Via Francigena in Italy
Permanent Delegation of Italy to UNESCO
Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Ligura, Tuscany, Lazio
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The Via Francigena in Italy is the first and most important road that, in the Middle Ages, connected the countries beyond the western Alps (the land of the Franks) to Rome: the main destination – along with Jerusalem and Santiago di Compostela – for pilgrims who, at the time, travelled from all over Europe.
Dating back to the Longobard era, this road was not built from a single path but from a "bundle of roads", that is, from a network of roads that converged at junctions or mandatory points of passage. The unifying factor of this complex network of routes - which has changed over time as a result of the changing political, geographical, economic and environmental conditions of the areas crossed - is that it has consistently been the preferred route for pilgrimages to Rome from the Middle Ages to the present day.
As a long-distance route between the capital of Christianity and the north-western quadrant of Europe, the Francigena - in its various functions over the centuries as a military and trade route, as well as a pilgrimage route - has united different values and traditions and represents a very important means of transmitting cultural messages from one part of Europe to the other. Within this authentic, economic and cultural road system, the Italian stretch is marked by the development of new settlements (which have sometimes become cities), by the growth of economic and fruitful activities in the cities and areas involved, and by the spread of all major artistic cultures that have followed one another since the Middle Ages.
The proposed route includes the entire network of routes that make up the Via Francigena in Italy, from the Alpine passes (Great St Bernard Pass, Moncenisio, Monginevro) to Rome, with a total linear extension of about 1200km, through seven of the central northern Italian regions (Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Lazio). The route network is associated with the most significant structures connected to it: cities and rural settlements, old and new; monastic complexes; places of worship; buildings for reception, hospitality and assistance; equipment for rest-stops; defensive structures (castles, forts, fortresses, towers and strongholds), artefacts and road infrastructure (bridges, fords, ports).
These assets make the cultural route of the Via Francigena easily recognisable, as well as the sections within it which have similar historical, cultural and natural-environmental characteristics and which therefore constitute the fundamental unitary elements:
- the stretch from the Great St Bernard Pass to Pont St. Martin, not only characterised by the great height and gradient of the Alpine ranges, but also by the urban stronghold of Aosta, at its centre, and by the still visible remains of the ancient consular route of Gaul;
- the stretch from Pont-Saint-Martin to Vercelli, characterised by the Montalto Valley crossing, it is dominated by castles and fortified settlements overlooking the roads and paths, by the city of Ivrea, one of the main junctions along the route, and by the cities of Santhia and Vercelli;
- the Variante della Val Susa, marked by the two paths descending from Montgenèvre and Moncenisio towards the Dora Riparia valley and passing close by the city of Susa, Sacra di S. Michele and the city of Turin;
- the stretch from Vercelli to Piacenza, in the plains of the Po, its main junction the capital of the Lombard kingdom in 572 and a hub of trade and commerce throughout the Medieval and later Ages: Pavia, crosses the Po with the Corte S. Andrea ford near Oriolitta;
- the stretch from Piacenza to Berceto, characterised by the important welcome centre in the city of Piacenza, continues along the Via Emilia to the town of Fidenza and then changes direction inland towards the Apennines as far as Berceto, the last leg before the Cisa pass – a crucial junction along the original Longobard route;
- the stretch from Berceto to Lucca, marked by the pass and the city of Pontremoli, one of the most important "road centres" developed thanks to the Francigena and the following towns of Aulla and Sarzana;
- the stretch from Lucca to Fucecchio is marked by Lucca, the first large city along the Francigena after crossing the Apennines and a focal point for Roman pilgrimages linked to the veneration of the "Volto Santo". After Lucca, the route passes by the city of Altopascio, home to an important 12th century hospital;
- the stretch from Fucecchio to Siena, characterised not only by the crossing of the Arno and the towns of Fucecchio and San Miniato, but also by the presence of three different paths: the "valdelsana" from Castelfiorentino, which travels through Poggibonsi and passes Monteriggioni, the Sienese fortified citadel along the Francigena; the so-called "Francigena nuova". The route is almost parallel to the previous one but left of the river Staggia; the innermost and oldest path which passes through San Gimignano and also converges towards Monteriggioni;
- the stretch from Siena to Radicofani, characterised by the a series of important cities, all strongly connected to the Francigena, among which: the city of Siena, home to some of the most important accommodation and hospital facilities of the entire route, such as the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, established in the eleventh century, the fortified Rocca d'Orcia and Castiglione d'Orcia, located on the highest hills to oversee and defend the area; the abbey of San Salvatore al Monte Amiata, located on a side road and responsible for its management since the Lombard era;
- the stretch from Radicofani to Viterbo, characterised by routes that mostly belong to the Cassia Antica and by the presence of the medieval centres of Acquapendente, Bolsena, Montefiascone and Viterbo (in addition to the numerous remains of the ancient Roman routes) all strongly developed as a result of the route’s passage and the services provided for pilgrims between the main junctions of the entire route;
- the stretch of the Cimina varient between Viterbo and Rome, consisting of a path of the Roman Cassia towards the Cimini Mountains and its forest which, in the late Middle Ages became the preferred route for pilgrims, replacing the previously favoured one, along the Cassia;
- the last stretch from Viterbo to Rome, older than the "Cimino" and largely coinciding with that of the Roman Cassia, marked by the crossing of Capranica and Sutri and the Baccano valley; and lastly by and the arrival in the centre of Rome through the Via Trionfale and its main places of worship and hospitality.
