The Via Francigena is a pilgrimage path leading from Canterbury, England, to Rome. It crosses France and Switzerland, and enters in Italy through Aosta Valley.
Once in Italy, the “Via” goes on towards Pavia, Piacenza, Parma, until it arrives in the Senese province. Here it enters several villagges which still cherish their Medieval heritage thanks to exquisite architectures, churches, squares and streets – tokens of the importance of this route which attracted thousands of believers throughout the centuries. Nowadays a large public still travels on the Via Francigena – mostly tourists and curious people – but few of them try it old fashioned without jumping from one step to another with a vehicle.
Still, there are some brave walkers on the path, following specific road signs to avoid cars and enjoy the most scenic stretches. During the Via Francigena many hostels are to be found, offering special rates for certified pilgrims, often in the same buildings used for the same reason in ancient times. Pilgrims acknowledging each other still use the traditional greeting utreia – “further” – to which the other one will respond suseia – “higher”.
Also known as “the Via‘s daughter”, Siena – a beautiful Tuscan town about 70 kilometres South from Florence – opens its gates to the pilgrims with a Latin sentence carved on Porta Camollìa: cor magis tibi sena pandit, “Siena opens its heart to you”. Through the old town centre the Via Francigena crosses four of the seventeen contrade – the city quarters which confront themselves every year in the world renowned Palio horse race – and arrives in front of the city’s Cathedral, opposite to which the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala once received the pilgrims.