Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Tremel, Circa 990 AD

Submansio XLII – Tremel

Tromello is a small town about 15 miles west of Pavia. It is the home of Francesco Negri (1841-1924),  a pictorialist, the inventor of the telephoto lens, and who was known for his experiments in Louis Ducos du Hauron’s techniques of color photography. He was lawyer by profession.



Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Pamphica (Pavia), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XLI – Pamphica

Dating back to pre-Roman times, the town of Pavia, then known as Ticinum was a municipality and an important Roman military site. It was said by Pliny the Elder to have been founded by the Ligures, while Ptolemy attributed it to the Insubres.  The importance of Ticinum grew with the extension of the Via Aemilia, which forked  at Placentia, one branch going to Mediolanum (Milano) and the other to Ticinum.


An Insubres chief from the time of Hannibal, ca. 200 B.C.

The city was the capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards from 572 to 774.

The ill-famed Queen Eadburh, also nicknamed the Saxon serial killer, had taken refuge in Pavia after having been driven away from both England and Charlemagne’s court and ended her days begging in the streets of the city.


Queen Eadburgh, England 787-802 A.D.

According to V. Ortenberg West, at the time of Sigeric’s visit, Anglo-Saxon pilgrims would have perhaps stayed at the xenodochium of Sta Maria Brittonorum, founded in 868. In the early Middle ages, a xenodochium was a type of hostel for foreigners or pilgrims, but the term could refer to charitable institutions in general.


Map of Pavia, from Theatrum Urbium Italicarum, Pietro Bertelli, Venice, 1599

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Placentia (Piacenza), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXVIII – Placentia

The etymology of Piacenza traces its origin from the Latin verb placere which means in english: to please. In fact, the French, and occasionally in English, also call the city Plaisance.

The area was populated by Etruscans before the Ananes, and then the Romans settled. Polybius is the only author to mention the Ananes. According to him, the celtic tribe dwelt between the Padus and the Apennines, the westernmost of the Cisalpine Gaul, immediately adjoining the Ligurians. It is possible that the Anamares mentioned by Polybius were the same people.


Map of the Gallia Cisalpina, ex conatibus Geographicis Abrah. Ortelij./Antwerp, 1595

Cisalpine Gaul was the part of Italy inhabited by Gauls during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Livy writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (king of Rome from 616-579 B.C.). This part of Gaul was finally conquered by the Roman Republic in the 220s BC, became a Roman province from c. 81 BC until 42 BC, when it merged into Roman Italy.


Illustration of Gauls on an expedition, from A Popular History of France From the Earliest Times, Vol I, by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

In the Middle Ages, Piacenza was sacked during the Gothic War (535-554), a war between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. After a short period of being reconquered by Roman Emperor Justinian I, it was conquered by the Lombards, who made it a duchy seat. After its conquest by the Franks in the 9th century, the city began to recover, aided by its location along the Via Francigena. In 850, there was a hospice in Piacenza founded by Bishop Donatus of Fiesole, dedicated to St. Brigid.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Floricum (Fiorenzuola d’Arda), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXVII – Floricum

Fiorenzuola d’Arda was originally called Florentia, but later changed to this diminutive form to distinguish it from Florence. In the Middle Ages, Florentia was one of the Piacenza Province most important fortified centers.


Beautiful panorama of Fiorenzuola by Sergio Valtolla, photo found on

The economic health of Fiorenzuola d’Arda is strong and mainly based on agriculture. A cereal research institute (Istituto Sperimentale per la Cerealicoltura) is implanted in town and performs the latest research in terms of wheat, corn, oats, and barley cultivation from conventional breeding genome to analysis of cereals. Learn more here.



Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Domnine (Fidenza), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXVI – Sce Domnine

The town of 24,000 inhabitants was renamed Fidenza in 1927, recalling its Roman origins: a camp called Fidentia on the Via Aemilia. Before, it was called Borgo San Donnino, named after the martyr of Parma, Saint Domninus.

According to tradition, Saint Domninus, a native of Parma, died just outside of Fidenza in 304 AD. The Fidenza cathedral is dedicated to him. The legend says that Domninus converted to christianity which enraged Emperor Maximian. Pursued by imperial soldiers, Domninus was finally caught on the banks of the Stirone. His relics were deposited at the cathedral of Fidenza.


Fidenza Cathedral, photo courtesy of

In art, Domninus is depicted in military attire, and holds the palm of martyrdom. The Fidenza cathedral includes sculptures representing the life of the saint which are attributed to Benedetto Antelami or his students.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Philemangenur and Metane, Circa 990 AD

Emerging from the Apennines, entering the Po Valley from the right bank, following the river Taro.

