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Travelling north from Lucca along the winding road that follows the river Serchio upstream into the heart of the Garfagnana region, one of the most notable landmarks that you encounter is il Ponte del Diavolo (the Devil’s Bridge) at Borgo a Mozzano. Four beautifully proportioned arches spanning the river, each one a different size, frame the dark green backdrop of chestnut forests reflected in the rippling water.
Il Ponte del Diavolo is a ponte a schiena d’asino (mule back bridge) built in the Fourteenth Century by Castruccio Castracani, Lucca’s infamous warlord, (his name in English romantically translates as ‘Dear Castrator who Castrates dogs’) over an older bridge dating back to the Eleventh Century. The bridge’s real name is Ponte della Maddalena (Magdalena’s Bridge), named after a chapel which used to stand at one end of it , but it has become known as il Ponte del Diavolo (the Devil’s Bridge) because of a fascinating legend that surrounds its construction. I first heard this story as a child when my family used to go to the thermal spa at the nearby town of Bagni di Lucca, and every time we passed the bridge, I would feel shivers running up my spine.
According to the legend the construction of the bridge was troubled by subsidence problems. Il capomastro (the master builder), concerned about the interminable delays, decided to make a pact with the devil: the devil would build the bridge in one night and in return he would get the soul of the first creature to cross it. The master builder accepted the deal and the bridge was completed as promised in one night. However, on the eve of the opening day the master builder, overcome with remorse, went and asked il parroco (the parish priest) for help. The priest promptly came up with a solution. The morning after, at the inauguration ceremony, the priest and the master builder sent a dog to cross the bridge! The devil, full of anger at having been tricked, grabbed the dog and threw it and himself into the river. People from the village of Borgo a Mozzano say that at night you can sometimes still hear the howling of the poor bedevilled dog rising up from the waters of the river.
N.B. There are several variations on this legend, e.g. sometimes the animal sacrificed to the devil is a pig. But this has always been my favourite.