The Francigena Road, first true European journey

The Francigena Road, first true European journey- The famous Francigena Road is not a single long trail, but rather a dense network of country tracks, small paths and streets along a challenging itinerary, 1800 Km long.  In the Middle Ages, this  was the most important  road connecting Rome to Northern Europe.

Verde by Tiziano Pieroni
Verde by Tiziano Pieroni

Sigerico’s Diary 

The Francigena was described in detail (990 BC)by Sigerico, Archibishop of Canterbury, in his travel journal where he wrote about his long journey from Rome to Calais. It is about the story of a trip that lasted 79 days with 80 stops along the way.

This was the road followed for centuries by pilgrims aiming to reach Rome, Capital of Christianity, and which then continued up to Brindisi where the pilgrims would embark for Jerusalem.  Not just a religious path; besides the numerous pilgrims, the Francigena Road also became the main route travelled by soldiers, merchants, politicians and, of course, bandits. A key communication and exchange  route that allowed Europe’s economic and social growth, together with a sense of unity between countries, in the period between 10th and 12th centuries.

Colline by Tiziano Pieroni
Colline by Tiziano Pieroni

Sigerico’s route was not at all an easy or safe journey. In the Middle ages, pilgrims walking from the North toward Rome and back, faced dangers and a challenging itinerary with, at time, swamps and marshes to cross.  The Via Francigena takes walkers through Europe through regions such as Kent and the Dover cliffs, the WWI battlefields of Northern France, the Champagne region, Lake Geneva and the Alps, the Apennines, green Umbria,  hilly Tuscany and finally Rome, the eternal city…

Siena & Via Francigena

When passing through Tuscany, the Francigena crossed Siena that, at that time, represented a very important stop.  In fact, the city didn’t have other towns in the vicinity, thus representing the only place where travelers could rest for about 140 Km.

Siena by Tiziano
Siena by Tiziano

The Via Francigena entered Siena though Porta Camollia ( the northern gate of the historical city), ran along the highest part (Castelvecchio hill ) and went out through Porta Romana (south gate)


  • Did you know that, at the time of the Francigena, Cypress trees were used as “road signs” for pilgrims coming from northern Europe to Rome?  Very visible from afar, 1 Cipresso indicated “a rest area”, 2 Cipressi a “restaurant” or “inn”, 3 an “hostel”. (Find out more about it here)
  • And what about the special clothing necessary for such a long trip? Pilgrims used to wear a large cloak (mantello) called “sarocchino” to protect from wind and rain. Also they needed a long strong walking stick, called “bordone”, an empty “gourd” (borraccia) for water, tied to one end of the walking stick, a large hat and a leather bag for food called “bisaccia”.
  • Finally , those who reached Jerusalem wore a palm , while whoever had been to Rome hung small pieces of blessed clothes to their dress (called “pazienze”) while, the pilgrims arriving in  Santiago di Compostela, wore  a shell  around their neck when they returned. (Adapted from “Explore and discover Siena”. By B Latini & M. Bartoli- Ed. Betti)


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