20 January 2012

One Hundred Years A Minute

Walk The Ruins of Moneta Castle

Forest view on the way to Moneta Castle.
When the estate agent showed this piece of land to the city folk, the deal was as good as done. The neighborhood was developing fast, since the government had just created a huge subdivision at the border. Indeed, work was already in progress on the new regional capitol  nearby.  People were moving to the area, and it was just a matter of time before the best land was gone and prices rose. And what land! Views in every direction, easy access, mild climate, level areas with a southern exposure, and the previous owners had even put down foundations! The client - the Roman family of Monetii; the year - 200 B.C.; the land - a forested hill in Fossola off the road to Carrara; the new capital - Luni ; the previous owners - the Ligurian Apuani tribe.


Moneta Castle, the Apuan Alps, and Carrara marble quarries.
This is an easy walk in the Carrara frazione of Fossola, and it's only a few minutes from the autostrada - see Getting There below.  It will take you just 22 minutes of easy climbing to travel back 2,200 years.  The castle complex has expansive views of the sea, the city of Carrara and its valley, the Apuan Alps and the marble quarries. The ruins can be thoroughly explored, there are picnic places, and plenty of spots to sit and think. While the ruins are large, it's hard to imagine many of the buildings. Therefore, we've included a history section below to fuel your imagination.



View from the Castle of vineyards and the Carrara plain.
After you park, follow the tiny side road. It's paved for the first one-third, and it leads past garden plots, and a few half-hidden houses. It's shady and green, and you won't be out of a cat's sight for long. There are no decisions to make, and as you rise the gardens slowly end and forest takes over. Shortly, you'll see the ruins, and as you approach closely, follow in a clockwise spiral to reach the very top-most tower. The square tower was the original defensive tower, and then the campanile of the castle chapel. Note the worn threshold with a the pilgrim's cross nearby (photo below). As you follow around and down, you can easily imagine parts of the medieval borgo (castle village). Look for a round tower that we think must have been part of the defensive wall. Further along there's a doorway, partly made with white marble blocks that Professor Vita describes as the access to the keep (mastio). There are photos on the Italian websites mentioned below in More Info.

Castle Moneta. Defensive wall tower.
History. The history of this site is extensive and convoluted, but the telling is necessarily somewhat speculative as there are few documentary sources, and archaeological work has not been carried out on the ruins. We've tried to distill some facets of our reading to make your walk interesting.

The 'rustic villa' of the Roman Monaii family was established  at roughly the same time as the Roman empire began the city of Luni in 177 B.C. This strategic site was previously fortified by the local Ligurian tribe, the Apuani. The location was convenient to the ancient route called the Via del Sale, used for salt and other trading toward Lunigiana and the interior.   This area was then one of the frontiers of the Roman empire, as Roman expansion met the fierce Ligurian tribes of the coastal mountains. The conflicts with the Ligurians would last for over 300 years, and included a battle where 4,000 Roman legionnaires were killed. In another episode, 47,000 Ligurians were deported to the south.  The fortified villa became part of a defensive ring around Luni which included the present towns of Nicola and Ortonuovo and Avenza.

The fortified villa was transformed into a castle by the Byzantines while still a part of the Luni sphere in the 6th century. Subsequently, the Lombards (Longobards) took over in 643 AD, then Charlemagne's Franks in the 9th century. In the 10th and 11th centuries, while under the control of the Bishop/Counts of Luni, the castle was further fortified to resist the incursions of Normans and Arabs whose attacks finally finished off Luni.

Via Francigena. The Castle of Moneta was located on the medieval route known as the Via Pedemontana, (the foothill route) which led up and down the peninsula and was used to minimize the dangers and malaria of the coastal areas. Thus it was a stopping point for pilgrims making the pilgrimage between Rome, Canterbury, Santiago, and other holy sites, known today as the Via Francigena. It's easy to forget that there was never a single path called the Francigena. The route varied according to weather, hospices, brigands, rumor, and fad. The castle chapel threshold at Moneta shows the wear of centuries of feet, but also the welcome symbol for pilgrims in the cross carved in the stone (see photo).

The well-worn threshold includes a carved cross welcoming pilgrims.


Year 1455: The Maximum and Last Splendor. Many of the castle features that are evident today are the product of a large renovation carried out by one Spinetta di Campo Fregoso. Signore Campo Fregoso became the owner – by 1447 - of Moneta Castle as well as of Carrara, Avenza, and Castelpoggio Castles after the withdrawal of the Visconti of Pavia. The rebuilding lasted until 1455.

