Sarzana has always been a frontier town and its geographical position meant that it was highly contested. Consequently, the various rulers over the years had to defend the town by fortifying it. Bearing witness to this are two stunning fortresses that can still be seen today.
Also known as the Citadel, Firmafede Fortress stands on the edge of the town walls in Sarzana’s old town centre. It was built by Lorenzo de’ Medici between 1487 and 1492, on top of the ruins of previous fortifications. Thanks to a number of restoration initiatives, the fortress is capable of welcoming visitors once again. It is now a cultural hub that hosts numerous prominent activities, including national events.
You can find out more about Firmafede Fortress at www.fortezzafirmafede.it
Sarzanello Fortress on Via alla Fortezza is a military construction that looks down over the Magra Valley from the top of the Sarzanello hill, near Sarzana. It is one of the defining landmarks in the town of Sarzana due to its features and its location. Lorenzo de’ Medici of Florence had the fortress that can be seen today built after the Florentines triumphed over their Genoese rivals in a conflict known as the War of Sarzana. The work began in 1493 and by the time it was completed in 1502 the fortress was in the hands of the Republic of Genoa, which retained control of it until the Unification of Italy. The fortress now hosts public and private events and it is open to visitors all year round.
You can find out more about Sarzanello Fortress at www.fortezzadisarzanello.com
Numerous educational workshops for children are held in the fortresses and it is also possible to ask for guided tours and organize private events in them. Simply contact the Earth cooperative, which has been working with cultural heritage and the environment since 1998 and runs both of the fortresses in Sarzana. (Link www.earthscrl.it)
As well as the stunning fortresses, visitors to Sarzana can look around two museums: MUdeF and the Diocesan Museum.
MUdeF is the museum of the fortresses and it is found in Firmafede Fortress, where it spans 27 rooms. Although it does not have its own private collection, the museum offers visitors the chance to dive into the history of Lunigiana and the people from the area thanks to moving models, stories told by actors, keyholes that you can peep through, talking pictures, a 360° cinema and much more besides. Schools and families can go on guided tours and take part in educational workshops. In addition, it hosts big exhibitions by Italian and international artists. Banksy and Andy Warhol are just two of the names that have appeared there in the past.
The Diocesan Museum protects and showcases the artistic and religious heritage of Sarzana and the lower Magra Valley. There are six rooms in the museum. It is based in the Oratory of Misericordia, which was built in the late 16th century and is found in the oldest part of town. Standing out among the numerous religious furnishings, works and other items are a small purse-shaped reliquary that dates back to around the 8th century and a highly refined Italian Gothic processional cross/reliquary from the early 14th century, which is made of gilded silver and translucent enamel. In terms of paintings and sculptures, particularly worth of note are a considerable number of works by Domenico Fiasella (who was born in Sarzana and was one of the top exponents of Ligurian painting in the 17th century), a painting of the Pardon of Assisi by Domenico Piola from the Church of San Martino in Sarzanello and a polychrome wooden sculptural group of Flagellation from the Oratory of San Gerolamo in Sarzana that has been attributed to the school of Maragliano.
Sarzana is full of religious sites and numerous churches were built here for a number of reasons, one of the main ones unquestionably being that it was the bishop’s see for centuries.
Consequently, master sculptors, painters and architects flocked here from the Middle Ages to modern times.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is right in the middle of the original town centre, around which Sarzana first developed. It is known all over Italy because it contains the oldest painted cross in the country. Produced by an artist called Mastro Guglielmo, it dates back to 1138 and has been called a crucial work of Romanesque art. The cathedral also contains a relic that is claimed to contain blood collected from Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It is kept in the chapel to the right of the main altar.
The 10th century Parish Church of Sant’Andrea is the oldest religious building in Sarzana. The medieval façade was lower than the one that can be seen today. The entrance is adorned with a 16th century white Carrara marble portal with bare-breasted caryatids on the jambs. It is topped by an eight-pointed star called the sidus, which is the symbol of elderly people in the town of Sarzana.
Located just outside the walls of the old town centre, the Church of San Francesco has one large nave in the monastic and Gothic style of the 13th century. Both the church and the adjoining monastery are dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. It is said that Francis himself asked for them to be built during a short visit to Sarzana.
The small, simple Church of Santa Caterina has a single nave and dates back to approximately 1600.
The Oratory of San Gerolamo next to the Cathedral of Santa Maria is one of the most graceful examples of 18th century Baroque architecture in Liguria. It is now home to the Confraternity of the Precious Blood.
The Oratory of Santa Croce between the Cathedral and the Parish Church of Sant’Andrea is an old place of worship that was built in the 15th century. It contains a copy of the Holy Face of Lucca and a fine statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Once the home of the Confraternity of Mercy, the Oratory of Misericordia on Piazza Firmafede now hosts the Diocesan Museum.
The Teatro degli Impavidi is named after its founders. They were a powerful family from Sarzana who decided to fund the construction of a theatre capable of satisfying the needs of a town that was already renowned for its active theatrical scene back in the 18th century. It is a clear example of a privately established independent theatre that served as a “secular temple” for the emerging middle classes in the early 19th century. The theatre temporarily closed during the Second World War and the roof had to be repaired due to bomb damage. It was reopened in 1949 following a fund-raising campaign by the people of the town, who collected enough money to buy the stakes in the theatre owned by those who had inherited them from the original builders.
The Teatro degli Impavidi company converted the historic building into a cinema and some parts of it were sold to various owners over the years. As a result, in 1999 Sarzana Town Council made the decision to buy the theatre – 190 years after it was founded – in order to preserve the building. Since 2019, the Teatro degli Impavidi has been run by the Scarti cultural association: a creative cultural enterprise that was launched in 2007 by a group of young artists, technicians and other members of the field from the La Spezia area.
See what’s on at the Teatro degli Impavidi.