Travelling north to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana from Gallicano the Serchio valley narrows considerably, largely due to a spur coming straight down from the Pania Della Croce. At this point one can either proceed through a dim and dramatic gorge or find sunlight and great views by going over the spur itself (especially if one is heading for a meal at the incomparable Bonini’s).
The crossroad at Bonini’s leads, to the left, to the high ranges of the Panie and a number of delightful villages. To the right there are also a couple of sweet villages which, in my opinion, are unduly neglected.
I’d already known Perpoli since our choir sang there on such a wet Sunday that rain was coming down inside the campanile itself. (See my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/precipitous-perpoli/ for more information on Perpoli). The spur on which this tiny village is situated must have sported several castles due to its strategic position between the Luccan and the Estensi border and on a hill in the centre of Perpoli are the very overgrown remains of a fortress.
We’d never visited Palleroso which is the other village on the spur until a week ago and were delighted by it. Unfortunately, both our camera batteries were flat (does this happen to others too?) so no photographs remain of that visit.
When the sun peeped through yesterday I decided I’d have to return to Palleroso with a charged camera and was even more enchanted by this village, which is larger and more spectacularly placed than Perpoli.
In fact, it’s built including a whole castle, hence the sign to it describing it as the mediaeval tower of Palleroso. Palleroso is surrounded by several places that together form what the villagers commonly call “la campagna”. These locations are Pianaccia, Santa Cristina, Canipaia, Buriconti, Pastine, Novicchia, and La Casina.
The entrance to Palleroso is through a square dominated by the church of San Rocco (the patron saint of plague prevention) built when the village was preserved from a bubonic plague in 1630.
One then proceeds through Via Tabernacoli and reaches a flight of steps leading to the castle entrance. The old gate was built in 1610 and the ground floor has a fountain, defensive slit windows, and an effigy of the Virgin. Upstairs is a room, formerly used by the Castilian which, over time, has served as a school building and as a municipal clinic.
The street then leads onto the main square which has a wonderful viewing platform and a sweet parish church dedicated to Saint Martin. Its interior is quite elegant and very well kept. The church’s structure recalls romanesque architecture but, instead of a rose window, there is a niche with an image of St. Martin. In the apse is an oil painting by the eighteenth Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Lorenzetti representing the Virgin and Child, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, Mary Magdalene and S. Ansano.
Continuing the Via della Torre you reach the highest part of the village at a height of 537 metres and find the ruins of an ancient circular tower. The large stone blocks suggest a probable Etruscan origin. The tower’s function was as a signalling post with other towers located on the surrounding hills just like the one I described in my post on the ”eye of Lucca” at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/the-eye-of-lucca/
There are a number of trails which I must explore soon when the weather improves. What I most enjoyed of my time at Palleroso (which some people say is a corruption of Paglia Rosa – rosy straw) were the 360 degree views from it. I was able to recognize many villages from it which appeared to me for the first time as they must look like to eagles.
A local told me also that the Palleroso porcino and galletto mushrooms are the best flavoured in the area so that’s another reason for returning to this delightful village.
Because of its very strategic border position Palleroso has quite an interesting history for a village of its size.
The first historical documents date from the late twelfth century when in 1169 Berudico di Bolzano, leader of a small army, after conquering Gallicano, Barga, Cascio, Perpoli and Fiattone, destroyed Palleroso.
In 1346 the Marquis Spinetta Malaspina-sold Palleroso to the Florentine Republic for just 12,000 gold florins. In 1370, Lucca managed to recapture Palleroso from the Florentines. In 1383 Lucca was again forced to surrender Palleroso to the Florentines. In 1384 a document notes Palleroso as having one of the most important castles of the Garfagnana.
In 1451 Palleroso passed to the Marquis of Ferrara Borso d’Este and remained under Este rule until the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. In 1836 the road that leads to Monteperpoli from Castelnuovo Garfagnana was built (the one we still use today to get to Castelnuovo over the spur).
In 1840 the village’s first aqueduct, “the Fontanino” was built.
Palleroso was unfortunately caught up in WWII. By the autumn of 1944 and spring of 1945 the war front between the Italian Social Republic and Germany on the one hand and Anglo-Americans on the other stood in Garfagnana along the second Gothic Line that went from Pania della Croce to the Rocchette, and from there to Bruciano, Eglio, Sassi, Molazzana, Monteperpoli, Palleroso, the Bridge at Campia and, crossing the river Serchio, up to Castelvecchio, Treppignana and the Saltillo pass.
In late August 1944, an American airplane fell in the woods near Palleroso. At the beginning of October the first bombs fell near Palleroso. On December 26, 1944, (at least they took Christmas off…) the Germans attempted an offensive against the Americans, recapturing Palleroso, and pushed up towards Barga and Gallicano, but the next day the Anglo-Americans launched a counter-attack. In February 1945 some bombs fell in Palleroso killing 30 civilians who were hiding in a shelter and the Chaplain of Castelnuovo. On April 18, 1945 Palleroso was occupied by American troops, and on Sunday, April 22 Mass was celebrated in the village church before a congregation who had now almost all returned from hiding in the mountains.
So even this o-so-peaceful place has had to suffer the tortures and uselessness of war….