History of Sarzana


See Sarzana guide for highlights and historic monuments

The archaeological remains show that Sarzana was inhabited from the Neolithic period onwards, but the early history of the city is virtually unknown, and there are few sources of information.

Sarzana is first mentioned in a document of 965 by Emperor Otto III (980-1002), in which the “Castrum Sarzanae”, located where now stands the fortress of “Sarzanello”, was recognized as a possession of the Bishop of Luni; at this time Sarzana was mentioned as a simple castle, called the “Castrum de Sarzana”.

We also know that by the end of 13th century, it appeared as a walled village which included an ancient tower.

In another document dating from 1165, Emperor Frederick I (1122-1190) put the city under his special protection, removing it from the domain of the bishops of Luni, to which it was had long been subjected.

With the decline of Luni, Pope Innocent III (1160 approx.-1216) decreed a bishopric in Sarzana. After several changes of ownership between the bishops and the Marquis of Genoa, in 1316 Bishop Gherardino Malaspina (died 1321) appointed Castruccio Castracani (1281-1328) to be Viscount of the Sarzana Diocese, who dominated the city until his death.

After the return of the Pisani, Sarzana came under the domination of the Republic of Genoa (1438) and then to the Medici, who besieged the city in 1487, destroying the "Firmafede" fortress. This fortress was later rebuilt and actually called the Citadel.

Control of the area then returned to the Genoese, who governed the city until the conquest by Napoleon. In 1797 he entered Sarzana in the Ligurian Democratic Republic, naming it the capital of one of the three cantons of the Department of the Apennines.

In 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, its territory was included in the Kingdom of Sardinia, and from 1861 it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

Origins of the name Sarzana

As regards the etymology, traditionally the place-name "Sarzana" was explained as resulting from a family name, or by "Sergius," which would be derived from the Latin word "Sergianus" (masculine) and "Sergiana" (female). In the nineteenth century, Giovan Battista Semeria explained that:

"[...] 'Sarzana' was named for the 'Villa Sergiana', which belonged to a member of the ‘Sergia’ House: [...]" [1].

The history of the derivation of the name "Sergius" was narrated by E. Gerini, who wrote that the first origin of the city was due to:

"[...] some Sergius, son of the Roman proconsul Calpurnius; Sergius was exiled in the city of Luni and here he fabricated his villa, and the place was named after him [...]" [2].

An interesting study about the Italian name of Sarzana was implemented by G. Devoto, who observed that, in addition to "Sarzana", the ancient city was also called "Serezzana'. According to the scholar, “Serezzana” was a registered name in the ancient vocabulary of the “Crusca”, meaning “breeze” and “frozen wind”, adding that:

"[...] the etymology identifying 'Serezzana' with the ancient name of 'Sarzana' dates back to Salvini, who, after the name ‘Serezzana’, adds this brief parenthesis: "Serezzana’comes from 'Sarzana,' in Latin 'Villa Sergiana' [...]" [3].

By the mid-1960s many scholars had moved away from traditional proposals; these scenarios are summarized in the “Atti della Società Ligure di storia Patria” (1967:35), which states that in the last century (19th century) scholars have also thought about other solutions, such as, for example, Goffredo Casalis "[...] who had thought, next to "Sergiana", of a name derived from the term ‘Cariciana’ [" marsh-reeds "], (...) while Buffa had thought of a name of equal significance with 'Ad quartum', a Latin phrase indicating probably “Roman stations”, “post-houses”, where they changed horses.

The origin of Sarzana as "swamp", or "marshland", is accepted by G.B. Pellegrini [4].

Finally, a very interesting hypothesis which has its own scientific consistency, is the one that suggested that "Sarzana" may have an affinity with "Serra Azzano", and thus the name "Serrazzano" or "Serrazzana", of which G. Devoto had spoken; in this case “Azzano” derives from “Attius” and the suffix “-anus” (Atti-anus") implies the concept of "possession", so the term indicates a “land belonging to 'Attius'.”

The "Gens Atta" would be of Etruscan origin, known as "Atei" [5]. Among all the etymologies, this seems to have excellent credentials of credibility.

See also the Sarzana visitor guide and travel information.

References

1. See G.B. Semeria “Secoli Cristiani della Liguria” ["Christian Centuries of Liguria”],  Chirio and Minia, 1843: 4 footnote 3

2. See E. Gerini, “Memorie Storiche di Illustri scrittori” ["Historical Memories of Illustrious Writers"], Frediani, 1829: 45-46

3. See G. Devoto, in  "Lingua Nostra", Sansoni, 1968: 115

4. “Italian toponymy: 10000 city names, countries, localities, regions, districts, rivers, mountains explained in their origin and history”, 1990: 193

5. See "Studi Etruschi”, 1963, vol. 31: 197