Tuscany: “Crocevia Mundi”

Maybe we should not define world what actually is just a part of it, but by that time, in the Middle Age I mean, the transoceanic continents had not been discovered yet and the world borderlines  were supposed to be around Europe, Africa and Asia.
And, as a popular saying states, all roads lead to Rome… passing through Tuscany!  Well, maybe not all roads, but our region was a stopover place on many journeys, especially during that time.
It seems quite impossible that during the Middle Age a road could put on to the extreme limits of a continent with no means of transport…But if you do not believe it, ask all those pilgrims who, step by step, used to cross Europe to reach Rome, or Santiago de Compostela, or even the Holy Land sometimes!
I am talking about one of the oldest road of Europe which, originally aimed at top security commercial  trades leaving from the Frankish territories to Rome, became the Pilgrims’ Road  as time went by.
The Via Romea, whose name comes from Rome, which was the destination of this route, was one of the path used by Christian believers on their way to Rome and the other two so-called peregrinationes maiores; the route, starting from Canterbury, England, mainly continued towards  the Frankish regions and those lying within the Rhino river basin territories (since during the High Middle Age, Christians were mainly located in these places of the Northwestern Europe). That is why it was called “Via dei Franci or Francigena”: http://www.viafrancigena.com/
The result is that people used to come from any corner of Europe for visiting Paolo the Apostle’s grave, making a connecting, junction place out of Italy and Tuscany, where differently cultured people met, creating a melting pot of their own features, and thus contributing to shape our regional identity, as well as our national one beyond any doubt.
It is a matter of fact, then, that Tuscany has not casually always been renowned not only for the beauties of its landscape and the works of art it jealously preserves, but also for its welcoming,  friendly-natured inhabitants, who have always greeted anyone interested in discovering their treasures with a smile. Is there a better heritage that centuries of history, memories and personal experiences could hand us down? I do not think so.
Each corner of our land reminds us of the past times, each old stone keeps a secret to be softly told, each narrow street represents a chapter of “our history book” and thus should be told separately but, as “the Romei pilgrims” teach us, whatever we would like to undertake, we should face it step by step. And this time we would like to stop over a little, medieval village located in the province of Lucca: Altopascio. I often go there and every time I go for a walk around the little and narrow streets of the old town centre, the smells and colours of the past seem to “come back to life” to show me the past life just for a while… I am sure that if Altopascio, with its stories, had not existed, our Tuscany would have not be the same…and now I could not tell you who the “Knights Tau” were.
It is said that, after the beginning of the eleventh century, twelve knights from Lucca founded a hospital facility just in the little town of Altopascio, situated on the Francigena Road, that is where lots of pilgrims and wayfarers alternate, being on the road to Rome or back from it. Those who walked hundreds of kilometres to reach the papal city necessarily needed medical care and hospital treatments, as well as protection from eventual barbarians and villains. And this is how one of the most important health care centre of the medieval Europe originated, due to the work of a chivalrous, religious order who chose the Greek letter T, called TAU, as his own distinguishing symbol. As time passed by, the white symbol on a black background in this specific case, due to religious and historical influences,  began to be related to the cross and, as a consequence, to intrinsic Christian meanings of purity and charity.
The Christian religion was so influential in the High Middle Age society that the rich, mainly, but also simpler land-owner used to “buy their place in paradise” with conspicuous land donations for the hospital. This is how the Knights Tau order extended his possessions in a very short time even beyond the actual Italian borders. And so we find out that in Paris there is a church called Eglise de St. Jacques du Haut-Pas (Church of St. Jack from Haut-Pas, as Altopascio was originally called), just to mention the most evident example. Even if the political battles among the main Tuscan cities overcame the religious order as time went by, typical festivals are usually held in Altopascio still nowadays, featuring the reconstructions of the medieval life in period costume, to keep past time memory alive…

And if someone should get lost among “the little village meanders”, do not panic, the tolls of the Smarrita (literally “lost”: it is the bell that the Knights Tau placed on the top of the city bell tower) will lead you where “everything began”: who knows if the mysteries and legends shrouding the well known Knights Templar have always hidden their own secrets inside the walls of the old dwelling…

Commenti (2) | May 17, 2010

2 Responses to “Tuscany: “Crocevia Mundi””

  1. The hippo-routes: the future of transports leds eco sustainable paths | Tuscany.Travel Says:
    August 10th, 2010 at 17:36

    [...] some of the most popular places of historical, cultural and artistic interest to stop by, like the Francigena road, for example (since ancient times, Christian pilgrims used to walk through this itinerary for [...]

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