Imagine a large piazza, with a market that attracts visitors and merchants from the neighbouring Emilia region and the Lunigiana. A busy thoroughfare, a crossroads, around which a life of craftsmen and businesses, churches and bars revolves. This is the medieval settlement that grew into Piazza al Serchio, and it is to this piazza that the place owes its name. An important crossroads in the upper Garfagnana, it is the nexus of rivers as well as roads. The ancient Via Clodia, which the Romans built in order to facilitate traffic with Rome, passes through one of the hamlets that fall within Piazza al Serchio, the “Sala”, where one road veers off towards Emilia and the other towards the Lunigiana. As for the waterways, the Serchio di Sillano merges here with the Serchio di Gramolazzo, which spawns the river whose course carves out the whole valley.
The Garfagnana has a great many castles, but nowhere is the concentration greater than in Piazza al Serchio. No fewer than four can be found within the radius of one kilometre. They stand as feudal relics of the time when the bishops of Lucca ruled and fortified the territory, building in a bid to keep their autonomy. They erected their castles near the bridges in order to enjoy greater control and better defence. Traces of Piazza al Serchio’s castles include the Castelvecchio fort, which was constructed at the top of a volcanic escarpment, known locally as the Doglioni; and the castle of Santa Margherita, which is connected to the town by an ancient path that runs over the ancient Molino bridge.
A museum stuffed with fables, legends, scarecrows, peasant traditions, beliefs in animals, plants, waters, stones, atmospheric phenomena and much more, along with a collection of centuries-old stories that encapsulate the geography of the area from the point of view of the locals. This is the Piazza al Serchio’s Museum of the Imaginary. Their material comes from the Centre of Documentation of the Oral Tradition, which is based in Piazza al Serchio and which, over the years, has assembled histories, stories and beliefs from most of the Italian regions, becoming the country’s largest centre of folklore. The intention is to preserve and conserve, as far as possible, the stories and views of the places that our ancestors forged over the millennia as an integral, enriching part of the landscape. Because “the stories about sprites in the trees seem to have had their day, but the human structures that came up with them are still alive and still coming up with other sprites in other trees.”