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This coastal strip borders onto Liguria in the north, is delimited by the Lago di Massaciuccoli to the south, by the Apuan Alps to the east, and faces the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west. There are traces of extremely ancient human settlement in this area, and near Camaiore, one of the seven councils that make up Versilia, there are signs of the presence of man dating as far back as 40,000 years ago.
From the 7th century BC, Versilia was part of the Etruscan kingdom of Tuscia, and the most important settlement in the area has been identified through remains as having been near Massaciuccoli. It was not a peaceful period because of frequent incursions by Ligurian-Apuan populations, who tended to move south from the Pianura Padana to settle in Versilia.
After the Romans had ousted the Etruscans, they too fought the Ligurians for over eighty years before finally achieving absolute dominion over Versilia, which was incorporated by Augustus into the Regio VII Etruria.
After several centuries the Florentine Medici sent troops to invade Versilia, but they were only able to conquer part of it, despite bitter fighting. For a long time Versilia was split up between the various city states, and life in the area was not easy because they were continually squabbling.
In the second half of the 16th century, Stazzema also became part of the Medici possessions, and they began to develop the area, increasing the quarrying of marble. But it was only under the rule of the Lorraine dynasty in the 18th century that reclamation work really started in Versilia; woods were planted and cultivation was encouraged, especially on the coastal strip. These improvements also led to an increase in the population, in part encouraged by Grand Duke Leopold I of Lorraine, who granted tax relief in 1784 to anyone who settled in the Pietrasanta area. The Via Vandelli (named after the man who built it) was constructed in the same period to connect Modena and Massa, cutting the journey time to just two days on horseback.

After Versilia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy, which was not without fierce protests on the part of its inhabitants, the area was completely reclaimed and with the growing fashion for sea bathing - initiated on the beaches of Versilia by a number of notable historical figures, - the area gradually emerged as one of the most well-known bathing resorts in Italy. And since the 60s this and the marble quarries have been the principal economic resources of Versilia.
The most important town in the area is the seaside resort of Viareggio. At the beginning of the 20th century, Viareggio began to assume an Art Nouveau appearance, but unfortunately a serious fire in 1917 destroyed much of the splendour of that period, though a few traces of it, like the facade of the Caffè Margherita on the sea front, can still be seen. Other places to visit are the Museo Archeologico and the Pinacoteca L. Viani.
The only outlying district of the town is Torre del Lago, situated on the edge of the Lago di Massaciuccoli, which is famous because the musician Giacomo Puccini lived there from 1891 to 1921 in a splendid villa (now a Puccini museum) built over the ruins of the ancient Torre Guinigi. An important event for classical music-lovers is the Festival Pucciniano which has been held at Torre del Lago every year since 1930.
Viareggio plays host to the most important cultural manifestation in the whole of Versilia, the Viareggio Carnival, which for many years has attracted visitors from throughout Europe. It is held every year between February and March, though there's a smaller (and largely unnoticed) summer edition as well.

Forte dei Marmi, the most exclusive resort in Versilia, originally developed around a fortified guard post, from which it derives its name. Quarrymen and fishermen lived here, and its port was used by ships transporting marble. Nowadays, the rich and famous are not-infrequently to be seen on its carefully maintained beaches.
Camaiore is of Roman origin, and in more recent times was an important agricultural trading centre. On the sea front there is Lido di Camaiore, a pleasant beach resort which at the beginning of the 20th century was home to Gabriele D'Annunzio and Giacomo Puccini.
Pietrasanta lies in the plain of Versilia and is considered the historic capital of the zone; it is also the principal centre for marble craftsmanship. Pietrasanta also has its own Marina, a residential area immersed in the green pine woods along the sea front.
Seravezza is situated on the slopes of the Apuan Alps, and dates back to the year 1000. The most important historical monument here is Palazzo Mediceo built on the orders of Cosimo I according to a design by Ammannati.
Massarosa, which lies inland near the Lago di Massaciuccoli, has extremely ancient origins and traces of human settlements have been found here that date back to the Mid-Paleolithic period.
Finally there is Stazzema, whose council boundaries take in the mountain area and include a number of small villages. The town has characteristic stone buildings, and also of interest are the Fontana di Carraia and the Torre Medicea. In the past Stazzema was much-frequented by pilgrims, because tradition has it that the Madonna appeared here on the site where the 17th century Santuario della Madonna del Piastraio now stands.

The area has a rich gastronomic tradition ranging from fish on the coastal strip to the typical dishes of the Tuscan mountains. They all make use of olive oil, which help to make them digestible and give them an unmistakable flavour. Particularly well-known are: risotto alle seppie e bietole (a risotto made with cuttlefish and chard); cacciucco, a traditional fish stew cooked in a cast iron cauldron; zuppa di arselle (mussel soup); spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). But the most famous speciality are the ceè, eel fry that are still blind (hence the name: cieco=blind) that are thrown into boiling oil and flavoured with garlic and sage. There are also excellent tartufi (truffles) from the pine woods of Viareggio, and a Versilian mortadella made according to a traditional recipe. The typical dishes from the mountain areas include pasta con ceci (chickpeas); the tasty zuppa di cavolo nero (a kind of soup made with black cabbage); coniglio con le olive (rabbit cooked with olives); gallina ripiena (stuffed chicken), a typical dish of the Apuans; tortino di carciofi (artichoke pie); and castagnaccio, a sweet made from chestnuts and pine nuts.
These dishes can be accompanied by red wine from the hills around Lucca, or white wine from the province of Massa. The most well-known wine in the area is Montecarlo, a white wine which gained D.O.C. status in 1969, and which is only produced in very limited quantities.

Pictures by Sandro Santioli

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Press registration n. 5528 10/11/2006 - Editor Polimedia - P.IVA 06790950486