The history of Sarzana dates back to Roman times and its many fortifications bear witness to the various powers who sought to defend this large settlement through the course of the centuries. Strategically set on an extensive fertile plain on the route connecting Tuscany to Liguria and Emilia, it was ideally positioned both for farming and for trade. As part of the powerful diocese of Luni, a Roman town of major significance at that time, it became in its turn a centre of great importance during the Middle Ages. Modern-day Sarzana originated as the ‘Castrum Sarzanae’, alluded to in a decree by Otto I in 963, but was sited above the town itself, whose development only started properly after the 11th century, attaining the status of Bishop’s See by 1204.
From 1314 to 1328 the town was ruled by Castruccio Castracani and thereafter the cities of Genoa and Pisa, as well as the Visconti and Medici families, vied with each other to retain control over it. Between the years 1488 and 1492, Lorenzo the Magnificent extended the remains of the Pisan Firmafede fortress by constructing high defensive towers and a broad moat, in what was to be the start of a lengthy process of additional fortification work. It was, however, the Genoese who built the pentagonal town walls in the 16th century.
Sarzana’s early 13th century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta stands on the ancient site of San Basilio, the former parish church. It houses some important works by Domenico Fiasella, together with Mastro Guglielmo’s celebrated crucifixion, painted in 1138. In Via Mazzini, in the historic town centre, the single nave of the old parish church of Sant’Andrea features a marble baptismal font dating back to the 16th century. Among the other sights of historical interest here are a tower-house once owned by the Bonaparte family; the 16th century Palazzo Roderio, accommodating the present-day town hall; and the Palazzo Remedi. An annual Antiques Fair is held in the streets of the old town centre, enticing both professional dealers, as well as lay collectors.
The outskirts of the town offer a variety of sports amenities, such as a swimming pool; tennis courts; an athletics ground; horseriding and archery facilities; and football pitches for both regular and five-a-side matches.
An attractive nature reserve has been created around the so-called ‘bozi’, a series of ponds filling the basins of a former foundry, into which the waters of the local River Magra run.
Typical culinary specialities of the locality include excellent vegetable pies, which are best accompanied by Vermentino wine, whose grapes are cultivated on the hills surrounding Luni. To follow this there is a delicious dessert based on dried fruit and jam, known as ‘spungata’.
One of Sarzana’s famous sons was the humanist Tommaso Parentucelli, who held office as Pope Nicholas V from 1447 to 1450.