The Roman churches

The Pievi: medieval parish churches in Versilia

The Roman churches in Versilia are some of the most interesting and fascinating destinations for an excursion in the hinterland. In Pietrasanta there are two: we have already spoken about the Pieve dei Santi Giovanni e Felicita along via Valdicastello Carducci; the other roman building is the Pieve di Santo Stefano at Vallecchia, with its façade of simple and elegant white marble quarried out from the nearby quarry at Monte Solaio.
This church is mentioned in a document of the IX century and is located along via Provinciale.

If you keep going on that way, you'll arrive to the Comune di Seravezza where is the Pieve di San Martino alla Cappella, with its splendid "rosone" (round ornamental carving) called "Occhio di Michelangelo" (XVI century), attributed to the same artist. In the nearby mountain town of Stazzema, stands the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta (IX century).

In the south, in the town of Camaiore, are two other Roman churches of equal beauty: the Badia di San Pietro and the Pieve dei Santi Stefano e Giovanni. Finally, at Pieve a Elici, (at Massarosa) is the Pieve di San Pantaleone, one of the best known to the public, which dates back to the period between the XI and the XIII centuries.

In Versilia there are numerous churches that partially or fully retain their medieval aspect; they were part of the diocese of Lucca.
From the end of the ll th cent. Lucca laid claim to this territory already dominated by nobility of longobard descent in the High Medieval Ages, in its attempt to gain an access to the sea and to guarantee free circulation along the most important through roads thus providing fast transportation for its goods.

In the statute decreed by Lucca in 1308, the territory of Versilia was divided into the two vicariates, Camaiore and Pietrasanta, already resulted under her jurisdiction. It is no wonder that the features characterizing the churches in Lucca, such as the simple architectural forms and the few decorative motifs, can also be found in the pievi in Versilia. Their facades, side walls and apses are usually plain, bordered by a plinth and an angular pilaster; the portals are usually very simple with a mullioned window and a cross-shaped opening above them; the inside is roofed in wood instead of being vaulted; the arches dividing the nave and side aisles almost always rest on pillars with unadorned capitals.
The restricted use of architectural decorations must not, however deceive the visitor: in f act, this was not due to poverty or lack of skill but helped to emphasize their well-estimated proportions, the basic principle upon which alla these churches have been built.
That is why the facades are usually square (i.e. the height is the same as the width), ratio between width and length is in proportion 1:2, the height of the side aisles is a third of the nave, and so on.

Within these general principles there are various sub-principles which determine even minor elements: each particular - pillars, portals, radius of the apses - has a precise reason for being.
The result in an impression of harmony and balance, which is sometimes emphasized, as in Stazzema and Valdicastello, by small arches supported by decorated consoles.
There are, nevertheless some variations in the design as can be seen in the Pieve a Elici, a church with a vertical composition; some of these par’sh churches have only a nave and no side aisles, like the churches in Stazzema and Gello; others have undergone restoration like the upper facade of the church in Valdicastello, or have been incorporated in pre-existing structures like the parish church of St. Stefano in Camaiore, but it is also possible to find churches like the Badia of San Pietro, completely retaining its original structure.
What we have before us is a considerable heritage of religious buildings erected between the 12th and 33th centuries, with distinct homogeneous characteristics - in other words - an episode of great architectural dignity.

@ Pier Luca Mori 2023

Camaiore, Lucca (Italy)