Dieci Castella: A Small Switzerland in Pescia

It was the Swiss economist Charles-Leonard Simonde de Sismondi who invented the expression “Switzerland in Pescia”, referring to the mountains of Valleriana area, which goes from Apennines, up to the River Pescia. A beautiful natural environment, partially truly Alpine, partially sweeter in hills and peaks, dedicated to Olive trees, wineyards and IGP Beans production. This area includes ten small villages (borgos) which were built in the past to defend this strategic area from possible external attacks, since they provide a full view from the whole river valley. Riding the car through the net of narrow tracks linking one borgo to the other means stepping back in time: and once you’re there, forget about the car. It’s a walking experience, it’s a five-senses experiences.


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This fortified medieval town which became autonomous in 1775 is situated in a strategic position on a hill high above the river pescia. In this area there are many paper mills which for centuries have been the driving force behind the local manufacturing sector and today have become relevant monument of industrial archeology: The Paper Museum is in Pietrabuona as well: housed in a 18th century paper mill, it shows a number of machineries and tools preserved for the museum itinerary. One gate and few sections of the walls are everything left from the original medieval fortifications. To be seen the Church of San Matteo, which keeps some fine polychrome wooden sculptures dating back to the early 15th century


The castle here was mentioned even before 1000 and it was told to be fought for from Lucca and Florence because of its position between the two valleys. Only the original castle gate is still standing as it was, unfortunately: the town is quite compact and it’s dominated by the old parish church of SS Sisto and Martino, rebuilt in the 19th century. It has a few artworks, including a 16thcentury font and a 15th century wooden carving of the Madonna and the Child


Furthermore, in the same road up the hills, there stand Aramo and Fibbialla, whose castle was first mentioned in the 10th century. The church of San Michele lays at the entrance of the town: the church was restored (and redesigned) on the 19th century, but still it houses a 15th century Annunciation. The small castle of Aramo, which stands over a vertical drop overlooking the Torbola Valley, was sacked in 1383 and destroyed during the struggles between Lucca and Florence. At the top of this very small village there is the church of San Frediano and, on the outskirts, the little oratory of the Natività di Maria, which contains a fresco of the Madonna enthroned with St Roch and St Sebastian from the 15th century.


On the hill beyond Aramo the roads goes on to San Quirico. The castle here was first recorded in 980 and the town was almost completely abandoned in the early 14th century as a result of the plague. When the population made their way back to the village, which came under the rule of Lucca, it became famous for its bell foundries. In the Romanesque church which has been remodeled, there are two beautiful stone fonts and a ciborium dating from the 17th century.


An isolated parish church named to SS. Ansano and Tommaso is located outside the town, and happens to be one of the most interesting Romanesque churches in the whole area, built in the 11th century by stone masons from Lake como (Magister Comacino) , on the side of an earlier building. It was rebuilt after being collapsed in the 19th century. The interior, built on a basilica plan, keeps the original crypt and cross vaulting (frescos are preserved). Behind the apses the free standing bell tower. Entering the fortified town narrow roads and winding streets welcome you.


The old castle stands on the slopes of Mt Battifolle, on a site wich once was the border between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and Grand Duchy of Lucca. Its stone houses, arranged to resemble a fortification, reflect a compact urban layout, whose center is the parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta, at the top of the borgo. It’s easy to deduct the Romanesque plant of this church from outside: it houses a painting from the mid 17th century of the Assumption, and a 19th century gallery.


Its castle is one of the oldest of this valley. It developed around the source of the River Pescia as a feud of the bishop of Lucca. The Layout of the town is quite unusual, the streets and houses forming a kind of fan around the solid Romanesque church of S. Andrea and Lucia. Despite being altered over the centuries, the church has conserved his original features. Inside a 15th century carved marble font for baptisms involving immersion and a fine polychrome marble altar.


Detouring on the slopes of Mt Petritulo leads to this fortified medieval town, once clustered around its sovereign castle (hence is name), now, only partly recognizable. The town’s unusual oval shape ends with the Church of St Pietro e Paolo. On the façade, the lunette above the door contains a 15th century fresco describing the town’s two patron saints. It has a single nave, decorated with sacred furnishings. The town is also famous for its special IGP beans worldwide famous.


Coming from Pontito you reach the Forfora Valley at Lanciole, with its ruined castle and medieval walls, and then down in the valley until Vellano, the “capital” of the Switzerland in Pescia. The town was tracked since the 10th century and it is now popular holiday resort. It was a feud of the Garzoni family until 1366, when the writer and humanist Coluccio Salutati edited its chart of autonomy. Outside the castle walls the parish was connected to a Benedectine Monastery before the year 1000. The church was later remodeled and restored several times, and altered again in 19th century, however it still contains some remarkable works of art: two wooden statues of St Sixtus and St Martin, by the school of Lucca (15th century) and, in the sacristy, the original font of the church and a fine 14th century Crucifix.