Sarzana is, of course, a lot more than its fortresses. The town has some very picturesque streets:
and for restaurants and bars one is spoilt for choice: it has truly a culinary prodigiousness..
Italy is famous for its historic cafes but one doesn’t have to go to Padua’s caffé Pedrocchi or Lucca’s Caffé Simo (one can’t enter that one, anyway as it’s been shamefully closed for several years now), Sarzana has one of its own and it’s placed on the corner of an almost fantailed shaped piazza which I would rate as one of the most charming I have come across in Italy.
The Piazza Matteotti is especially important as it’s one of the very few documented places where Dante is known to have been during his exile and where he received a safe conduct from the Duke of Malaspina. As the inscription in the square states “Ombra di Dante non si cancella”. (One cannot cancel Dante’s shadow).
The Caffé Costituzionale (like so many other historic cafes in Italy) was a centre of intellectual and political discussion and a hotbed of ideas leading towards the Italian Risorgimento. Founded in 1833 by Signor Manena it was the meeting place of patriots including Berghini who was a member of the Giovane Italia (young Italy) movement. It still preserves something of the atmosphere of those heady times. Certainly, political discussions were still going strong.
Historic cafes are normally overpriced but this one certainly wasn’t’! Two euros provided me with a caffé macchiato and a brioche with crema pasticciera brought to my outside table for just two euros.
I could have stayed more but now needed to be on my way to discover some of Sarzana’s churches.
On the way I passed this nineteenth century former launderette.
A recent plaque recorded the unsung labours of women and their continued suffering under tyrannical males (Italy has one of the highest feminicide rates in the western world.)
The Pieve di Sant’Andrea is Sarzana’s oldest church and dates back to the tenth century.
Like so many other churches in Italy, it had a baroque make-over but more recently the side walls have been laid bare to reveal a far more ancient Romanesque building.
In the wall niches there are some very beautiful statues dating from this earlier period.
I didn’t know what to expect from the Duomo or cathedral. The entrance portico was elegantly gothic with some beautifully fluted columns:
Inside I was bowled over by the width of the gigantic spans separating the nave from the aisles.
The gorgeously decorated apse was outstanding-
There were two impressive gothic side altars loaded with statuary:
and some pretty della Robbias:
However, the greatest treasure of Sarzana cathedral and certainly one of Italy’s greatest artistic riches is the painted crucifix by Mastro Guglielmo which dates back to the eleventh century. It’s the oldest painted crucifix in Italy pre-dating those masterpieces by Berlinghieri and Cimabue by over a hundred years.
Interestingly, Christ is shown triumphantly on the cross and not passively suffering as became the fashion later on (and remains to this day). The “ecclesia triumphans” had to be the motto at the end of the dark ages when power and glory battled against the sinister forces which destroyed Rome and almost demolished Western civilization.
Returning to catch my train I passed some elegant art nouveau houses. Here too, Sarzana showed itself as one of Italy’s most delightful towns.
But perhaps I shouldn’t say this as one of the pleasures in perambulating its streets and alleys was to encounter a minimal number of tourists.