Along Via Francigena in the Susa Valley
Stretching back to ancient times the Susa Valley has been a central point for connecting italy with France, through France,through the Monginevro and Moncenisio passes. The medieval period endorsed its leading role as a gateway between the Italian peninsula and the rest of Europe for merchants, armies, aristocrats, men of Church and pilgrims who were aiming to reach Rome, the epicentre of Christianity, or Santiago de Compostela, the ancient religious destination. Already in 333 AD, the Moniginevro Pass was crossed by the anonymous author of Itinerarium burdigalense (the oldest description of a Christian pilgrimage route) for reaching the Holy Land: precise notes were made of the mansio and the statio in Susa Valley, some of which are now important archaeological sites. Starting from the early Middle Ages, the Moncenisio Pass became one of the nerve centres of the European political scene with the first arrival in Italy of Charlemagne in 773 for the Battaglia delle Chiuse against the Longobards, and the marriage of the Comitissa Adelaide Manfredi with Oddone di Moriana-Savoia in 1046, which resulted in the Savoy dynasty entering Piedmont and, thus, Italy. The intense flow of people along the Via Francigena circulated ideas and generated a constant exchange of knowledge, languages and religion which helped nurture a European cultural energy in the valley: monasteries of international renown were built, such as the Abbey of Novalesa and the Sacra di San Michele, other places of worship with a more local feel such as the Cripta di Celle, chapels, as well as town centres home to markets or places of transit and the mandatory tolls such as Susa, Bussoleno, Avigliana and Oulx. Along the route were created hospitali, xenodochia, inns and hotels such as the Ospedale di Passo del Moncenisio (founded between 814 and 825 AD), the inns of Novalesa and Bussoleno or places of assistance such as the Precettoria di Sant'Antonio at Ranverso, known for the treatments against ergotism. Fortified castles, strongholds and palaces, marking out many of the Susa Valley villages – Oulx, Chiomonte, Susa,San Giorio, Chianocco, Bruzolo – now reveal the widespread territorial control held and also the aristocratic power along the valley, relating to the economic and commercial importance that the route acquired over time. These days, going along the Via Francigena in the Susa Valley means a journey for discovering art, nature and culture, where also the cuisine, the typical seasonal products, the fetes and fairs of ancient tradition are still a living expression of the territory's identity. It is through this varied and authentic panorama that the route meanders for over 170km with two historical variants, starting from Moncenisio and Monginevro towards the valley floor and on towards Turin: by taking the Via Francigena in the Susa Valley, the many pilgrims and hikers are offered the chance for once again savouring the spirit of this land and for reliving, by means of gentle tourism that revives the spirit, mind and body, a unique cultural mosaic.