- Great St Bernard Pass (AO) 45 52 08.4 N 7 10 15.6 E
- Aosta (AO) 45 44 14 N 7 19 14 E
- Vercelli (VC) 45 19 N 8 25 E
- Santhià (VC) 45 22 N 8 10 E
- Susa (TO) 45 08 N 7 03 E
- Pavia (PV) 45 11 07 N 9 09 18 E
- Fidenza (PR) 44 52 N 10 04 E
- Sarzana (SP) 44 06 48.99 N 9 57 35.85 E
- Siena (SI) 43 19 06 N 11 19 53 E
- Sutri (VT) 42 14 52 N 12 12 57 E
- Viterbo (VT) 42 14 52 N 12 12 57 E
- Rome (RM) 41 53 35 N 12 28 58 E
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Marked by ancient processes, the Via Francigena in Italy represents one of the most eminent "documents-monuments" of the creation and development of pilgrim routes, standing out distinctly as a cultural routes and an inseparable combination of material and immaterial assets: urban, landscape, architectural, technological and artistic. This important repertoire of preserved heritage makes it possible to recognise the importance of the role played by this route over time; in the physical structure and cultural development of the cities and areas crossed. It enables an understanding of the exceptional nature of the qualities and values represented.
Criterion (ii): During the Middle Ages, pilgrimages to Rome played an important role in cultural exchanges between northern Europe and the Mediterranean, contributing to developments in the fields of art, architecture and urban planning, as well as fostering intercultural dialogue between the countries crossed.
Criterion (iv): Pilgrimages were an essential part of the spiritual and cultural life of medieval Europe. The routes followed were equipped to provide material and spiritual assistance to pilgrims. The requirements linked to the passage of a great number of pilgrims, wayfarers and travellers favoured the preparation of infrastructures to support the Via Francigena pilgrim route: large and small ecclesiastical structures (hospices, parish churches, oratories, monasteries, sanctuaries) and civil structures (post stations, bridges, fords), scattered along the entire route. These structures have transformed the landscapes and types of urban and rural settlement in the areas crossed and have influenced the evolution of landscapes and settlements in other Italian and European areas.
Criterion (vi): The Via Francigena represents an exceptional testimony to the ongoing tradition of pilgrimage associated with spiritual values.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The proposed route stands out for its authentic elements and state of preservation. This state is confirmed, on the one hand, by the numerous bibliographic and archival documents available, to which a vast series of studies and dedicated research has been added in recent years; on the other hand, by the national regulations which, aimed at ensuring the protection and conservation of the cultural and landscape heritage which characterises the Via Francigena, regulate the methods of intervention and change.
The route also retains the original spirit of pilgrimage and its functions and is still traversed by thousands of pilgrims on their way to Rome.
The route, consisting of several sections, is still perfectly identifiable, complete with all the elements that characterise it: cities and rural settlements, old and new, monastic structures, places of worship, buildings for reception, hospitality and assistance, equipment for rest-stops, defensive structures (castles, forts, fortresses, towers and strongholds), artefacts and road infrastructure (bridges, fords, ports).
It is, in fact, still possible to travel from one leg to the next, to recognise and utilise the structures that have historically shaped and defined it.
Comparison with other similar properties
For its history and the assets that form it, the Via Francigena is one of the most eminent and extensive medieval pilgrimage routes. The chosen destination of Rome, capital of Christianity and the places of utmost veneration for the faithful, has been a determining factor in its initial and continuing development over time.
Its character as a "bundle of roads", as a "palimpsest" of testimonies from different ages, as a pilgrim route, as well as a lever for economic development and cultural innovation of the cities and areas crossed distinguish it from those of the past. It differs in particular from from those of the Roman era, where road structures regulate urban and territorial infrastructure, and from those of the same period in Italy and Europe: the Via Romea, "the Byzantine corridor" between Ravenna and Rome, which mainly of a military nature lost its pre-eminent function with the decline of Ravenna; the network of paths to Santiago di Campostela from France to Spain, included in the World Heritage List. In the two aforementioned cases, we find ourselves with paths formed in the early Middle Ages with the prevalent function of pilgrimage. In these cases, the junctions formed by the major urban centres constitute stable reference points for a network with variable distances. However, while the Camino de Santiago crosses Europe from East to West, the Via Francigena connects the people and cultures of the North with those of the Mediterranean. Moreover, in the case of the Camino de Santiago, the innovative impulse of pilgrimages decreased at the end of the Middle Ages, while for the Francigena, the impulse to develop cities and areas lasted much longer, reaching the threshold of modernity. The aspects that distinguish the Via Francigena and that make it exceptional are found in its longevity. Thanks to its ability to adapt to the great social, economic and cultural changes that mark the transition from the early medieval era to the late medieval and Renaissance eras, to which the road itself has given a specific and decisive stimulus. While preserving its features as a devotional path, important and innovative elements have been founded along the Via Francigena in the form of social and well-being organisation; in the construction of route infrastructures; in the models of civil and religious architecture and lastly, in the urban reorganisation of residential centres and agricultural activities of the areas it crosses.
The "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range" site, with completely different characteristics, is also included in the World Heritage List. This set of routes, which reflects the fusion of Shintoism and Buddhism that occurred in Japan in the tenth century, is a pilgrimage of an essentially ascetic type that has had no significant influence in the structuring of the area, nor in its subsequent development, unlike the Francigena.