“Lealville”, wrote Philip Augustus, king of France when returning from the third crusade in 1191, speaking of the village we know today as Villafranca. The king of France travelled along the Via Francigena, making this a fundamental hub over the centuries with the name probably referring to the presence of a market.
Until the end of the feudal era, these areas were the kingdom of the Malaspina. Its fate was determined by a series of family events, including the patrimonial divisions between the two branches of the family, Spino Secco and Spino fiorito, in 1221.
The lordship of the Malaspina lasted until the Napoleonic conquest of Italy, which led to the abolition of the imperial fiefdoms and marked the beginning of the first municipalities.
The walled village of Filetto in Villafranca amazes with its unusual shape and features. Essentially, it’s a fortified structure. The reasons for its origins are linked to the bitter struggle that broke out in Lunigiana between the Byzantine army and the hordes of invading Lombards during the 6th-7th century. In that period, a defensive line was established near the Apennines to protect the ports of the upper Tyrrhenian, Luni in particular, from the barbarian militias present beyond the mountains from 590. Filetto was an essential part of this imposing line of defense.
During the 16th century, the walls were extended towards the east. The village, which previously extended along the side of the road between Villafranca and Bagnone, came to incorporate the road itself. In 1568, two enormous gates were erected and after a few years the Marquises Ariberti of Cremona took over as new feudal lords from the Malaspina. The restructuring work was completed with the construction of the Ariberti palace and then of the convent of the Hospitaller friars of San Giovanni di Dio.
There was a time when there were many mills in the community of Villafranca. Around the rich fabric of rivers and streams, many intensely active mills were built. You can get an idea of the ingenious system of collection and exploitation of water by visiting the Ethnographic Museum of Lunigiana which is located in a complex of historic buildings including the historic mills of the community of Villafranca, located at the northern gate of the village and close to the old bridge over the Bagnone stream.
The basic layout of these structures, documented from the 14th century, has undergone significant transformations, continuing to function as a mill through the centuries up until the 1950s.
The building was first used as a museum in 1977 and in 1988, important restoration and restructuring works began on the exhibition itinerary which made it possible to recover important spaces to be used for museum activities. The original system of canalization and water supply for the functioning of the mill was brought to light, recreating a particularly intriguing environment.