The renewed castle featured a larger borgo (castle town) below and around the summit surrounded by an elliptical wall. An additional defensive wall with robust round towers encircled the castle/borgo complex which now comprised half the hill. The castle's ancient square defensive tower became the campanile of a new castle church, and this is the high square tower still standing today. The dominant feature became a new imposing Rocca (castle keep) on the west side of the borgo. Three sides of the fortress were unscaleable sheer walls and the fourth faced the borgo with a defensive ditch crossed by a drawbridge and protected by an imposing tower. Additionally, huge underground cisterns were added, fed by local springs, to improve village life and add to the castle's defensive resources.

Ruins of the gateway into Moneta Castle
Signore Campo Fregosi's rebuilding efforts were motivated by the arrival of effective uses of gunpowder. Although it had been introduced to Europe almost 200 years before, the development of weaponry was slow. However by 1447, gunpowder was being used successfully in siege cannons against medieval castles. The design of the new Moneta fortress with an outer wall was intended to prevent the approach of cannon. Unfortunately, Spinetta di Campo Fregosi's military vision was intrinsically medieval, and the development of more powerful and longer range artillery would severely limit the Castle of Moneta's military usefulness within a few decades, since it is surrounded by higher summits. Even the concept of a hilltop fortress would become outmoded as archery yielded to guns, and the range of weaponry increased. By the early 1500's, military architecture had begun to evolve quickly. The Sarzanello fort in nearby Sarzana was a transitional architecture constructed between 1492 and 1502 which shows some of the new design features. 

In 1476, the castle passed to Jacopo Malaspina of Fosdinovo, Marchese of Massa after the death of Spinetta di Campo Fregoso. Under the Malaspina, the castle began a long decline, never to regain importance. Military garrisons were stationed here for centuries, however, until the time of Napoleon. The castle was abandoned by 1804, and the property is now owned by the city of Carrara. There have been numerous restoration proposals over the last few decades, but still the ivy grows.

Getting There
V. Silicani turn at V. 20 Settembre
From the Carrara exit of the A12 Autostrada (Genoa-Livorno) follow signs in the direction of Carrara. This will lead to the large Viale 20 Settembre, which you'll join at a large roundabout where SS1 Aurelia and V. 20 Settembre intersect. About 2 kilometers after the circle, turn left onto Via Silicani in direction Fossola - see the photo.  We've made a  Google Map to help you.

Follow Via Silicani (which becomes Via Agricola) about 1.5 Km, as it becomes progressively narrower. Above, on a hill to the right, you can see the Castle ruins. At the second hairpin turn, you'll see a small sign indicating the path - see the photo below. Park here for the full walk described, or if you drive up the narrow road and park at a wide spot where the road turns to gravel, you'll be 1/3 of the way.

One can also drive close to the Castle ruins using Via Moneta, see the Google map.

Ameglia Montemarcello San Terenzo Panegacci Pontremoli Filattiera Copyright 2012 Mike Mazzaschi, Martha Bates www.apathtolunch.com. All Rights Reserved. Aulla Fivizzano Castelnuovo Magra This article appeared on www.apathtolunch.com and has not been authorized elsewhere. Cinque Terre Lerici Liguria Arcola Caniparola Massa Luni Testaroli Filetto Comano Mulazzo Zeri Sarzana Alpi Apuane Serra La Spezia

More Info
Beginning  of path is signed.
Italian Sites. Professor Renato Vita has provided extensive details and photos of the Castle of Moneta on two different sites. Castelli Toscani (IT) has a straightforward description, while Castelli della Toscana (IT)  is more detailed and a part of the extensive mondimedievali.net.

May 16. Every year around this date, the inhabitants of Fossola honor their patron, San Isidoro, with a procession to the Castle in medieval dress where a mass is celebrated. Fossola Procession Video  Check the local listings before setting out.


Panorama. If you continue up the auto road about 4km., now called Via Nuova di Fontia, to the frazione of Fontia, a very sharp left turn to the Santa Lucia Church leads to a stupendous panorama of the Versilia / Lunigiana coastal plain. The road has a sign indicating that it dead ends in 1500m.

Castles and Fortifications  Wikipedia is at its best providing complete castle information with these two entries.

Lunch
Trattoria Gloria Located near the Carrara Autostrada entrance, this is an enjoyable restaurant for lunch. It doesn't get more Italian than this. Stone industry executives, port workers, truckers, and pensionati arrive for good food at a good price. The menu is verbal, and they don't get many tourists, but it's friendly if a bit hurried.  We can attest that the Insalata di Polpi, the Seafood Risotto, and the Seppie con Patate are good, and our bill for those three plus water and wine was 24 Euro! (11/2010)  It's listed in Slow Food's Osterie d'Italia as it deserves to be, (Via Covetta, 92. tel. 0585 53876 closed Sundays and holidays. Via Corvetta runs parallel to the autostrada on the Alpi side. ).


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