Visit the ancient roman city of Luni

Consider Luni, Urbisaglia, how
they went to ruin (Sinigaglia follows,
and Chiusi, too, will soon have vanished); then,
if you should hear of families undone,
you will find nothing strange or difficult
in that—since even cities meet their end.

Dante Alighieri, Paradiso Canto XVI

The ancient roman city of Luni was an important port, the history of the populations of Lunigiana originated from its bay. It lay on the sea and near the mouth of the River Magra. This position reveals the strategic function of the Roman colony’s foundation. It has gone, “ita,” as Dante says, abandoned by its inhabitants in the Middle Ages. All cities have an end, despite their millennial history. What was the ancient roman town of Luni like? How was it funded, and how did it end? A new archaeological area, the most important in eastern Liguria, helps to understand the fascinating history of Luni, the city of the moon.

Its name probably derives from Lunae, the Latin name of the Goddess who brings light, i.e., the Moon, possibly due to the semicircular shape of the ancient city. However, others think it comes from the original pre-Roman name for a swamp, luk, corresponding to the type of land the Romans reclaimed to build their port. Since ancient times, although under the control of the Ligurians, the port of Luni was used as a dock for commercial ships by both the Etruscans and the Greeks, who controlled the coast (the Etruscan testimonies in Framura are significant). The first consecration of the port to the Goddess Selene (Moon for the ancient Romans) dates back to the latter.

The colony, with the name of Luna, was founded by the Romans in 177 BC, as a military outpost of the Roman legions, during the campaign against the Ligurians. In that period, according to the testimony of Pliny, the Elder, more than 40,000 Ligurian Apuans were deported to Sannio (180 BC) and, subsequently, 2,000 Roman colonists, veterans of the battle of Anzio (31 BC), were permanently settled there. Each veteran was assigned 51 and a half jugerum (about 33,5 acres) of land to reclaim the marshy areas and set up an agricultural colony. The Ligurians continued to fight the Romans until 154 BC when the consul Claudius Marcellus finally submitted them. In his honor, a monument was erected in the city, where the Capitolium temple was being built. It is thought that the toponym of the nearby town of Montemarcello also derives from the name of this consul.

The Romans failed to overcome the obstacle represented by the marshes to build commercial roads to connect to Pisa and the north of the Italian peninsula. Yet the important Via Aurelia, which led from Rome to Gaul, passed through Luni, making it one of the most important Roman ports.

In addition to its favorable position along the empire’s main road in the first century BC, the city took advantage of imperial Rome’s massive use of white marble from the Apuan Alps of Carrara, becoming its main loading port. Furthermore, its inhabitants exported cheese, wines, and handicrafts from the hinterland directly to the course of the Magra river. In its heyday, the city grew to more than 50,000 inhabitants.

In the Middle Ages, Luni slowly lost its importance, and the end of the Roman Empire decreed the definitive failure of the fight against the swamping of the region. As a result, the ground on which the millenary city rested its foundations became silted so that the populations who lived in the area gradually abandoned the ancient roman city to move to nearby Sarzana and towards the hills further north, giving life to the villages of the region now called Lunigiana.


Bike tour in Lunigiana, in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennine National Park and the Unesco Mab Reserve

The ancient roman amphitheatre of Luni

The unique structure of the ancient roman amphitheater of Luni, which can be visited in the Antica Luni archaeological area, was located slightly outside the inhabited center in Roman times, on the east side. The Munera Gladiatora (fights between gladiators) and the venationes (hunting shows) took place there. The building is well preserved, and the debris found testify to the significant dimensions of the premise, probably with two floors compared in addition to the one visible today and with a capacity of about 7,000 spectators.

The roman amphitheater of Luni
The roman amphitheater of Luni

The archaeological site of the ancient roman city of Luni and its museum, the subject of a recent expansion intervention, are the most significant archaeological institutions in eastern Liguria regarding the importance of the historical evidence collected. A beautiful park allows you to walk for a long time until you reach the sea in a scenic rural area dominated by the Apuan Alps. The entire area is introduced onto the highway by an illuminated bridge dedicated to ancient Luni, highlighting this tremendous little archaeological treasure even to those running past.