Here are two beautiful postcards from the town of Pontremoli sent by my friend who lives in Italy. This past October he went on bike trip following the Via Francigena, an ancient major pilgrimage route from Northern Italy to Rome. He came up with an idea to write and send postcards daily during this trip in hopes of providing a journal account of his travels as he went along. Somehow things went slightly amiss with either the Italian or US postal service and I received a few cards as they were sent but several others arrived about 2 months later than expected. Eventually all the cards arrived and now I do have the complete chronicle after all. It made fascinating reading, the cards lovely, and the arrival of each card such a delight as the new segments of the journey arrived in the mailbox. I cannot thank my friend enough for this generous and thoughtful gift. The card above is an Alessandri Edition from Parma and has the number PON 24/27 at the bottom left on the reverse. The lower card is a Murena Edition bearing the code Riv. G.M. n. 2, 186/W/12836.
Early Christian pilgrims incredibly walked this route despite occasionally encountering thieves and wolves along the way. Even today overnight accommodations are hard to find and modern pilgrims often camp out rather than stay in hotels or pensions that would prove expensive for such a long foot journey of 400 km or about 250 miles.
The bike trip takes about 6 days covering a distance of approximately 90+ km or 60 miles per day. The first day was from Parma, at 200 ft elevation, to Pontremoli a distance of 98 km. The official starting point was Fornovo where the road begins to climb hills and crests at Cisa pass, 1041 meters or about 3400 feet elevation. Bob and I have seen bikes on mountain roads here at home and so I know it is done; however, a 3200-foot climb on a bike is quite amazing indeed. That would be like biking up 5 or 6 Space Needles stuck one atop another.
Pontremoli is located on the Magra River with the meaning of the town name translating in English roughly as Trembling Bridge. Both cards show bridges across the river so I am not sure which or if there is yet another bridge the town was named after. The buildings have the typical red tile roofs and white or pastel colored walls. There is not much water in the river but lots of stones and the hills or mountains appear to be close to the town.
Trivia: It is thought that people originally settled here about 1000 BC. During Roman times it was known as Apua. The town became independent in 1226 by order of Federico II who chartered it in part because of the mountainous terrain. The locality also made the town vulnerable to conquests from rival Italian and foreign lords and resulted in control switching between various aristocratic families. The Great Bell Tower, the tallest structure seen on both cards, was built in 1322 and acted as a separation to the rival camps of the Guelfi and Ghibellini factions. Since Medieval times Pontremoli has been often visited by pilgrims traveling from Canterbury in England to Rome. Today pilgrims, bikes and autos can still follow the ancient route that is well marked with modern road signs as well as sometimes by stones bearing the image of a pilgrim carrying a load and walking with a stave. My friend notes “It is a medieval village, where time has stopped.”
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