The Pilgrims’ way (Via Francigena) is an ancient road that was treaded for centuries by thousands of pilgrims. They travelled from the reign of the Franks to holy places in Rome or the Holy Land, or walked the other way round towards Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims took their trips in groups, with a saddlebag, a staff, a petasus and a seashell; they slept in abbeys, churches, hospitals that could be found along the way.
This travelling system, characterized by numerous variables, was documented in the travel diary of the archbishop of Canterbury, who in the 990 AD travelled from England to Rome. Sigeric the Serious noted about 80 stops along a very precise path, describing also the places where he slept during the night.
In the province of Piacenza, once passed Calendasco along the Sigeric Ford, where the archbishop traversed Po river and today a small boat is used to take pilgrims from the shore in the province of Lombardy to that of Piacenza, visitors walk along the via Emilia to reach Piacenza. This city close to Po river is an important crossroads in the voyage from Northern to Central Italy.
In Piacenza, Sigeric stopped by the Ospitale di S. Brigida, reserved for pilgrims from anglo-saxon countries. The church, in Piazza Borgo, is one of the most ancient of the city.
From Piazza Borgo, a short walk will take you to Piazza Cavalli: this is the historical city centre and offers to the visitor a suggestive panoramic view of different art styles. From Gothic to Renaissance up to modern times. The Duomo is the first cultural stop in the visit, which ends with Piazza Cavalli, Palazzo Gotico, San Francesco Church and S. Antonino Church.
From the centre, the Via Francigena continues on Via Emilia, parallel to A1 motorway. By car or on foot, following the footsteps of the archbishop of Canterbury, you meet the boroughs of San Lazzaro and Montale,Cadeo, Roveleto and Fontana Fredda, and Fiorenzuola d’Arda.
You cannot miss the chance to visit the medieval borough of Castell’Arquato, with its 16th century Farnese tower, the Palazzo del Duca (dating back to the 14th-15th century), the 15th century Church of S. Pietro, the neo-gothic Castello Stradivari, the Palazzo Pretorio, the Collegiata di S. Maria and the stronghold. It is also possible to visit the former “Ospitale” di S. Spirito, once built to host pilgrims and now used as Geological museum. In the centre it is possible to find typical restaurants, wine bars and shops to taste the delicious food produces locally.
Once visited Castell’Arquato, stop by Vernasca, where you will find the remains of the romanesque Pieve di S. Colombano, as well as the medieval borough of Vigoleno, characterised by its crenellated walls overlooking Stirone river, which offer a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills.