The rich archaeological evidence and reliable historical sources testify and prove the continuous presence of man in the land dominated by the ancient Pietra Apuana. Etruscans, Ligurians-Apuans, Romans and, after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Lombards take turns here.
The Longobard Duchy left a rich and varied legacy in the place: toponyms, surnames, foundations and, above all, the seed from which the Nobles of Corvaia and Vallecchia, feudal lords of Versilia, would later descend.
But all this happened when Pietrasanta did not yet exist. To see its walled village born, it would have had to wait until 1255 when, to counter the feudal consortiums of the Vallecchia and Corvaia, the Milanese nobleman Guiscardo di Pietrasanta, Podestà of the Republic of Lucca, decided to found it at the foot of the pre-existing Longobard fortress and of the village called Sala. To populate the new city he had the inhabitants of Corvaia and other places transferred there.
Even today, the town of Versilia adopts that of the Pietrasanta family as its emblem, consisting of a column surmounted by a wafer.
The thirteenth-century foundation represents the caesura between two historical eras: the end of the feudal period with the expulsion of the Lords of Corvaia and Vallecchia, defined as Zelatores Pisani Communis and the establishment of the new municipal power.
Due to its strategic-military position and the economic importance of its agricultural and mineral resources, the Pietrasanta of Lucca will be the subject of continuous aims of conquest by the Pisans, Genoese and Florentine.
In particular, at the basis of the long struggle between Pisa and Lucca is the will to take possession of a very important territory due to the presence of the port of Motrone, for the control of the Via Francigena and for the rich mineral resources of iron and silver.
The Lucchesi, in 1308, reorganized the new village and the pertinent territory into the Vicaria of Pietrasanta. In 1313, having become a prosperous centre, it was besieged and sacked by the Pisan troops and by the emperor Arrigo VII.
To avoid further damage Castruccio Castracani, lord of Lucca from 1316 to 1328, decided to fortify the inhabited center with a valid system of defensive walls, the remains of which can still be seen today, and with the construction of the Rocchetta Arrighina. We also owe the foundation of the Duomo and Palazzo Pretorio to the Lucchese leader.
Upon Castruccio’s death, Pietrasanta was alternately owned by the Gherardini Spinolas, the Florentines and Mastino della Scala, Luchino Visconti and the Pisans.
Finally, in 1370, the city returned to the domain of Lucca for more than sixty years. In 1437, Lucca, not being able to settle a debt of 150,000 scudi contracted a few years earlier with Genoa, allowed it to occupy the seaport of Motrone and some nearby castles.
The Genoese, after having taken possession of the port and the castles of Lucca, incited the citizens of Pietrasanta to rebel against Lucca and took possession of the town and its countryside, administering them until 1484 when, during the war between Genoa and Florence, the Lorenzo de’ Medici’s army, 7,000 infantry strong, besieged and conquered the town of Versilia.
The Florentines restructure and strengthen the Rocca, the Rocchetta and the sections of the town’s walls that had been damaged during the siege.
In 1494 Piero de’ Medici was forced to cede Pietrasanta to Charles VIII who, strong in his army, was directed to Naples during the first Italian war; for money the French king promptly resells it in Lucca. In 1513 Pietrasanta and its territory, with an award from Pope Leo X, were definitively returned to the Medici state of Florence.
These were years of political-administrative stability (the Capitanato was born) and of economic expansion.
It is the period in which Michelangelo is in Pietrasanta in search of that material which proves to be precious not only for the economy of his times, but also for the future one: marble.
Marble that characterizes the most important buildings of the city, among which the Cathedral stands out for its beauty and splendor, which houses important works of art and the Sacred icon of the Madonna del Sole.
Thanks to the Grand Duke Cosimo I Pietrasanta it became an important military centre, part of the defense and control system over northern Tuscany and the Apennine passes.
In 1737, on the death of Gian Gastone, the Medici dynasty died out and the crown of the Grand Duchy passed to Francesco Stefano di Habsburg-Lorraine.
