We love a good legend. Especially when it involves a spectacular Medieval bridge. Centuries have passed but the Serchio valley, a few kilometres north of Lucca in Tuscany, still keeps alive a legend that’s behind its most impressive sight.
Bridges were a constant source of wonder in Medieval times. These awe-inspiring constructions would join two sites that nature had originally divided. The gravity-defying structures looked quite unearthly and it seemed almost impossible that they had been built by human hands. Built to be strong enough to support merchants’ heavy carts, their shapes cast eerie reflections in the water that flowed beneath them.
They were the stuff of mystery stories and to this day legends about bridges abound in Italy and Europe. These stories usually involve a stressed out builder who strikes a bargain with Lucifer to get some help with the trying construction venture. And we have our very own legend in Tuscany; the one about the devil who built the Ponte del Diavolo or Devil’s Bridge in Borgo a Mozzano.
The Devil’s Bridge in Borgo a Mozzano – A deal with the devil
As you drive on the SS12 north of Lucca on the way to the verdant Garfagnana in northern Tuscany, you’ll find the devil’s bridge near Borgo a Mozzano (21km from Lucca). This arch bridge, also aptly known as a “humpback bridge”, is definitely an unusual sight, and a stunning piece of Medieval architecture to boot.
So, who was responsible for it? The devil, of course. The man appointed to build the bridge despaired at being unable to finish his job on time. So Lucifer approached him and kindly offered to help. The man was deeply grateful, and couldn’t believe his luck. But of course, there was a price to pay. “The first soul who crosses the bridge will be mine” said the devil, ready with the contract in his hand. The man agreed. After all, what was a single soul in exchange for a bridge that would bring money and travellers to the town?
It took a single night for the unholy creature to complete this majestic bridge over the river Serchio. The following morning, when the man saw the imposing bridge reflected in the water, he finally realised what he had done. He ran to his confessor and told him everything. “Don’t worry” said the priest’ “we’ll send a pig to cross the bridge before anyone else”. The devil, outwitted, and scorned, dove into the Serchio never to be seen again.Photo by loki_racer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
The history behind the legend
The bridge was built first in the 11th century, under the powerful Matilda di Canossa who was ruling over northern and central Italy. The Garfagnana in Tuscany were a strategic point for anyone travelling from northern Italy to Rome along the Via Francigena, and this bridge joined Lucca to the Via Francigena.
It was then restructured in the 13th century, and took the ‘official’ name from the 16th century of Ponte della Maddalena, from a small oratory dedicated to the saint built at its feet. And perhaps there is something magical about it, because it was miraculously spared form the Nazi bombing during second world war.
A special place to celebrate Halloween in Tuscany
Today the small town of Borgo a Mozzano attracts visitors from all over the world, and keeps the enchantment of its bridge alive. Lit in the evening it’s a magical, fairy tale sight. Though once a year it turns to the dark side as the captivating setting for one of Italy’s greatest Halloween festivals.
During the Festival in the last days of October the town fills with zombies and vampires and creatures of the night who want to spend the night where the boundaries between the living and the dead are blurred. Otherworldly creatures roam the streets, there is a ‘dance macabre’, a tunnel of terror and plenty of spine-tingling entertainment. (Full program on the official site).