Coreglia Antelminelli in Tuscany is one of the picturesque villages of Garfagnana, where it will seem as if you can still hear the sword clashes of the Ghibelline leader Castruccio Castracani, duke of Lucca. And if you are in the area in August during the historic re-enactment, you will be able to see swords, knights and ladies live!
Visiting the 'Museum of the Figurines and of the Immigration' you will discover the tales of the ancient craft of the chalk figurines of Correglia. A few kilometres away, still within the Coreglia Antelminelli municipality, you can reach other charming villages like Tereglio, Gromignana and Ghivizzano. Here, in summer, a not-to-be-missed gastronomic event takes place where you can taste local products and drink good wine.
HOW TO GET TO COREGLIA DEGLI ANTELMINELLI? Coreglia Antelminelli is within the Lucca province of Italy, in the area of Garfagnana of the Serchio valley, 40 km from Lucca. The road leading to it, the SS12, follows the Serchio River passing through other interesting towns, such as Borgo a Mozzano with its Devil's Bridge, from where you turn in the direction of Castelnuovo Garfagnana. After reaching Ghivizzano, along a steep climb, you arrive in Coreglia, which is located 95 meters above sea level. If you are travelling by train from Lucca along the Lucca-Aulla line you need to get off at Ghivizzano train station. There are also several bus lines from Lucca that will take you to Coreglia Antelminelli in Lucca, Italy.
FROM THE LONGOBARDS TO THE GOTIC LINE: A STRATEGIC POINT IN THE HISTORY OF TUSCANY. The Coreglia Antelminelli history is encapsulated in its name, which derived from the Latin 'corrilia' meaning 'sliding ground, a place of passage'; and, in fact, it has always been a strategic point in Garfagnana for the control of Lucca. A place, as they say, where folks have fought each other hard! The first testimony to the existence of Coreglia Antelminelli in Tuscany dates back to 1048: a document from the Archbishop Archive mentions a fortification and gives its property to the Lombard Ronaldinghi family, Lords of the Loppia church. In the following two centuries a series of conflicts between the feudal lords of the area and the city of Lucca took place, which saw the castle passing first to the Bizzarri family and finally to the Antelminellis. This explains the origin of the second part of the town’s name: it was added in 1862 by royal decree to avoid cases of name coincidence.
The Antellminellis were, in fact, a crucial family for Coreglia antelminelli events. To begin with, they greatly changed the town: they replaced the ancient Ronaldinghi fortress with St Michael Church and the tower was converted into a bell tower. But, since the fortress at the time was a necessity to fend off enemies, they decided to build a second one, whose remains are still visible in the upper part of the village.
The real 'star' of the Antelminelli family was undoubtedly Castruccio Castracani. Machiavelli wrote of him in his literary work precisely entitled 'Castruccio Castracani life'. Even Mary Shelley, author of 'Frankenstein', dedicated a historical novel to him entitled 'Valperga'. So who was he? Born in Lucca in 1281, he was first exiled to Pisa and then to England, where, thanks to his horse riding skills, he even won the favour of King Edward. He evidently was no angel considering he was exiled to France because of a murder. Here, thanks again to his military abilities, he became commander of Cavalry. Before returning to Lucca in 1314, he also spent some time in Verona and Venice. Castruccio Castracani’s Tuscan story begins when he joins the Ghibelline troops of Uguccione della Faggiola, to whom Dante also makes reference in the 'Divine Comedy'. The Castruccio towers, built by Castruccio throughout Tuscany, such as Lucca’s Augustea one, and the bridges and towers that bear his name, are proof of his heroic deeds: Ghibelline mostly due to his desire to counter the temporal power of the papacy, he defeated the Guelphs on a number of occasions with his troops - which seem to include even two thousand archers. One of these was in 1316, when he regained the village of Coreglia.
