From the late Middle Ages, about 1341, Barga chose to submit itself to Florence. From then until the Unification of Italy, Barga experienced a golden age: the Medici family were very interested in this area due to the raw materials it provided and thus granted privileges and tax exemptions to Barga.
This left tangible traces, still visible today in the layout, architecture, art and urban society of the town. The acquired wealth enabled the construction of Renaissance-style buildings, during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, that hosted various Grand Dukes of Tuscany over the years.
The presence of the Medici in Barga is also evident in the immediate vicinity of the old town, leaving its mark throughout the area as can be seen today with the Via dei Remi [lit. The Rowing Boat Way] used to bring the timber from the forests to the Pisa and Livorno shipyards, or the Red Jasper Quarries.
During the Florentine rule, in fact, Jasper was extracted in Barga. It is a tough ornamental stone composed of blood-red quartz with white veins.
The Jasper of Barga was used to decorate the Medici Noblemen’s Chapels in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence. Cosimo I de’ Medici wanted to build a structure that would perpetuate the memory of the Medici dynasty.
If you look carefully at the walls of the Medici Chapels, you can see the red colour typical of the Jasper of Barga.
As well as in the Chapels, there is a fair amount of jasper in the Opificio delle pietre dure [lit. Workshop of semi-precious stones], also in Florence. The Opificio, built by Ferdinando I de’ Medici, was the workshop that finished the jasper for use in the Medici Chapels.
Thanks to some delivery registers we can reconstruct the journey of the Jasper from Barga to Florence.
The ‘Jasper Way’ began in the mines along the Loppora di Giuncheto stream. Once extracted, the Jasper blocks were transported to the Serchio River. From here on board foderi (rafts made with wooden logs) they reached the Maritime Arsenal of Pisa where they were partially worked by Turkish slaves. Subsequently, the boatmen brought they precious cargo up the Arno river to the port of Maggiore di Signa and from here transported the jasper over land to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence for its final processing.
Today you can visit Barga’s quarries that re still very rich in jasper. This noble material appears on the surface with seams that emerge from the rocky walls at different inclinations and in various thicknesses, colours and qualities.
For information about visiting the Jasper Quarries, write to email@example.com
-Adapted from: Emilio Lammari, Lo stemma civico di Barga e il suo percorso storico, 2015.
Photo by: Keane, barganews.com