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Ponte della Maddalena or Devil’s Bridge

Historical notes

The Ponte della Maddalena is located in Borgo a Mozzano, along the road SS12 of Abetone and connects the two banks of the Serchio river.
It was built thanks to the Countess Matilde di Canossa (1046-1115), a very important figure of the Italian middle ages, who had high influence and power in this area of Tuscany.
The current aspect of the bridge is due to the reconstructions ordered in the first years of the 14th Century by  Castruccio Castracani, Sir and commander of Lucca.
At the beginning of the 16th Century, the bridge was named after a chapel of Saint Magdalene which was located on the left bank at the base of the structure. Ever since it has been called Ponte della Maddalena.
In 1670, The Council of the Lucca Republic, in order to preserve the bridge and its conditions, issued a decree  to forbid to cross the  bridge with heavy machinery.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, and precisely in 1906, to give access to the railway, a new arch was opened on the left side of the bridge. This alteration changed  its original architecture.

The Architecture

The aspect of the bridge is typical from the medieval age and it is called at “donkey back”.
The  three asymmetric arches with the central one being  so incredibly high and extended, make the bridge absolutely unique   and a masterpiece  of medieval engineering.

The Legend, the most famous one...

The Ponte della Maddalena is more commonly known as Devil's Bridge, because of a local legend reinforced by the strange and unsettling aspect of the bridge.
It is told that the master mason was being terribly late (we, italians,  must have had it in our blood for centuries!)  in building the bridge and when he realized that he couldn’t complete the works  for the date established, worried for the serious consequences that he could experience, decide to address the devil and ask for his help.
So the agreement was reached: the devil would have finished the structure in  one night in exchange of the first soul that would have walked upon the bridge, once terminated.
The master mason, eaten up with remorse, went to the local priest to confess his misdoing  and asked for his help. The priest suggested to make up for his bad action with a stratagem.
The following day the bridge was inaugurated, but surprisingly, a pig and not a man was the first to walk across the bridge.
The devil, befooled and defeated, did not have any  other choice than take the animal soul, he then disappeared in a sulphur cloud in the waters of the Serchio river.

It has to be mentioned that  locally, it is said that it wasn’t a pig but a dog to first cross the bridge however, it doesn’t really matter if it was a pig or dog, the devil was defeated and the answer to this dilemma lies with Lucifer  in the deepness of the Serchio river.

There is a second legend, unknown to the most which is not so popular, but it is  worth to be told.....

Historical notes

During the II° world war, this area, was theatre of fights between the Allies and the Axe. Infect, Borgo a Mozzano, was crossed by the very well known Gothic Line.
The Gothic Line, is a “line” that cut the Italian peninsula in two parties. It run from Massa Carrara to Pesaro, it was about 300km long and in some points it reached 30km in deepness.
North of the line were the Germans and their allies (Axe) and south of the line were the Anglo-Americans, the Allies.
Nowadays, it is still possible to see the Gothic Line and partecipate to the  tours organised by a local organization to visit the fortified line and the different bunkers.
In the final stages of the war, the Allies were successfully advancing along the peninsula and, consequentially, the Germans were withdrawing. While they were retreating, they destroyed bridges, railways and any means of transport.
Up to this point they are all history facts  and unfortunately true.

The Legend...a more recent one..

It is told that a SS officer, always very elegantly dressed and handsome almost to resemble  the devil, was in command of  the Borgo a Mozzano area.
The officer was known as being extremely proud of all the bridges and railways that he had blown up in the valley and when he saw the majesty of the Devil's Bridge, he recognized that only a superior spirit could have realized such a magnificent structure and he felt honored and delighted to be the one that would have destroyed it.
One day, while he was calculating the mines allocation, he noticed a young woman arriving from a nearby fountain. The girl was living in a house nearby the bridge.
He was immediately struck by her beauty and, at once, he  fall in love with her.
By now, most of the  village houses  had been abandoned , most of the inhabitants had left their homes to hide in safer places seen that the bridge and the nearby areas  would have been soon destroyed.
Only one person hadn’t left her house,  the young woman and, every day, she kept going to the fountain to fill up her jag, and every day the officer,  couldn’t avoid admiring her beauty.
The Allies were advancing and there wasn’t much time left. The bridge must have been destroyed at the earliest possible.
The evening in which the explosion of the bridge was going to take place, the officer went to the young woman house and begged her to leave the house as the destruction of the bridge and its surroundings, was imminent.
The young woman refused to listen to the officer and to abandon her house.
Because the offices was deeply in love with her, he decided not to blow the bridge, to stay with her , wait for the arrival of the Allies and become their prisoner.
The bridge was saved. The morning after, people were astonished to see the bridge still standing on the banks of the river undamaged and  in all its magnificence:  the devil, up to the end, had protected his creation.

What is true about this second legend

During my researches on the legends of the Devil's Bridge, I have been able to talk to some people from the area, elderly people, that at the end of the II° war were in this area and personally witnessed those events.
All of them have confirmed the presence of the German officer, which was a Captain.
Even the young woman existed and she truly lived in a house which is still standing on the right side of the bridge.

The German captain, besides being very attracted and fond of the girl, he was a art lover and he strongly admired the beauty and architecture of the Devil's Bridge.
For this reason the captain decided not to destroy the bridge.

He wasn't taken prisoner by the Allies army, but he continued the retreat with his soldiers and it is told, he died during a fight against the Partisans, in Garfagnana.

It is interesting and worth to mention that the German captain was responsible of the destruction of all the bridges in this area, including the Ponte Pari which is a bridge in Borgo a Mozzano, located very near to the Devil's Bridge.

Ponte del Diavolo - Marzo 2009Ponte del Diavolo - Gennaio 2009