In 1341 Coreglia Antelminelli (Italy) fell again in the hands of the Florentines and this time it was Castruccio’s cousin Francesco Antelminelli who reconquered it. In 1355, when Coreglia from a vicariate turned into a County, Francesco was appointed Count. Around 1400 Coreglia Antelminelli Lucca Italy was still a strategic point in the struggle for the dominance of Garfagnana, which at that time was under Lucca and had allied with the Sforzas to counter the expansion of Florence and Venice. In 1438 Lucca signed a truce to remain independent from Florence and was forced to relinquish the Vicariate of Coreglia Antelminelli.
In 1500, with the end of the wars for the conquest of Garfagnana, the town lost its strategic military importance, which it only regained much later on. During World War II, the section of the Garfagnana Gotic Line was of fundamental importance. In 1944, the 'Wintergewitter' operation, also called 'Battle of Garfagnana' took place in this area: an attack was launched jointly by the German troops and the Italian Social Republic against the allied positions.
WHAT TO SEE IN COREGLIA ANTELMINELLI. When travelling up from the valley bottom, Coreglia Antelminelli, Tuscany, suddenly appears on a mountain ridge surrounded by chestnut woods. The climb to the top is worthwhile. I recommend starting from the lower part of the town and leave the grand finale of Coreglia Antelminelli panoramic viewpoint as the last thing to admire.
The town’s buildings enlist the Palazzo Comunale dating back to 1572 with a stone coat of arms on its façade: what do the symbols contained in it mean? I'll tell you right away: the heart refers to the town’s name, the two stars represent its two parts (upper and lower), the three mountains refer to the Alp of the Tre Potenze and, finally, the crown is dedicated to the link with Francesco Castracani. In Via della Rocca you will also find Palazzo Antonini which took its name from Oreste Antonini, a great opera expert and a close friend of Giacomo Puccini. Noteworthy is also Palazzo Vincenti, the birthplace of Benedetto Puccinelli, one of the most important botanists of the early nineteenth century.
As for the churches, St. Martin Church, of pre-Romanesque origin is very interesting. It owes its distinctive appearance to the building alterations that followed one another from the ninth to the eleventh century. During that time the interior arches, the supports, the capitals and the apse were also added onto the building. The present-day bell tower, which replaced the one built in the 1300s, dates back to 1854. Continuing up the steep alleys, you will come across a church that alone would be worth the visit of Coreglia Antelminelli Lucca province Italy: St. Michael, built next to the town in the twelfth century. The small church of the village will surprise you because, as a treasure box, it contains interesting works of considerable artistic value, such as a baptismal cross of the sixteenth century, a pre-Romanesque ambo representing a cow, a 1400 wooden crucifix and an exceptional pair of marble statues depicting the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation.
Next to St. Michael's Church do not miss the Museum of the figurines and of the immigration, full of testimonies of the art of figurine making, which, since the sixteenth century, constituted Coreglia’s main trade activity. This entails the production of figurines, small plaster statues, representing saints but also busts of famous people and other characters. Some of these artisans migrated all over the world. One of them was Mario Pisani, who moved to the United States aged thirteen to sell the chalk figures. A church and a small square are dedicated to him. The museum is divided into two sections: one is dedicated to the production of various kinds of figurines where, among other things, you will find the small statues of the 1800 plaster nativity set, the other delves instead into the emigration stories of the figurine makers of Coreglia with memorabilia such as passports, letters and other documents.
Ascending a bit further, you will finally arrive at the fortress - or rather, what's left of it! The real reward for the hike you have done will not be the ruins of the ancient fort, but the scenery in front of you. This is the best stress-relief: breathe in deeply and look in front of you: don’t you feel like Castruccio, masters of the world?
ONE NIGHT IN THE ANCIENT VILLAGE. If at this point you felt like stepping back to Castruccio’s times, you'll be pleased to know that there is no need for a time machine. You just need to be in Coreglia Antelminelli municipality on 15th August, when a medieval re-enactment takes place: the town is filled with noblemen, peasants, knights and ladies with tastings of excellent local produce, craft markets and performances by street artists all around you.
