Versilia

This is an excerpt from the book “Florence and Tuscany

The region is located in northern Tuscany between the lake of Massaciuccoli and the Cinquale river; it’s well known for its fine sandy beaches an area of 20 km. The coastline includes the towns of Camaiore, Forte dei Marmi, Massarosa, Pietrasanta, Seravezza, Stazzema and Viareggio.

The territory of Versilia covers an area of about 160 square kilometers in the North-Western coast. From an administrative point of view, it is a part of the province of Lucca.

Versilia - All rights reserved by EJK41
Versilia – All rights reserved by EJK41

The area has always had a natural tourist vocation as balneo-therapy treatments started here during the second half of 19th century with the building of the first bathing establishments.

Nowadays Versilia is not only a beautiful stretch of coast but it also provided excellent opportunities to spend enjoyable holidays the whole year round, thanks to its mild climate and the wide range of entertainment and leisure facilities available.

The area is an important base to reach major Tuscan art cities such as Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra, reachable in a reasonably short time.

From a naturalistic point of view, the area is well known for safeguarding the environment with a rich diversified natural landscape comprising the majestic mountains of the Apuan Alps – offering a magnificent backdrop to the colorful coastline – consisting in some of the highest peaks in the region. These are part of the well-known Apuan Alps Regional Park, providing an ideal environment for trekking, walking, cycling, horse riding or mountain climbing.

Lago di Massaciuccoli Photo © duca80
Lago di Massaciuccoli Photo © duca80

To the South extends the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Regional Park offering a wide variety of habitats, from the lush coastal pine wood to the salty swamps and lake. Both nature parks are ideal for people of all ages and families and can be enjoyed the whole year round. Furthermore, sea lovers can enrich their holidays consisting in dolphin and whale-watching cruises to the Cetacean Sanctuary, a water reserve located along the Tuscan Archipelago and the northern Tyrrhenian Sea – where these animals can be observed in their natural habitat. The sea: Versilia, boasts 20 km of uninterrupted sandy shore from Torre del Lago Puccini, stretching as far as Vittoria Apuana (Forte dei marmi) in the north. The sea-bathing tradition of the region dates back to 1833 when Giuseppe Giannelli, a physician involved in medical hydrology, published the first study on the subject entitled “Il manuale per i bagni in mare” (Treatise on sea-bathing), qualifying Versilia as a beach of tradition.Construction of the original bathing establishments began in the early 1900s with boardwalks and chalets. Since then Versilia beaches have created a trend from which its culture, entertainment and jet set originated.

Today Versilia is in a position to offer a wide range of facilities ranging from affordable public beaches to more sophisticated bathing establishments – capable to satisfying even the most demanding requirements – providing bars, swimming pools, restaurants and night-clubs.

An extensive range of accommodation facilities can also be found in the area, from camp grounds to small family-run hotels to luxury hotels with different architectural design and setting and equipped with all sorts of comfort.

Photo © Nicola Del Mutolo
Photo © Nicola Del Mutolo

The vegetation: the territory encompasses a richly variety landscape, forming a harmonic blend, from sandy coastal dunes, to extensive luxuriant pinewoods and mediterraneanmacchia (brush), alternating with sections of cultivated plots of land.Thanks to the abundant number of waterways, the forest of the macchia contains a great variety of trees, including British oak, ash and black alder trees.Of great naturalistic value are the artificial pinewoods planted by man, full of thick Mediterranean underbrush and trees such as hornbeams and poplars.The Fauna: both the coastal and inland habitats abound in fauna. Birds who find the swamp system of Massaciuccoli along their migratory route enrich the natural patrimony in Versilia. A rich variety of mammals live in both the coastal waters and inland territories.

The pine wood: the vast pinewoods in Versilia, partly included in the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Nature Park, were planted by man in the 17th and 18th centuries. They consist of cluster pine (pinus pinea), a species imported to Italy during the roman epoch, when it was well-known above all along the Tyrrhenian coast and in Sicily.

Its spread over vast areas is due to the fact thet every part can be exploited: from the trunk, to obtain timber, to the bark and resin used for dyes and chemical products, to the seed, the pine nut. During the 1930s the pine tree industry became extremely important to Versilia’s economy. Even if Versilia is still today one of the largest areas for the production of pine nut in Italy, the value of its pinewood today is above all naturalistic.

Of these woods, perhaps the most famous one is the Versiliana Park at Marina di Pietrasanta, which covers approximately 80 hectares celebrated in the verses of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. Today it is property of the Pietrasanta municipality and is venue for interesting cultural events.

History: the Human presence in Versilia dates back to the Neolitic Age and many traces still remain in a number of areas. Then the Apuan Ligurians occupied the territory and fortified mountain passes and hills. Subsequently the Etruscans left but very few traces in the area.When the Romans arrived, they built roads such as the ancient Via Aurelia and colonized the area with villas, hamlets and villages. The Lombards later occupied the Roman settlements, providing the territory with a layout similar to the present one.A major development in Versilia’s history was the founding of the two principal cities: Pietrasanta in the north and Camaiore in the southern area. Pietrasanta was dominated by Lucca, Pisa and Genoa and finally, in 1513, it went under control of Florence. Camaiore was instead under the rule of Lucca.

Viareggio by night – Photo © duca80
Viareggio by night – Photo © duca80

These two cities played an important role in the area up to 1700 but during the following years – with its port and land reclamation operations – Viareggio grew in importance and began to expand until it obtained the dignity of a city.

Towards the end of the first half of the 19th century Versilia gradually became well known as a healthful place for sea bathing and heliotherapy treatments. This trend turned the area into a growing holiday destination, becoming popular among pleasure seekers as well as those pursuing cures.

At the end of the 19th century the popularity of bathing expanded enormously throughout the region leading the area to the present situation.

Pieve a Elici – Photo © duca80
Pieve a Elici – Photo © duca80

Architecture and art: the artistic heritage of Versilia boasts many monuments preserved in the numerous tows and villages scattered in the countryside. In Seravezza you can admire the Cathedral, dating to 16th century with its polychrome marbles as well as the 15th century baptismal font found in the inside by the Stagio Stagi, an architect from Pietrasanta.Then the Medici Palace with its impressive portal built in 1555 by Barolomeo Ammannati for Cosimo I of the Medici Family. Also outstanding is the Romanesque parish church of San Martino, situated in the mountain hamlet of Azzano. At Stazzema you can admire the 12th century Romanesque Church of Santa Maria Assunta, with several precious 15th and 16th century paintings and sculptures.The Historic town of Pietrasanta contains the main monuments on the cathedral Square, such as the Duomo of San Martino, built in 1330 with a magnificent marble facade decorated by three blind arches.

On the southern side is the Rocchetta Arrighina, a small fortress dating to 1324, rebuilt in 1487, and connected to the Porta a Pisa (City gate to Pisa) the only remaining gate of the ancient city walls.

At Camaiore you can find the splendid Romanesque Collegiate Church dating to 1278, rising on the square dedicated to San Bernardino da Siena who preached here in 1410.

Also remarkable is the small Church of San Michele with a Romanesque layout as well as the Confraternity of the SS. Sacramento housing the Museum of Sacred Art. Finally, near the cemetery is the impressive benedectine Abbey dating back to 11th century.

End of the excerpt from the book “Florence and Tuscany“. Get the entire content of the book free from advertising.

Text courtesy of Versilia Tourist Office