Where: Camaiore - town of Lombrici

When: VIII - XIII centuries

...Lombrici, the biggest and strongest castle of all,[...]...nowadays called Montecastresi (Bianco Bianchi, "Historie della Terra di Camaiore", 1528 - 1532)
 
 

 

 

THE CASTLE
Castle of Montecastrese

The castle stands on a hill near the village of Lombrici, at an height of 290 mt. The area was already been inhabited in the III century B.C. and it was again occupied between VIII and X centuries AD, when some stone structures are built. This was the oldest part of the castle, which will reach its maximum expansion in the XII century, when it occupies an area of about 2,5 hectares. Between the X and the XII century Montecastrese definitively assumed the aspect of a fortified village whose summit, the cassero (surrounded by walls), encloses two sighting towers, a dungeon (tower for residential use) and numerous houses. A second and wider wall, about 1 km long, protected the village, which included a hundred houses and the remains of a church dedicated to Santa Barbara.

Montecastrese was the most populous castle in Versilia, favored by its strategic position from which it was possible to control the territory and the underlying road network, which connected the Camaiore valley with Garfagnana and Lombardy (via Lombarda). The lords of the castle could therefore collect the pedagium, a tax on the use of transport infrastructure spread throughout Europe. In 1219, Montecastrese was divided between the possessions of the two noble families of Versilia, the da Corvaia and da Vallecchia. Between 1223 and 1226 the castle was conquered by the city of Lucca, which at that time was trying to get an outlet to the sea by putting under siege the castles of Versilia, allies of Pisa. The towers are torn down. The upstream tower finally collapsed a few decades ago due to an earthquake. Starting from the end of the fifteenth century the hill was transformed into an olive grove, a function that it still maintains today.

THE TOWERS
The uphill tower

THE UPHILL TOWER

The uphill tower had been erected in the XII century and occupied the highest area of the castle, previously occupied by early medieval wooden huts and by a first stone structure. It was a sighting square tower about 12-15 mt high, without openings, but with a cistern in the basement. A retractable wooden ladder, leaning against a stone shelf, made it possible to reach the top.

The tower was enclosed by a quadrangular city wall about 11 mt long on each side, with a narrow and long room with the probable function of a guard and equipped with double access. In about 1225, specialized workers demolished the building, replacing the stones of the tower's facing with wooden poles that were then set on fire. The failure of the support of the props caused the structural collapse of the tower and its fall.

THE DOWNHILL TOWER AND THE DONGIONE

The spur of rock to the south that dominates the valley of Camaiore to the sea was chosen for the construction of a tower and a dungeon (residential building). From here it was possible to control the nearby castles of Greppolungo and Pedona and the passage of men and goods along the Via Francigena from Camaiore to Lucca. The quadrangular tower was built in the XII century, like its twin tower upstream with which it shares the dimensions (5.40 mt on each side), the construction technique and the sighting function. Towards the sea it is possible to see the remains of a larger rectangular structure, probably a dongione, a tower or small palace inhabited by the lord or he who administered the castle on his behalf.

THE VILLAGE

The village,with a hundred homes, consisted of houses built using the basic rock for the walls and placed side by side. Made with stones quarried on the spot, they had a double-pitched roof made of schist slabs supported by beams. Doors and windows were made of wood and the interior was composed of a single room, sometimes with a wooden ceiling, with a hearth in one corner and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.

Swinging millstone

THE MILLSTONE HOUSE

The millstone house was built on an earlier building, also from the Middle Ages. The house was built on two overlapping areas (the upper one used as a dwelling and the lower one for cereal processing), and it was characterised by the presence of a swinging millstone for crushing cereals. The millstone was made from a block of limestone of about 2 mt, which worked through a stone connected to a pendulum operated by hand and suspended from a wooden structure. Other similar millstones have been found in the nearby castles of Greppolungo and Montebello and at S. Niccolò di Palatino, between Migliarino Pisano and Viareggio.