Then it was his son Leopold I who in Tuscany implemented a series of measures destined to radically change the economy of the territory: he promoted the reclamation of the coastal marsh, the increase in trade and industry, the creation of a school for marble art.
In 1790 Leopold became Emperor of Austria, and his second son Ferdinand III, who became Grand Duke, continued his father’s enlightened policy.
The French occupation interrupts the government of the Lorraine dynasty until the fall of Napoleon.
With the return of the Grand Duke Ferdinand III in 1814, further reclamation works were soon undertaken along the Tuscan coast, thus radically removing the cause of malaria which for centuries had been a reason for the decline of the places (1820).
His son Leopold II in 1841 decided to raise Pietrasanta to the rank of “Noble City” for its history, the important families who lived there and its institutions and the statue still in Piazza Duomo is also dedicated in his honor.
But by now Tuscany and therefore Pietrasanta were following the events of the Italian Risorgimento: after the widespread revolutionary uprisings of 1848 and the wars of independence, with the heavy Austrian repression, popular support faded. Leopold II abdicated in favor of his son Ferdinand IV, but the Grand Duchy fell and in 1860 a plebiscite sanctioned its union with the Kingdom of Sardinia and then with the new Kingdom of Italy from 1861.
The historic center houses various monuments, including the Cathedral of San Martino (13th-14th century) in Romanesque-Gothic style and the church of Sant’Agostino (14th century), now suspended for worship, in Romanesque style, with the adjoining late Baroque bell tower. Next to the building, it is especially worth visiting the cloister of Sant’Agostino, which houses the “Luigi Russo” cultural centre, characterized by the “G. Carducci” municipal library and the important collection of sketches in the museum.
On the square is also the Civic Tower or Torre delle Ore, in Gothic style (curiously not annexed to the town hall); still in the same square is the Teatro Comunale. Noteworthy is the Rocchetta Arrighina, next to which is the arch of Porta a Pisa.
Still on the square there are various buildings dating back to the 16th century: the Colonna del Marzocco next to the fountain of the same name, the Palazzo Panichi Carli and the monument to Leopold II, commonly known as Canapone.
Palazzo Moroni is home to the Archaeological Museum which houses numerous finds from the Etruscan era.
The city also has a network of underground tunnels, as well as strategic defensive works such as the surrounding walls, clearly visible from the square, which can be reached thanks to a path that ends at the Rocca di Sala, from which you can admire the Versilia plain from Viareggio to Forte dei Marbles. On the clearest days some islands of the Tuscan Archipelago are also visible and, more often, the Ligurian coast.
Of great interest are also the church of San Francesco and the oratory of San Giacinto.
In the city there is also the MuSA, a real and virtual museum of Sculpture and Architecture, of modern conception and which illustrates the entire marble extraction process, the city’s main resource, with the illustration of the creation and processing of the most important sculptural and architectural works .
Finally, the narrow streets of ancient Pietrasanta are also interesting, such as the characteristic via del Riccetto with river pebbles, or via della Fontanella, where the “Spartaco Palla” astronomical observatory is located.
Propitiated by the availability of marble, the Versilia region had already produced generations of sculptors since the late Middle Ages. In the following centuries the tradition continued until the 20th century, especially after the Second World War, when Pietrasanta welcomed the studios of international marble and bronze artists and the birth of numerous copyist workshops and foundries. Moore and Mirò, Pomodoro and Folon, Mitoraj, Cascella and Botero have lived and worked here.
The numerous opportunities for painting and sculpture exhibitions gradually presented in the city, in its public spaces and in the numerous art galleries, have contributed to leaving it with an ever-growing public artistic heritage, collected in the municipal collections.
In addition to the numerous craft workshops, Pietrasanta has numerous art galleries scattered throughout the area, in the record number of one for approximately every 1200 inhabitants.
Since 2010, at the beginning of June, the Mondadori Anteprime literary review has been held: I’ll tell you about my next book, where dozens of authors crowd the historic center with meetings, debates and presentations of their latest works.
Every summer the La Versiliana Festival takes place in the hamlet of Marina di Pietrasanta.