A bridge and an ancient road, not only a connection between Mulazzo and Pozzo, but an even older road whose traces probably date back to the 8th century, connecting Val di Magra and Val di Vara. It served for territorial control and was frequented over time not only by armies but also by travelers and pilgrims.
The ancient road and its surviving bridges, such as the one at Groppa between the territories of Mulazzo and Pozzo, are indeed evidence of the historical interactions of people and travelers who used these routes since ancient times. Along these routes, there still exist vestiges, albeit now faint or intertwined with modest toponymic remnants, where the landscape still holds elements of great fascination. This almost-lost road system was certainly established in the early Middle Ages, precisely during the time when the Lombards and later their descendants, the Malaspina, were concerned with controlling communications. Without the efficiency of these roads, their entire political and administrative structure, not just military, would have been in crisis.
In this context, focusing on the Lunigiana region, the route from Parma to Lucca passing through Sorano was of paramount importance, but equally significant was the road connecting Padania with the Ligurian Riviera, passing through Mulazzo and its surroundings. Considering that human choices have always been influenced by the orographic conditions of the terrain, it’s reasonable to assume that the situation during the time of the Franks and Lombards was not much different from earlier times, such as during the Byzantine presence in the Eastern Roman Empire or the Gothic supremacy.
Manfredo Giuliani identifies three different roads from Cisa to the Riviera: one through Zeri and La Sesta, a second through Arzelato, Rossano, and Zignago, and a third through Mulazzo and Suvero. When looking southeast from the hill of Filattiera, you can see the Mulazzo hill, and beyond that, the Casoni Pass, where Suvero is located, and further down, the Vara Valley leading to Brugnato. Mulazzo faces Sorano (and the higher Filattiera) but even before reaching there, just beyond the Magra River, the ruins of what was once the church of St. Benedict of Talavorno still stand, which probably had hospitable functions in the early Middle Ages, documented since 1014. Further north, near the course of the Maara River, stood the church of St. Peter de Pisciula, built in the early Middle Ages, which had a direct topographic connection with the ruins of the Castellaro above it, an ancient fortification that may be considered the first settlement of Mulazzo, later abandoned due to changing conditions.
Few but significant vestiges remain of Mulazzo’s Castellaro: the base of a square tower, a long enclosing wall, and possibly a ditch dug on the southwestern side. Shifting the fortified site to the Mulazzo hill before the year 1000 led to the creation of the hexagonal tower, facing the Filattiera tower, both part of the Byzantine limes placed to control the valley along the Via Francigena, aiming to counter the Lombard advance. This fortification, like the mentioned Castellaro and two churches, St. Benedict of Talavorno and St. Martin of Mulazzo, can be dated back to the 8th century.
Not far from the church of St. Martin stands the oratory of St. Rocco in Mulazzo, which retains architectural features typical of the 12th-13th centuries, indicating a previous hospitable function. The cult of St. Rocco is closely tied to pilgrimage routes. For controlling the variant road to Casoni – Suvero – Brugnato during the High Middle Ages, another castle was built in Mulazzo, the ruins of which rise on the southwestern spur, near the remains of the Malaspina aqueduct popularly known as “the arches.” If the journey continues before reaching the pass, you encounter a third religious building deserving attention: the church of St. Apollinare in Montereggio, which ideally dates back to the Byzantine era due to its surviving loopholes and thick articulated walls in the apse area. It appears to have been part of a fortification (perhaps also serving as a military chapel) and is directly linked to St. Martin of Mulazzo through the architectural element of the square apse. If the usefulness of a direct road to the Ligurian Sea from Sorano to Suvero and Brugnato was recognized during the Lombard era, it was likely just as important during the earlier period of Byzantine supremacy. To the left of the Magra River, the Byzantines built a “blockade” – the castron of Sorano, aimed at controlling traffic in the valley, and similarly, one must have been erected on the right side, possibly suggested by the toponymy of “Pianturcano” (Turks’ plain, perhaps for people of color assigned to the Eastern Roman Empire’s militias).
The road network to which the Groppa bridge belonged, due to its construction characteristics, undoubtedly dates back to these ancient periods and was used in the following centuries for the jurisdictional management of the fiefs of Mulazzo and Pozzo (later joined by Montereggio), which became a territorial unit under the Malaspina family, of Obertenga origin and thus Lombard, present here from the second half of the 12th century. This road continued to serve as a route for pilgrims over the centuries, as evidenced by the establishment of a place of worship around 1300 on the left side of the Mangiola stream: the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Mountain, initially benefiting the Malaspina and later placed under the authority of the Holy See by Pope Nicholas V around 1450. Although the Malaspina continued to assert their control and maintenance in exchange for the protection of the site.