GHIVIZZANO. Just 9 km from Coreglia Antelminelli Tuscany, you will discover another village where history has left its indelible mark. Among the buildings, the most famous is undoubtedly the Tower which is part of the fortress, restored and further fortified by will of ... guess who? Him again, Castruccio Castracani! It wasn’t hard to guess since it is called 'Castruccio’s Tower'! The ground floor of the building was a warehouse and was not connected to the upper one, the second and the third were used instead as houses for the Lords... apparently Castruccio himself also lived here. To reach the Tower, you need to walk the 'scaleo', the steep stairway that starts from the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, with paintings from Paolo Guinigi’s time. Also, walk along Via Sossanna covered with vaults and with light glimmers emanating from small openings.
What we have just described is Ghivizzano’s best-known itinerary, but there is another equally interesting one, called 'Norcini a Castello', which unfortunately you can only do the first Sunday of September. This is a food and wine itinerary that winds through the streets of the town with eight succulent stages. On this occasion, shuttles departing from Ghivizzano will take you directly to the entry gate. Here, after purchasing the ticket, you will discover that every cellar and every little room offers a different tasting, often with Slow-food products! You will be able to taste the renowned “biroldo della Garfagnana’, a kind of sausage made with pig's head, spices, pine nuts and blood or ‘Bazzone ham’, so called because its shape resembles a large chin. It is produced with the meat of pigs reared in the semi-wild and fed on barley, chestnuts and waste products from the local dairies. Even the corn flour accompanying these dishes comes from a Slow-Food variety of corn: it is called “eight lines corn”, a strain abandoned because of its poor yield but with an exceptional taste. And how to forget the king of the local cereals: Garfagnana spelt, to be enjoyed in a traditionally cooked soup.
As we said, this is a food and wine itinerary... so you can eat and drink! At each stage you will find organic wines from the hills and mountains of Lucca. Are you already checking your diary to see if you are free in September? Don’t worry! If you are not, the titbits that I have described can be found all year along, with berries, mushrooms and chestnuts depending on the season.
AROUND COREGLIA. Coreglia Antelminelli municipality is not limited to the eponymous village and Ghivizzano, but offers other attractive locations. Gromignana is 4 km away and is known as 'the smallest and most remote village of the middle Serchio Valley'. It owes its appellative to the limited number of remaining ancient buildings: only the outside of the Church and several fortified walls. Lovers of nature and hiking in Gromignana will have their expectations fulfilled at the Buca delle Fate a Gromignana: a cave near the River Segone discovered in the early '900.
Piano di Coreglia is located 6 km from the village and is the result of the union of three communities that once lived in separate areas: Nestrignana, Manciana and Colle Bertingo. In the Church of St. Lorentz and St. Lazarus you will have the chance to see two beautiful paintings from 2001 by the painter Paolo Maiani: 'Resurrection' and 'Jesus walking on water'.
Lucignana, which is 6 km from Coreglia Antelminelli, also has something interesting to offer: the picturesque gate, the sixteenth-century palace where folks used to hold gatherings and the parish church with primitive Romanesque structures. Noteworthy are also the stone friezes and engravings of some of the houses that seem to derive from the old houses of the Bizzarri Family.
Similarly to Coreglia Antelminelli, Tereglio (10 km away) was a very strategic location because it controlled the pass that leads to the Via Emilia: here a necropolis that seems to date back to the third century B.C. was also discovered. The village was almost entirely destroyed in 1429 but, fortunately, there is still something left to see! My advice is to spend some time around the small Fort and Porta Mezzana and observe the magnificent sixteenth-century portals, Casa Noccorini, the Customs, Casa Giannini and, last but not least, the parish church, noteworthy for its structure and the works it houses, such as a crucifix of the thirteenth century and inlaid altars.
I have one last anecdote to tell you regarding Susan Sarandon and Coreglia Antelminelli: the actress discovered that her great-grandmother was from Coreglia Antelminelli! So, dear ladies, if you are thinking of copycatting 'Thelma and Louise' on the Garfagnana roads be careful ... you might meet the real Louise!
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