The Italian Almanac

a view of Berceto


Perched near the Passo della Cisa in the mountains around Parma, at an altitude of 810 meters, is the village of Berceto, a medieval stop on the Via Francigena, the great ancient road between Rome and Canterbury, passing through Italy, Switzerland, France and England. In medieval times it was an important pilgrimage route. To pilgrims headed south, it was the Via Romea; to those headed north, the Via Francigena.

At the end of the 10th century Sigeric the Serious, the Archbishop of Canterbury, traveled the Via Francigena to Rome to be consecrated by the Pope, recording his voyage in a travel diary dated 990-994. The 80 stages in Sigeric's itinerary, which averaged about 20 km a day, have helped identify the route. Today some pilgrims still follow in Sigeric's ancient footsteps to Rome on foot, on horseback or by bicycle.

The village of Berceto sprang up in the 8th century, around a monastery built by Lombard King Liutprando. Its first abbot, in 718 AD, was Moderanno, the former bishop of Rennes, who died here in 730 AD and has a cathedral dedicated to him. The monastery is built in a mix of architectural styles: Lombard, Romanesque and Renaissance. The austere exterior, with three naves, was restored in the 19th century, but the interior retains its original medieval structures and decorations.

Berceto retains many medieval and Renaissance buildings, including the ruins of a castle from 1221, which was renovated in the 1400s by the Conti Rossi family, and can now be visited as an archeological park. The latest digs have unearthed the foundations of four different early medieval fortresses.

Two locations near Berceto are worth a visit. The tiny village of Corchia is a rare example of an almost unaltered medieval hamlet, with narrow paved alleys, arched passages and characteristic stone houses with sandstone roofs, while in the surrounding area, visitors can explore the ancient copper mines, source of Corchia's livelihood for many centuries. Another medieval hamlet is Cassio, named after the ancient road that crosses it. A part of it is still intact, overlooked by stone buildings.