 

Incidentally, the road was called the Via Romea if you were heading to Rome, and the Via Francigena if you were heading north.

 

The "via Cassia" shown on the map is not what the Italians presently call the "via Cassia" - today's (yesterday's?) via goes to Siena (SS2) and then north through some of the Chianti towns. 

 

 

The past few years and significant EU funding have seen a rash of new websites on the via Francigena  which can be revealed by search engines, but the first decade of the new millennium has not seen many walkers join in.  There is, however, a recently published (mid 2010) and very enjoyable account of a walk (below right) .....  Edition 3 of the three Lightfoot books looks like appearing in March 2011.

 

 

   

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, signage along some southern parts of the via Francigena (all in English as well as Italian) is impressive, but like everything else in Italy except good food, the situation is patchy.  This board, with accompanying maps, is to be found at  Abbadia Isola, near Monteriggione (north west of Siena), where there was a hospice and where the beautifully restored basilica church is now supported by a good restaurant (possibly two).  Further south descriptive Italian and English signs explain local features for the benefit of walkers.

 

 

Link to map and photos from the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrims' roads from France to Santiago de Compostela

 

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