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Massa Cathedral

One day in Massa and surroundings

Ideas of what to see and do in Massa

Massa is the capital of the province called Massa-Carrara, situated in the northern part of Tuscany near to the Apuan Alps. Usually tourists tend to not include Massa in their to-do list during a holiday in Tuscany, but it is a nice town with a lot of historical points of interest and deserves a visit. According to historical documents, it dates back to 882 and became a medieval urban centre in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. From the 15th to the 19th centuries, Massa was the capital of the independent Principate of Massa and Carrara, ruled by the Malaspina and Cybo-Malaspina families. 

Piazza Aranci
Piazza Aranci - Credit: Nadia Fondelli

The main attractions in Massa are:

  • The Malaspina Castle, a 15th-century building that overlooks the city from a hill. You can reach it by taking Via della Rocca. The Malaspina Castle and complex comprises the ‘old city’ within ancient defensive walls, the Rocca and, of course, the castle. This was the medieval centre of the city and was constructed in top of a rocky mount. On the right of the Rocca there is the San Rocco church, which conserves a wooden crucifix, an early work by Michelangelo.
  • Piazza degli Aranci is situated in the Massa city centre. It was expanded under the supervision of Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, who was the area’s grand duchess in 1809. In the centre of the square, you’ll find a marble obelisk sustained by four statue-fountains representing lions.
  • The Renaissance Ducal Palace is situated in Piazza Aranci and is also known as the “Palazzo Rosso” (Red Palace). It dominates the square and it currently hosts the city’s Provincial Administration.
  • The Diocesan Museum is located in Via Alberica in one of the best-known historical palaces of Massa, the so-called “Palazzino dei cadetti”. It was built at the end of the 16th century by Alberico I Cybo Malspina and, until 1970, it was used as a headquarters for the bishops. It hosts works by great artists such as Jacopo della Quercia. Walking along via Dante, you’ll reach the Cathedral of Saints Pietro and Francesco (Peter and Francis).
  • The Cathedral's construction started in the 1500s and was carried out on the Convento di S. Francesco di Massa. It isn’t clear whether the church was built at the same time as the convent, or whether it was constructed beforehand, on the remains of a pre-existing building. If was really consecrated in 1389, it would be the oldest church in Massa. Its façade, instead, was finished much later, in 1936.
  • Piazza Mercurio is located on the south side of Palazzo Ducale. Built in 1574, the square was meant to be the commercial centre of the city. Its name comes from the statue, located in the square and on top of a column that has a fountain at its base, which represents the Pagan God that protected traded goods.
  • Teatro Guglielmi was built in 1880 as a courtly theatre. The name comes from Alessandro Guglielmi, a musician from Massa.

A few kilometres from Massa, you can visit:

  • Marina di Massa is a famous seaside resort on the coast of Apuan Alps and covers an area of about 20 km ². It has become a popular tourist spot due to its geographical location between the sea and the mountains. A large avenue connects the coast from Marina di Massa to Viareggio and a bike path connects Marina di Massa to Forte dei Marmi. The pier is appropriate for a picturesque walk looking at the mountains and the sea, and it is also a meeting point for fishing lovers. In summer, it is the place from where boats leave for trips to the nearby Liguria.
Marina di Massa Pier
Marina di Massa Pier - Credit: Marco


  • San Carlo Terme is known for its thermal waters, which are particularly effective for treating renal conditions. It is also remarkable for the panoramic terrace with a breathtaking view of the Apuan Alps and Versilia coast.
  • The villages of Pariana and Altagnana are on the same road to San Carlo Terme. Both villages have a typically medieval layout, and both sit atop rocky outcrops that overlook the Frigido valley (taken from the name of the river that flow through Massa).
  • National Park of the Emilian-Tuscan Apennines, which stretches throughout the municipalities of Fivizzano, Filattiera, Comano and Licciana Nardi.

    Original article by Serena Puosi
Art and Culture