Travel Guide to a Quietly Spectacular City in Liguria
Sarzana is a quietly spectacular town. It lies in Liguria on the border with Tuscany. The Magra river passes to the east. The sea is a short distance away.
Tourists don’t go there much. Italian tourists might peek into some of the antique shops in the historic centre, once a major draw in Sarzana but now a sideline ever since giant antique fairs started to play out in the bigger cities. Today it’s a quiet city.
Here’s the major piazza, Piazza Matteotti, on a recent Wednesday. A storm approaches, but the light is always good in Sarzana. It’s hard to take a bad picture of this city.
There are many restaurants in Sarzana, and all of them are good. It’s like the town is waiting for tourists who seldom come. We go there quite a lot, sometimes for the Thursday market, but mostly just to join the evening passeggiata and do a little shopping.
And, of course, Sarzana has a nice castle. Two in Fact. La Cittadella Fortezza Firmafede is right on the northeast border of the old town and the Fortezza di Sarzanello is just north of town. but you can see it way off on the top of the hill as you gaze at the Fortezza Firmafede in front of you and squint a bit at the horizon.
Sarzana’s two castles, one in town, one on the hill behind(see main image).
It also has a fine Romanesque/Gothic cathedral, Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. The cathedral was built as the seat of the Bishop of Luni, a nearby town from which marble was shipped and for which the Lunigiana was named. The current building took from 1204 to 1474 build, and in 1735 three statues of popes were added to the top of the façade.
Sarzana Cathedral: Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta
Nice, but that’s not all. Inside you’ll find the Cross of Maestro Guglielmo, dated 1138.
The Cross of Maestro Guglielmoin the Cathedral of Sarzana (1138) serves as the oldest extant example of a monumental painted panel (dipintura) cross. This crucifix portrays Jesus as the Christus Triumphans. In this format of depicting the crucifixion, Jesus appears immune to suffering and death. He stands against the cross fully alive (despite the spear wound); his eyes are open and his face devoid of emotion. ~ The Painted Panel Crucifixes of the Early Franciscans as a Response to the Cathar Heresy
The Cross of Maestro Guglielmo in the Cathedral of Sarzana (1138)
Among the plethora of fine restaurants in Sarzana we find ourselves returning to L’Osteria dei Sani. Our latest meal was quite spectacular, including a pasta with fresh anchovies, a crunchy fritto misto di mare and perfectly seared tuna, as shown below.
Sarzana is 15 minutes east of La Spezia, the “gateway to the Cinque Terre”, on the train, and a little over 2 hours from Florence on the train passing through the marble country of Massa and Carrara.
Atri Fioriti: The uniquely Sarzana festival called Atri Fioriti, flowered atriums, is held around the May 1st holiday every year. Each year the city opens the doors of it’s stately palazzi to visitors, where they’ll find atriums decorated with a different theme every year. Last year celebrated the historic cars of the Mille Miglia.