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Home The Via dei Romei The spiritual trails of ancient pilgrims

The spiritual trails of ancient pilgrims

Map of the ancient pilgrim routesThe pilgrimage to Rome during the Middle Ages was one of the three “maiores peregrinationes” together with the Holy Land and the Way of St. James (Santiago di Compostela), but it reached its height of popularity starting in 1300, the year of the first Christian Jubilee.  Among the most used routes by the ancient pilgrims was the road leading down from the Brenner Pass into Veneto and then Romagna, continuing on through the Apennines towards the Eternal City.


Historians have, by now, given up trying to establish a single route used by medieval travelers. In fact, documents show us how variations in the course of rivers, political changes, the creation of new settlements and religious sites and the abandonment of others brought about changes in the routes when compared to those used in the Roman era.

Furthermore, to reach the same places alongside very heavily trafficked streets such as the via Emilia, pilgrims and merchants used alternative routes that were more convenient from an economic standpoint – they did not have tolls, new markets – or from a religious standpoint because there were holy places dedicated to saints or relics which were becoming more and more credible.  Even scholars prefer to speak about “road areas” or “road groups.”


Many of our “Romei”, once in Venice, used the city as a layover stop.  For those arriving from eastern Padania or from Central Europe through the Brenner Pass, they came down along the Padova-Ferrara-Ravenna-Forlì route, considered the “Melior Via” according to the “Annales Stadenses” of the monk Alberto di Stade (1236). 

Between the Venice lagoon and Ravenna, crossing through the Po Delta, the Romans had built around 132 BC the consular via Popilia.  But after the crisis of the empire, that street fell into disrepair and insalubrious swamps took over the area.  This route began to be used again beginning the 1400s, and so in the early medieval period, the most important alternative routes were the inland waterways with Ferrara, Argenta and Ravenna as the most important ports along the way, as they had been used since the Roman era.


This route was taken for many years by many illustrious people, such as the Holy Roman Emperors of the house of Saxony, from Otto I to Otto III.


Another alternative for getting from Venice to Ravenna was sailing along the Adriatic Coast.


Emilia Romagna has very simple geographic characteristics: a coast, a stretch of plains which can be crossed by going along the via Emilia, and lastly, near the boarder with Tuscany, a series of hills and mountains which get higher and higher.  Once on the via Emilia – whether via the coast or, more probably, via the Po - the medieval travelers had no choice but to proceed on foot through the Apennines. The Serra Pass, above Bagno di Romagna, is the main pathway for crossing through the Apennines, in fact the Via Germanica (or di Stade) was also called the “Via of the Serra Alps”.


Those who were so inclined could instead choose to continue their journey by sea, leaving from the port of Rimini and stopping in Puglia before heading to the Holy Land.


We thank the Touring Club Italiano (Italian Touring Club) and the Istituto Beni Artistici, Culturali e Naturali (Institute of Artistic, Cultural and Natural Heritage) of the Region of Emilia-Romagna for their kind co-operation.



The Pilgrims’ Way through Emilia-Romagna

Published: June 1997

Detailed study by the Region of Emilia-Romagna – Tourism Department


The Pilgrims' Way - Adriatic Jubilee Routes
Published: 1997 by T.C.I.

The Pilgrims' Way through Emilia-Romagna
Published: June 1997 by the Region of Emilia-Romagna


“Vie dei Romei”

Published: 1995 by the Comunità Montane dell’Appennino Cesenate e Forlivese

Last modified Feb 02, 2017

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