THE VILLAGE HOUSE

The village house, located immediately behind the city walls, it was composed of two distinct single-family rooms and was built partly by cutting and using the basic rock. The upper area had an area of about 18 m², the lower one of about 28 m². The lower area had two entrances and probably at least one window facing the valley closed by wooden shutters (no glass was used). All home operations took place in a single room, also used for sleeping. Terracotta containers were used for cooking soups (such as olle, pot-bellied and covered with lids), testi for cooking focacce and jugs for liquids. Meals were eaten on tables using common "cutting boards" of wood. This building was inhabited until the second half of the XIII century, demonstrating how the village depopulated later than the quarterdeck.

THE CHURCH OF SANTA BARBARA

...finally, saw the Lord not being able to resist, he told his friends every man tried to save himself; among which many Pisans saved themself during the night bringing a Madonna of ours very venerated at Lombrici, which is today in the cathedral of Pisa under the organ [...] (Bianco Bianchi, "Historie della Terra di Camaiore", 1528 - 1532)
Ossuary of the church of Santa Barbara
 

Located in the outer wall circuit near one of the doors, the church of Santa Barbara was still mentioned in 1260 (about thirty years after the destruction of the castle). It has returned some fragments of Tunisian ceramic basins decorated in blue and black, probably placed on the facade as in the contemporary churches of Pisa and Lucca. Archaeological excavations have highlighted a cemetery area with ossuaries of adults and children. Anthropological and paleonutritional studies have found that the inhabitants of the castle practiced an intense work activity, with a more varied diet than the coeval inhabitants of the valley.

During the siege of Montecastrese the Pisan soldiers who came to the rescue saved several precious objects, including a Byzantine icon which was transported to the cathedral of Pisa and which later became an object of great veneration. The wooden table depicts the Virgin "Odigitria" or Dexiokratousa ("who instructs, who indicates the direction") and the Christ Pantocrator ("ruler of all things"), represented with the book in hand.

During the siege of Montecastrese the Pisan soldiers who came to the rescue saved several precious objects, including a Byzantine icon which was transported to the cathedral of Pisa. Later, this icon became an object of great veneration. The wooden table depicts the Virgin Odigitria or Dexiokratousa ("who instructs, who indicates the direction") and the Christ Pantocrator ("ruler of all things"), represented with the book in hand. Some have attributed the table to Berlinghieri , which in the 12th century produced several works in Lucca.

 

 

 

 

 

THE CASSERO

 

 

 

In the cassero there were two-story houses, built by cutting the rock and using it both to add the perimeter walls and as a floor. The upper floor, twice as wide as the lower one, was the main residence.

THE PANTRY HOUSE

The pantry house is part of a series of 3 buildings arranged on two levels, separated from each other by small roads, about 1.5 m wide and placed directly on the rock, which joined with the main road connecting the two towers along the ridge. The roof, supported by wooden beams, was covered with stone slabs and the rooms were small, about 30 m². The upper room was equipped with a hearth in the corner (as shown by the reddened traces on the rock) whose fumes simply came out of the roof, without a chimney, using the recess on the rock wall as a draft. The small semi-cylindrical compartment, placed between the two rooms, probably served as a pantry to store food and grains in a dry and raised place, closed by wooden doors to protect food from mice. The building was abandoned by the middle of the thirteenth century, coinciding with the conquest of the castle.

HOW TO REACH THE CASTLE OF MONTECASTRESE

From Camaiore, follow the signs for the village of Casoli. Once past the hamlet of Lombrici and the detour to the hamlet of Metato, you come to a fork on the right, before a wide curve, with the indication Candalla. Take this road and park along the road (during the weekends in the summer months you can also use the free shuttle from Camaiore).

Arriving at the Barsi ironworks, before the tavern, take the path on the right. After a stretch of dirt road turn right (follow the red signs) until you reach a large open space near the saddle of the Colle dell'Asprone, where there is an iron cross and a signpost. From here we proceed along the path that goes to the right along the olive grove which, after passing a ruined house (with a sacred walled image) leads to the ruins of the fortified medieval village of Montecastrese, where we follow the visit ring to the remains of the castle and the inhabited area.

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