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Pontremoli (Pontrémal in the local dialect) is a small city, comune and bishop’s see in the province of Massa-Carrara, Tuscany, Italy. Literally translated, “Pontremoli” derives from “Trembling Bridge” (Italian ponte – “bridge” and tremare – “to tremble”), with the commune having been named after a prominent bridge across the Magra.
Pontremoli is believed to have been first settled around a thousand years before Christ. It was known in Roman times as Apua. The commune later became an independent municipality in 1226 thanks to Federico II who charters the free municipality, partly because of its mountainous situation. This situation in the valley of the Magra also made Pontremoli a target for numerous conquests from rival Italian and foreign lords. Pontremoli was controlled by various aristocratic families, including the Malaspina (in 1319) and the Antelminelli (in 1322). The conflict between the rival Guelfi and Ghibellini factions in the early fourteenth century resulted in the construction of the Great Bell Tower (Il Campanone) to separate the rival camps. During these Medieval times Pontremoli was often visited by pilgrims travelling from Canterbury to Rome.
In 1331 Pontremoli was sold by John I of Bohemia to Mastino II della Scala (Lord of Verona). Pontremoli was later taken over by the Visconti of Milan in 1339. In 1404 the ownership of Pontremoli once again changed hands as it was seized by the Fieschi family of Genoa. However, by 1433 Pontremoli was again under the control of the Milanese. In 1495 Pontremoli was sacked by the troops of Charles VIII of France, during this time Pontremoli was a territory owned by the House of Sforza, who were the new Dukes of Milan.
Pontremoli was a French territory from 1508 until 1522 as several northern Italian areas were conquered. In 1526, Pontremoli was captured by Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. Pontremoli was controlled by Spain until 1647, when it was bought by the Republic of Genoa. Three years later, Pontremoli was made part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It stayed as such (with the exception of a period of French control from 1805 to 1814) until Italian unification in the nineteenth century.
With the Leopoldine reforms, Pontremoli became an autonomous community (whilst still part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany) in 1777.2 In 1778, it officially became a City. The area was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1834. In November 1847 Pontremoli was (along with Fivizzano) occupied by the Duke of Modena, due to a dispute over trade routes.
Main sights and culture
A large number of churches are situated in Pontremoli and these provide the main cultural sights of the city. One of these is the Church of San Nicolò which houses a wooden cross, dating back several centuries. Also present is the Chiesa Cattedrale S. Maria Assunta (Il Duomo) which was built in the 17th century and dedicated to Saint Geminianus – the cathedral holds many valuable sculptures and paintings. The dome of this cathedral, along with Il Campanone (the bell tower), dominates the city skyline. The church of the SS. Annunziata with its Augustinian monastery and painted mural is another notable feature within the area.
There are also several buildings concerned with the past noble families of Pontremoli. The major site is the Castello del Piagnaro, one of the largest castles of Lunigiana. Several palaces, such as those of the houses of Malaspina and Dosi, are located within the commune.
More modern attractions of Pontremoli include the annual Premio Bancarella book festival, Medievalis (during August) which is a recollation about the arrive of Federico II in Pontremoli in 1226 so Pontremoli life again like in the XIII Century, as well as Il Bar Moderno (a local café), which was in 1970 the winner of a “gold medal” in a Milanese “Ice Cream and Coffee” competition. There is also the “Museo delle Statue Stele” (situated within the castle) which contains a number of stone structures found in the surrounding land, many are of a historic nature and reflect the area’s cultural past. There are also several mineral springs in the surrounding mountains and a local market takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays.