The Via Francigena in the Province of Parma

The Via Francigena in the Province of Parma

THE via Francigena IN THE PROVINCE OF Parma - CULTURAL ROUTE OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE

Of the many roads that crossed Europe in the Middle Ages one of the most important ones was the Via Francigena which connected Rome to France and Great Britain and of which there is a large amount of documentation thanks to the diary of Sigeric, Archbishop in 991. The adjective Francigena originates from the word France, not from the modern meaning but from its meaning in the Dark Ages. Paolo Diacono in his book "Historia Longobardorum" writes that to go from Pavia to Tuscany, travellers used to cross the Alpem, today’s Cisa Pass, which was the obligatory route for communications and therefore the safest.

The main itinerary in the province of Parma starts just before Fidenza. The route comes from Chiaravalle della Colomba and leaving the Via Emilia it reaches Fornovo: at this point it is called Via di Monte Bardone and climbs into the Apennines to the Cisa Pass. The route which runs along the road is signposted with tourist signs and is also a trekking route.

From Fidenza to Fornovo

The gate of the Via Francigena is the town of Fidenza, called "Fidentia Julia" in ancient times and Borgo San Donnino in medieval times. A stop in Fidenza calls for a visit to the Duomo, considered one of the best examples of the Romanesque architecture of this part of the plain, with a façade (end 12th century) drawn by Antelami. A statue holds a scroll that reads “The apostle Simon shows you the way to Rome”. Six kilometres from Fidenza modern pilgrims can visit the Parco Regionale Fluviale dello Stirone, a unique example of open air fossil museum.

The next stages of the route lead to Coduro, S. Margherita and Borghetto where many traces of the passage of ancient pilgrims can be found: the first stretch was so important that the entire area was called the “Francesca". Borghetto was also an important stop, not only for pilgrims on their way to Rome but also for pilgrims going to Santiago of Compostela: some documents show that the main route was called "il Camino". The route then reaches Fornovo, Sigeric’s "Philemangenur", an important centre still today, positioned between the Apennines and the Plain.

From Parma to the Cisa Pass

From S. Pancrazio the route of the pilgrims on their way to Rome goes towards Vicofertile whose Chiesa of S. Geminiano features a precious baptismal font with sculpted figures (end 12th century/13th century). The Romanesque Pieve of S.Prospero in Collecchio testifies to the importance of this town along the Via Francigena. The Pieve has been renovated several times concealing the original structure but the sculpted white marble slab, thought to be of Byzantine origin, that depicts the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River (13th century) is worthy of note. A route that ran parallel to the main axis once connected Giarola and Oppiano, where pilgrims could wade the Taro River: today the Corte di Giarola houses the headquarters of the Parco Regionale Fluviale del Taro and nearby there is the Ettore Guatelli Museum with one of the most complete collections of cultural objects and documents on the traditions, trades and methods of the rural and artisan world which are no longer adopted or have long been forgotten. From Collecchio the route goes to the Romanesque Pieve of S. Biagio in Talignano, which also features a hospice for the pilgrims. Of great interest the fanlight on the portal, a rare Italian example of a representation of the psychostasia or judgement of the soul of the dead. When the pilgrims used to reach Fornovo they could stop at the Pieve of S. Maria Assunta which features a range of sculptures that refer to the pilgrimage and journey as symbol of redemption and expiation of sin.

The route then continues along the Sporzana Valley; once there was also an alternative route that went over Mount Prinzera on the western side, where today there is the "Riserva Naturale Orientata", which is dedicated to the preservation of this mountain made up of ophiolitic rocks.   Along the Sporzana valley the route reaches the splendid Romanesque Pieve of S. Maria Assunta of Bardone, one of the most ancient and largest parish churches of the diocese of Parma that dates back to the 12th century and still today preserves some of the sculptures by Fornovo Taro.

The route then reaches the villages of Casola Castello and La Villa, which overlook the Baganza Valley; they are located on the hillside of the Castello of Ravarano, ancient fortalice of the Pallavicino family.   Of particular interest the natural area called "Salti del diavolo" (Devil’s jumps - vertical rocky outcrops), positioned crosswise along the valley, with rocky outcrops shaped like spires, which create a very particular atmosphere. Continuing along the route towards Berceto there is Castellonicchio, a village similar to Cassio in terms of urban plan: the figure of a pilgrim, portrayed on stone or wood, can be found along the route.

Berceto is the crucial point of the route created by the Longobards to connect Padania to Tuscia, in the 8th century; here King Liutprand built a great abbey with a church dedicated to St. Abondio, near which the miracle of the relics of St. Remigio of Reims was performed on the way back from a pilgrimage to Rome. After the miracle in 719, Moderamnus, the Bishop of Rennes, went to live in Berceto where a new and intense devotion developed.

The Via Francigena then continues towards the Cisa Pass: the church of the Pass, today’s Santuario della Guardia, was built in 1920, and is also a panoramic point of great interest in terms of landscape. The deviation from Berceto to the Manubiola Valley leads to Corchia, an excellent example of a medieval mountain village with stone houses which are still inhabited, paved roads and arched underpasses. In the province of Parma there also used to be an alternative route to the Via Francigena, called Via degli Abati, which went from Bobbio (Piacenza) to Bardi and onto Borgo Val di Taro.

HOW TO GET HERE

Take the A1 or A15 motorway and exit at Parma. Take the A1 motorway and exit at Fidenza, 4 km from the old city centre. Take the A15 motorway and exit at Fornovo. Take the A15 motorway and exit at Berceto.

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