Likely the last in my “near but not in Cinque Terre” series, which is a look at several towns in the same area as the famous Cinque Terre, but are likely overlooked. While most of the towns in the series are on the same stretch of Ligurian Coast as the famous five, Sarzana is inland and to the east of la Spezia. This was one place I had never heard of, but I fully enjoyed it.
We decided to take a bus to Sarzana. My father had been reading brochures picked up in the tourist office in la Spezia and read about this place. It was of vast importance in the middle ages, but now was relatively small. It is however an easy busride from la Spezia and well worth a visit especially if you are tired of the seaside. The town is in the next valley to the east toward Pisa.
The day we went it was a pretty hot day. We didn’t have any plan other than just to see the place. So we stopped at the tourist office for a map and wandered around for the day before heading home. The main square of town is just up the road from the tourist office. It is lined by stately facades and has a fountain of a winged figure in the center (close up of the fountain can be seen on the GroundedTraveler fanpage on Facebook). In the heat of the day my mother and I found a shady spot under some construction and watched people go by. Late in the afternoon a guy came to set up a carousel, so I expect it could be a fairly lively place in the evening.
The second set of squares in the center of town lead away from the theater. Since we were here in March and not high tourist season, there was not much going on. It was a nice place to sit under the orange trees with a gelato though.
Sarzana was strategic militarily planted between Genoa, Florence and Pisa. Though the medieval roots of the town are evident on the map in the layout, much of the architecture remembers the money that came with influence.
There are two castles in Sarzana. Especially when partly translating things from Italian I got confused, thinking the words Citadel and Castle meant the same thing. One structure forms a corner of town. It has a wide moat and linked to the walls and gates to protect the town. The second structure is way up on a hill. Halfway through the day we figured this difference out and went looking for the way up to the hill. The way up is outside of the center of town and hard to see. It is apparently a fairly steep mule track that can be hiked. Dad found it and went up while mom and I went back and sat on the square.
The military bearing of things extends to the several towers and gates scattered around the edges of the old town. Just looking at a map, the shape of the old walls is evident. The gates that once allowed access to the inside of town are mostly still there, though most appeared re-porposed as housing.
Though some of the gates are more military looking than others.
One of the claims to fame of the town is to the source of the Bonaparte family. Not the birthplace of the emperor himself, but where his family came from before moving to Corsica.
Within the walls the buildings are packed pretty close together. Tall buildings and narrow alleys abound. This was nice to avoid the sun, but not so easy to get good wide shots of buildings, especially the cathedral. So I enjoyed getting this more unusual angle. The cathedral was closed for services or renovations or both (I don’t remember exactly, and the sign was in Italian anyway) at the point we wanted to go in. It is however not at all a gothic frilly church.
Sarzana is not a coastal part of Liguria, but well worth a day or two visit. Easily reached from la Spezia and potentially on your way to Pisa if you are inclined for a stop on your way out of the area. It was neat to see what a town that had so much power a thousand years ago looks like and to imagine the middle ages. Do note the difference in the castles and try to go up on the hill, dad said it was spectacular. More info from wikipedia: Sarzana