The Svizzera Pesciatina and its 10 Castella
There is a little oasis in Tuscany that is hardly known. An area where time has stood still. Where you can see the authentic Tuscany on every corner, far from the tourist crowds.
Few of them know it as the “Valleriana” valley, but most as “Svizzera Pesciatina” (Pescia Switzerland). This last name is relatively new, because at the end of the 18th century Jean Charles Sismondi here was reminded of his homeland the Switzerland.
This valley lies in the hills above Pescia (Province of Pistoia, halfway from Florence and the sea) and is a foothill of the Apennines.
Between the abundance of nature, the river, which has always made history here, and almost countless hiking trails. You will find 10 small characteristic villages, the “10 Castella“: Pietrabuona, Medicina, Fibbialla, Aramo, San Quirico, Castelvecchio, Stiappa, Pontito, Sorana and Vellano.
All villages face south and were made with the same skeleton. All of them have or had city walls and an observation tower, which has either been converted into private houses or church towers. This shape is reminiscent of that of a castle, which is why they are also called “10 Castella” (10 castles) and not “10 Paesi” (10 villages). All “Castella” date from around the 9th and 10th centuries.
The river and numerous waterways made the area ideal for paper mills. In fact, in the past they also produced paper for banknotes, here. Today there are few of them left. Some of the old abandoned factories are still visible along the Pescia river.
In Pietrabuona, there is a paper museum that still remembers his renowned production of these hills.
This village was built by a bishop of Lucca and is the gateway to the Svizzera Pesciatina. Walking through the alleys you can still see the remains of the defensive walls and the ancient church from 798.
Medicina is located above Pietrabuona, the village dominates the two valleys. Over the centuries it became the scene of fierce fighting between Lucca and Florence, who tried in every way to conquer Medicine. Some remains of the ancient walls and the entrance door of this small but charming village are still visible today.
Little can be seen of the old walls of Fibbialla. Special is the church of San Michele, whose first documents date back to 988. Inside there are some paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries of considerable value. The bell tower has a rare six-hour clock and was built between the 16th and 17th centuries.
Aramo has a breathtaking location overlooking the entire valley. This village too has been the scene of clashes several times between Florence and Lucca. In 1383, after a long siege, it was almost completely destroyed and set on fire. Here you can still find traces of the ancient walls and some underground tunnels that were used in the past by the inhabitants in case of siege.
San Quirico, is one of the villages with the largest number of inhabitants. It’s still almost completely preserved in its original state. Of great interest is the Museum of Peasant Civilization, which can be visited by appointment.
If you come down from San Quirico, after a few km you will find the historical and artistic masterpiece of Svizzera Pesciatina. The Pieve dei SS. Tommaso e Ansano in Castelvecchio, documented since the 9th century, unfortunately restored several times. In any case, the Pieve is an important testimony of how much Romanesque art has influenced this part of the province, testifying to the cultural receptivity of this area.
In this village there is also the oratory of the SS Rosario. A real hidden treasure in the center of the town, under the parish church of San Giovanni Battista, entirely decorated with episodes from the life of Christ and the Virgin.
Centuries ago, Stiappa marked the border between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Duchy of Lucca. This small town has always been devoid of defensive elements and has always used the outer wall of the houses as a wall. From here starts a very romantic path with natural river basins up to an old mill.
Pontito is the highest “Castella” in Valleriana. The peculiarity of this village is given by the fact that the fortified structure is intact and divided according to a pyramidal shape. On the top of which the church of SS. Andrea and Lucia, the sturdy stone construction is of Romanesque origin.
Sorana, takes its name from the fortress, of which only a few remains are today. The name comes from the dominant position over the valley, which is why it was called “Sovrana” (sovereign). Sorana is very famous for the production of the special white beans, which are known and excellent for their delicate taste.
Vellano is the capital of the Svizzera Pesciatina. The town is relatively large and here you can easily get lost in the alleys. You always come out at a panoramic point with a view over the whole valley and the other “Castella”. Here is the only quarry of Pietra Serena in the entire province of Pistoia, still in operation today. There is also a historical ethnographic museum.
Once there were 11 villages, above Aramo the ruins of Lignana are still found today. It was completely destroyed in the battle between Florence and Pisa in 1364 and was never rebuilt. However, the church has been preserved and can be reached by a 2-hour hiking trail.
For the hikers among you it is a perfect place! There are many paths, but if you want a circular route, even if partly by road, to visit all the 10 Castella it takes about 6 hours!
Svizzera Pesciatina is a magical place. Here you can relax completely surrounded by nature. But it’s also a strategic starting point for your holiday in Tuscany because it’s in a central position respect to all tourist attractions.