Borgo a Mozzano’s devil’s bridge

Halloween celebrations

Dixie McIlwain
October 30, 2008

Magic, witches, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, black cats, bats, spiders, skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating and yes, the devil are all part of celebrating Halloween night.

 

In and around the town of Borgo a Mozzano (about 20 km from Lucca) on the evening of 31 October, one of the most famous Halloween celebrations in Italy will take place between the Ponte della Maddalena (Bridge of Mary Magdalene), known as the Ponte del Diavolo (Devil's Bridge)  and the centre of town.

 

This Ponte del Diavolo is one of two or three dozen ‘devil's bridges' found primarily in Europe, most of  which date back to medieval times. This one is located on the River Serchio, along the SS12 dell'Abetone e del Brennero from Lucca. It connects the two banks of the River Serchio near the town of Borgo a Mozzano in the province of Lucca and was once a very important river crossing on the Via Francigena, an ancient road to Rome for those coming from France as well as an important route for medieval pilgrimages.  It is a remarkable example of medieval engineering and it is thought to have been commissioned by the Countess  Matilda di Canossa of Tuscany around 1080-1100. However, the bridge was renovated around 1300 under the direction of Castruccio Castracani. Around 1500, it took on the name of Ponte della Maddalena from an oratory dedicated to Mary Magdalene, whose statue stood at the foot of the bridge on the eastern bank.

 

The unusual architecture of this medieval bridge with its asymmetric arches is called ‘a donkey's back', but it is known as the Ponte del Diavolo because of a popular legend that tells the story of a clever and respected master builder who lived in a village on the banks of the River Serchio. The villagers asked him to build a bridge to connect their village with the one across the river. He set to work immediately, but he soon realised that the construction was not progressing as quickly as he had promised. Being a man of honour and wanting to keep his word, he became very unhappy and quite desperate. He continued working very hard, day and night, to finish the task within the time agreed upon in the contract, but the work proceeded very slowly. The days flew by.

 

One evening, while the master builder was sitting alone on the banks of the Serchio, looking at the work that was still to be done and thinking of the shame he would suffer for not having completed it on time, the devil appeared to him in the form of a respectable businessman. He approached the master builder and said he could finish the bridge in a single night-if the builder would promise him the soul of the first one who crossed the bridge when it was completed. The builder accepted the proposal.

 

The following day, the village had its beautiful bridge that can still be seen today near Borgo a Mozzano. The townspeople were astonished and delighted. When they went to congratulate the builder, he ordered them not to cross the bridge before sunset. Then, worried about his deal with the devil, he set off on his horse for Lucca to ask the bishop (who became Saint Frediano), for advice.  This saintly man told him not to worry: he should let a pig cross the bridge first. That is just what the builder did. The devil, furious at having been tricked, threw himself into the waters of the Serchio and has not been seen in that area since.

 

So don your favourite Halloween costume (maybe a devil's costume!) and jump in your car or catch a bus to Borgo a Mozzano. You can tell scary ghost stories on your way. Be sure to take some garlic with you just in case you meet a vampire. Happy Halloween!

 

 

Borgo a Mozzano. Halloween Fest

The Garfagnana area around Lucca has a long been considered a ‘bewitched' land filled with ghosts, goblins, witches, spirits and other magical creatures. Locals are happy to regale visitors with the legends and tales that have been passed down from generation to generation. Though there are numerous Halloween festivals in the area, the largest celebration in Italy takes place near the Ponte del Diavolo in Borgo a Mozzano. Activities for kids and families include an interactive show and costume contest with ‘Jack the Pumpkin King', fireworks display over the Serchio River, live music and a Halloween market. More daring adults can take part in conferences on ghosts, scary walking tours, dinner in a haunted castle and more. The festival ends with a Halloween ‘ritual' that begins at 2am at an undisclosed location . . . See www.halloweencelebration.it/index.htm for complete details.

 

Getting there

By car: take the A12 Firenze-Mare to the Lucca exit, then proceed on state road 12 in the direction of Modena for 23 km

Bus: Lazzi and C.L.A.P. offer service to Borgo a Mozzano

Train: Take a regional Florence-Lucca train, then take the Lucca-Aulla line to the Borgo a Mozzano station

 

 

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