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Photo © ilaria
Photo © ilaria

Devils and archeology in Borgo a Mozzano

Exploring the medieval town in the Serchio Valley

Immersed in the hills of the Serchio Valley is a small town known for its famous Devil’s Bridge. A mere half-hour from Lucca, Borgo a Mozzano is a modern town with a medieval past. While records show that the village existed in some form since the 10th century, when it was ruled over by the Soffredinghi lords, it wasn’t until the Republic of Lucca took control of it in the 13th century that Borgo a Mozzano began to take on true significance.

Like many other places in the Lucca area, so too is Borgo a Mozzano dotted with a myriad of medieval churches. The Church of San Jacopo, for example, is quite impressive. Though the building dates to the 11th and 12th centuries, most of what remains today comes from the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s interesting to note the imposing appearance of the bell tower, which stands flush against the church and towers above it, seemingly out of context next to the elegant church. Inside, the three naves conserve wooden furnishings dating from the 12th to 18th centuries, and it’s believed that the church was originally home to 10 altars, of which only four survive today. Other impressive things to see in the building include the spectacular baptismal font from 1590, glazed terracotta pieces from the della Robbia school and a sculpture group depicting the Annunciation.


Devil's bridge
Devil's bridge - Credit: Jo Christian Oterhals

Another important church in the area is the Church of Santa Maria in Diecimo, about a 5-minute drive from Borgo a Mozzano. The church hosts several particularly interesting features, such as the figures of animals and plants in the apse and the vine-branch supported by human figures sculpted on the architrave of the main portal. Though the church was built in the 10th century, nothing of that building remains today. Instead, the existing building is a reconstruction dating to the 12th and 13th centuries.

For history lovers, the town hosts a wonderful archeological collection of Ligurian and Etruscan artefacts housed in the town hall. Objects include a Ligurian tomb discovered in Piano della Rocca, clay fragments from the 6th-3rd centuries BCE and even human remains found in a cave in Pastino that probably date to the early Middle Ages. The collection is geared towards students so that children can get to know the area's ancient history.

Azaleas in Borgo a Mozzano
Azaleas in Borgo a Mozzano

Borgo a Mozzano’s most emblematic monument is just beyond the town centre, in the direction of Rocca, a small hamlet about 7 minutes by car from the town that vaunts stunning views of the landscape below. Ponte della Maddalena, also known as the Devil’s Bridge, is like a medieval fantasy come to life. Probably commissioned by Matilda of Tuscany, who ruled the area in the late 11th century, the bridge’s creepy name comes from a legend about its construction. It’s said that the master builder, Maestro Incerti, unable to complete this difficult project, asked the Devil for help. Satan agreed but only if in return he could claim the soul of the first living being to cross the finished bridge. Once the bridge was finished, Incerti decided to send a dog across the bridge, infuriating the swindled devil.

If you’re lucky enough to visit in the spring, you’ll want to check out the Azalea Festival, which takes place in mid-April. During the three-day show, the village is decorated with every variety of flower, with the azalea taking centre stage. The festival also vaunts food stands, artisan crafts, tastings, talks and art exhibitions. A few weeks later, on May 1, Borgo a Mozzano hosts the tasty Baccalà Festival, dedicated to codfish and held in collaboration with the town’s sister city Aalesund, Norway. The evening sagra offers delicious dishes and live music: a classic Italian experience!

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