25,000 people, half of whom are Italian, walked at least a part of the Via Francigena last year. Compared to the number of people who walked that stretch in previous years, this is encouraging — an improvement due to the increasing number of bed & breakfasts along the route and to the efforts to promote the route made by the region of Tuscany who has been trying to transform it in a sort of Italian version of the Spanish Way of St. James — but that could, and should, be improved in the future. It was this the conclusion of Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano that recently published a reportage on the route. According to Il Fatto, the potential of the route are huge and, if well exploited, could make it the Italian version of the St. James Way.
First documented as the Lombard Way and then the Frankish Route in 725, according to the travel records of Willibald, Bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria, the route was named Via Francigena in 876, given its crossing with French territories (Francia, in Italian) at the Abbey of San Salvatore al Monte Amiata in Tuscany and was used throughout the Middle Ages by pilgrims headed to Rome from the North, particularly from France. Nearly 400 kilometers of the Via pass through Tuscany, accounting in part for the development of a number of the region’s historic settlements and trade and religious centers.
Today, tourists and history buffs can enjoy the cultural mecca that is Via Francigena by following one or all of the 15 Tuscan legs, beginning with the journey from Passo della Cisa to Pontremoli and ending with the route from Radicofani to Acquapendente.
In addition to the natural beauty of the countryside, centuries-old churches and fortresses along each trail give visitors a feel for what the pilgrimage of centuries past was really like. The Via passes through San Gimignano and its Fortress of Montestaffoli. Originally a castle for the Lombard Astolfo and later a Dominican Convent, the fortress took on a defensive role in the 14th century while under the threat of attack from Siena.
To find out more visit www.viefrancigene.org.