The mountains of the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines are of great naturalistic value and have a fascinating landscape, which man has helped model with his daily activities since prehistoric times. The view of the rounded peaks, large forests and high meadows is enriched by the signs left by the populations over the centuries: from the anthropomorphic stele to the ancient paths of shepherds and charcoal burners, from the traces of the Roman era to the Byzantine fortifications, from the churches and palaces which adorn the mediaeval villages to memories of the Risorgimento and the 2nd World War, when the Gothic Line passed across these slopes.
This wonderful equilibrium between man and nature over time has given the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines the right to become part of the network of UNESCO’s “Man and the Biosphere” programme (MaB).
The presence of man in prehistoric times is fragmentary in this area. However it becomes more stable from the late Bronze Age onwards, during which period stretches of wood were burnt or chopped down, to make space for pastoral activities. Numerous finds are testimony to the intense population of the area. These include the famous, enigmatic Stelae Statues of Lunigiana, anthropomorphic sandstone stelae with sculptured male and female figures. Production spanned an extensive period from the 3rd millennium BC to the 6th century BC.
During the Bronze Age, as Strabo tells us, there is evidence of the presence of a people of shepherds and farmers known as the Liguri. They settled throughout the territory in castle-like constructions or in high pasture refuges to control strategic places. They were divided into Apuans (between the Rivers Serchio and Magra, the Apennines and the sea) and the Friniati (the Emilian portion of the Apennines).
Due to the resistance of the Ligurian people to giving up their autonomy, the Roman conquest of the Apennines was heavy and radical in the first decades of the 2nd century BC. After the 1st and 2nd Punic Wars, the Ligurians were subjected to Rome’s aims to expand. Once it had defeated the Celtic tribes and established the province of Cisalpine Gaul, it proceeded to completely subjugate these lands with two military campaigns in 187 BC and 180 BC, and the Apuan Ligurians were deported to the Sannio region. During the principality of Augustus, the area was given a new administrative order and was integrated into Regio VII Etruria and Regio VIII Emilia.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the entire area was contested by the Byzantines initially, followed by the Longobards later. The former fought the Ostrogoths and in order to protect the town of Luni, they prepared a defence line of fortifications on the mountain tops, such as the Castrum Campas (in the Val di Taro), the Castrum Carfaniensis (perhaps Castelvecchio in Piazza al Serchio in Garfagnana), the Castrum Versiliae (perhaps Aginolfi Castle) and the Castrum Soreion (at Sorano in Filattiera). Following the defeat of the Byzantines in the mid 7th century AD, the Longobards settled in these territories and organised them under a monarchical-aristocratic rule. They remained there for just over a century and they gave way to the Franco rule.
At the decline of the Carolingian Empire, power was split between the numerous lords and noble families. This period stands out for the actions of Matilde di Canossa who enlarged her fiefdom from Lombardy to the borders of the Papal States and completely absorbed the current territories within the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. There are numerous signs of her presence: parishes, churches, towers and fortifications, such as Villa Minozzo (RE).
The Malaspina family also settled in these lands: large portions of the Lunigiana and Garfagnana regions were part of their fiefdoms, extending from Liguria to Lombardy. Today, the memory of their dominion is enclosed above all in the fortifications used to defend the territory: the Castle of San Giorgio in Filattiera (MS), the Castle of Verrucola in Fivizzano (MS), the Castles of Terrarossa and Bastìa – both in the municipality of Licciana Nardi (MS) – built to control passage along the Via Francigena and access to the Lagastrello pass, respectively.
The Estensi lorded over the Emilian side for centuries and added the Duchy of Massa Carrara to their domains in the 18th century. The Estensi built new homes and embellished other existing houses, but above all they were rich patrons of the artists and literary men attending their court. Amongst them was Ludovico Ariosto, who for a time held the post of Governor of the Garfagnana and managed the Royal Fir Wood, a centuries-old wood of beech and white fir, which can still be visited in the municipality of Villa Minozzo. The arrival of Napoleon in the Duchy of Modena and Reggio ended the power of the Estensi at the end of the 18th century.
During the Second World War, the mountains of the Park were the stage for major episodes by the Resistance. Today, you can still see the signs of the fortifications along the Gothic Line and follow themed itineraries that follow the paths along which the Partisans moved.
From the Middle Ages and throughout the various epochs, the most common form of settlement were the villages, which continue to spangle the slopes and valleys. The most interesting from a historic and architectural point of view are: Apella (MS), Cà Avogni (RE), Camporaghena (MS), Cecciola (RE), Corfino (LU), Tavernelle (MS) and Vallisnera (RE).