road called " Via dei Longobardi" became the
Iter Francorum, or " Via Francisca"
in the 'Itinerarium sancti Willibaldi’ dated
" Via Francigena" is mentioned with this name for the first time in the Actum Clusio, a parchment of 876 conserved in the Abbey of San Salvatore al Monte Amiata (Tuscany). It is the main pilgrimage route of Northern Europe, ever more attended with the arriving of the Holy Years in the 1300s.
But it is during the historic journey of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric, (carried out in 990 A.C.) that the Via Francigena found one of its uniatism available to, in planning terms, both a tourism level as well as an increase in cultural heritage value and all things afferent.
History narrates that Sigeric, returning from Rome where he had gone in pilgrimage in order to receive directly from Pope John VI the " pallio" or bishop’s cloak, left a meagre but priceless list of the 79 stopping places, or "submansiones" of the journey completed from the Papal headquarters to the Atlantic coast ("de Roma usque ad mare"), determining the birth of one of the most important pilgrimage routes.
Via Francigena starts from Canterbury, travels the county of Kent, arrives at the Channel, follows along the French regions of Nord Pas de Calais, Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne Franche-Comté, crosses the border of Switzerland in the canton of Vaud and, in Italy, unwinds through the regions: Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Latium.
It should be remembered however, that it is not actually about “one” road, but a 'road territory', an all together of routes used in various times, according to traffic types, political, topographical and climatic events of the various areas.
The most frequented " francigeni" passes through the Alps were Monginevro and Moncenisio, confluent, in the Italian slopes, in the Susa roadway junction. Other access points were the Grande e il Piccolo S. Bernardo, the outlet of which on the Italian slopes is the Valle d'Aosta. Of all of these passes, one of the most frequented by pilgrims was certainly that of Moncenisio, whose access to Italy is marked by the very ancient Novalesa Abbey and by the Sacra di S. Michele. Other fundamental stopping places were Pavia, ex-capital of Lombardy, Piacenza, a very important roadway junction, Fidenza, junction point between the plain routes and the Monte Bardone pass, and along the Apennine stretch, the cities of Fornovo and Berceto. Beyond the Apennines, the route reached Pontremoli and Luni. The decline of the Luni harbour, beginning in the 8th century, brought on the development of Sarzana, Massa and Pietrasanta, which, placed along the ancient directrix of the consular road, via Aurelia, became fundamental points of “ francigeno” transit. After Pietrasanta, having left the coastal area, insecure due to the pirate incursions, the most frequented route reached Camaiore, Lucca, Altopascio, splendid example of welcome and aid centres among the best organized in Medieval Europe. After Altopascio, the stretch of the Francigena reached Val d'Elsa and Siena. From there it connected with the Roman Cassia, reaching Acquapendente, Bolsena, Montefiascone, Viterbo, Capranica, Sutri, Monterosi. At La Storta, in the outskirts of Rome, pilgrims preferred to leave the Cassia, which crossed unhealthy and dangerous areas, in order to follow the ancient Via Triumphalis arriving at the Vatican from Monte Mario, called Mons Gaudii ('mount of joy'). Access to St. Peter’s square occurred on the right side, from the via del Pellegrino and Porta Sancti Pellegrini along the stretch of road that, not by chance, was called for a long time the " ruga francisca" 'strada dei francesi' (road of the French).
The European Union has adopted the Sigeric itinerary found in a precious manuscript at the British Library in London, as the official itinerary of the Cammino per Roma (March to Rome). Via Francigena was however the one documented by Sigeric in the 10th century.
In 1994 the European Council recognized Via Francigena with the dignity of "European Cultural Itinerary ", equal to the Santiago March directed to the tomb of the Apostle James, defender of Christianity. Wanting thus to affirm, in the widest sense, the European cultural identity in its diversity and its uniatism, in particular by means of the increase in value of its monumental and artistic patrimony. Via Francigena represented the union and communication between various cultures and ideas of different European countries, a Europe that today sees barriers fall but already at the time expressed the desire and the necessity to be united.