The Val di Taro was of strategic importance during the Middle Ages, as it was traversed by the Via Francigena. About 12 miles of the river course between Fornovo di Taro and Ponte Tarovconstitutes the protected area of the Parco fluviale Regionale del Taro.


Showing the Parco fluviale Regionale del Taro in green

The Po Valley overlays a system of deeply buried ancient canyons surviving from the tectonic collision of an offshore land mass, Tyrrhenis, with the mainland. The valley has filled up 7-5 million years ago with sediment mainly from the Apennines and the Alps.

Until about 1950 the Po delta was prograding into the Adriatic Sea. Due to human alteration of geologic factors, such as the sedimentation rate, the delta has been degrading and the coastline subsiding, resulting in ongoing contemporaneous crises in the city of Venice, for example, where much of the irreplaceable architecture is likely to be lost due to soaring sea level in the next centuries.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Moderanne (Berceto), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXIII – Sce Moderanne

Situated along the Via Francigena, Berceto marks a stage particularly rich in mystery. In 1971, after performing excavations, a tomb was found in the romanesque Cathedral of Berceto (anciently Cathedral San Moderanne),  under the presbytery. The tomb was completely devoid of indications but was most likely from the 11th century and its simplicity suggests a monk’s burial. Moreover, a special artifact was found inside the tomb: a glass goblet. The Holy Grail? The cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper? Another detail worth noting, is the bas-relief at the main entrance depicting the scene of the Crucifixion, with a child collecting the drops of Jesus blood in a vessel.

In the year 718, it is said that the bishop of Rennes, San Moderanno, on his way to Rome, and along the way acquired the relics of San Remigio. Near Berceto, he stopped to rest and hung the bag with the remains on the branch of a tree. He forgot the bag and went back for it, only to notice that the branch had grown out so much that it made it impossible to recover the remains. Only after Moderanno promised to keep the relics on the site, did the tree bend down so a monastery could be build on the miraculous soil. The cathedral was completely rebuilt in the 12th century.


Church of Berceto, courtesy

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Benedicte, Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXII – Sce Benedicte


Church Our Lady of the Guard, Passo Della Cisa on the Via Francigena

Sce Benedicte was probably called after the abbey of St Benedict in Montelungo. This is the last stop before Sigeric crossed the Apennines, probably by using Passo Della Cisa, known in the Middle Ages as the Mons Bardonis. The Cisa Pass is a 3,414 feet high mountain pass that marks the division between Ligurian and Tuscan Apennines. It is located on the border between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, near the source of the Magra River. The small church standing at the end of the steep staircase is a recent addition consecrated to Our Lady of the Guard in 1922, and declared a sanctuary on August 29, 1930.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Puntremel (Pontremoli), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XXXI – Puntremel

Puntremel is believed to have been first settled around 1000 BC, at about the same time as Sigeric’s passage. The area was known in Roman times as Apua from the Apuani, a Ligurian tribe, that lived there.

The Ligures are mentioned repeatedly by Livy. According to his writings, it appears that the Apuani were the most easterly of the Ligurian tribes, who inhabited the mountains bordering Etruria, and occupied the valleys of the Magra and Serchio rivers. As found by archaeologists, the Ligures were an italo-celtic people mainly occupying the alpine regions of Provence, Côte d’Azur, Piemont, and Liguria.

The Lunigiana region, where Puntremel (Pontremoli) is located, boasts one of the oldest artistic heritages in Italy, characterized by anthropomorphic stone slabs, carved in sandstone by pre-Ligurian populations that used to live in this land between the chalcolithic and the iron age (anytime between 5000 and 2000 B.C. These stone stelae are also referred to as the Stelae-Statues. The statues usually have an uncarved lower part and an upper part carved in a more or less stylized way to represent both feminine and masculine bodies. Their half-moon shaped head has become the symbol of the entire region.


Map of Lunigiana, red dots showing location of Stelae-Statues found since 1867.

Since 1867, date of the first discovery, about 80 samples have been discovered all over the Lunigiana. They have been found more often in small groups than isolated; never on broken ground and always near streams or along large communication valleys or mountain zones close to communication routes. The most complete exhibition of the Stelae-Statues of Lunigiana is found at the Archeological Museums of Pontremoli.


Group of Stelae-Statues of Lunigiana, Museum of Montremoli