The L’ Italo-Americano, the #1 source for all things Italian since 1908 is reporting that among the many ancient bridges that have populated European cities and hamlets during the past millennium, a few of them appeared so mysterious and perfect to their contemporaries that they soon became known as “Devil’s Bridge”. In most cases, this nickname referred to masonry arch bridges built during Roman or Medieval times, some of which were associated with uncanny reveries and picturesque local legends. In Italy, one of the finest surviving examples of this kind of old bridge – the famous Ponte della Maddalena (Mary Magdalene’s Bridge) – is to be found in Borgo a Mozzano, a small Tuscan town located on the road between the city of Lucca and the Garfagnana Valley. Let’s unveil the long history of this peculiar local landmark whose construction, according to folklore, is ascribed to none other than the Devil itself!
First of all, it should be said that the Bridge’s origins are literally lost in the mists of time and that they don’t know the exact date of its construction. However, most historians seem to agree that it probably dates back to the era of Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115), the powerful Countess who ruled Tuscany and Northern Italy for several decades during the Middle Ages: as such, the Devil’s Bridge is often described as an exemplary masterpiece of Medieval engineering, especially because of its ever so peculiar humpback and asymmetrical arches.
The reason for the Bridge’s realization, in any case, was the need to provide a safe crossing over the Serchio River to the many pilgrims and wayfarers who wanted to reach Rome through the Via Francigena: as a matter of fact, for centuries the Garfagnana Valley had been a crucial point in that ancient route.
The first reliable information about the Devil’s Bridge seems to be that it was restored by the condottiero Castruccio Castracani, Duke of Lucca, during the early 14th century. At the same time, just a few decades later a description of the Bridge figured in a novella by the local author and chronicler Giovanni Sercambi.
As for the name Ponte della Maddalena, it was only starting from the year 1500 that the Bridge was called with such denomination, because of an oratory dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene which once stood there on the left bank of the river: in fact, a fine statue of the Saint – credited to the famous Renaissance sculptor Andrea Della Robbia – can still be found in the near church of San Jacopo in Borgo a Mozzano.
During the last centuries, a series of measures have been taken by the local authorities in order to preserve the original structure of this unique landmark. In 1670, for example, it was established by the Republic of Lucca’s Great Council that nobody could pass over the Bridge with millstones and sacks of flour; alternatively, after a flood had severely damaged the whole area in 1836, the Devil’s Bridge had to be restored once again to prevent it from falling. However, the original architecture of Ponte della Maddalena was not always respected: the major alteration in its design took place during the early 1900s, when a new arch – the little one on the right bank of the river – was opened to make room for the railway connecting Lucca to Aulla, a town in the historical region of Lunigiana. The most dramatic event in the long history of the Devil’s Bridge, though, undoubtedly occurred in more recent times, during the WWII as the place was very near to the Linea Gotica fortification: as part of their bloody retreat, the Nazis had decided to mine the Bridge and they were already preparing to destruct it, but eventually and fortunately – we don’t know the actual reason why – Ponte della Maddalena was spared just as it happened to Florence’s Ponte Vecchio.
Nowadays, despite the ravages of time, the Bridge is still walkable for all of its length (about 93 meters, or about 100 yards) and you still can admire the dizzy effect created by the reflection of the arches on the water underneath: the 18-meter-high (60ft.) central arch, in particular, seems either like a challenge to gravity or a portal to another world, especially in the dead of night or when the winter mists surround it. But most of all, the Devil’s Bridge continues to be so evocative because of the well-known legend that gave it this nickname.
It is said that when the master builder realized he could not possibly complete this complex bridge by the proposed deadline, the Devil appeared to him offering a bargain: its completion in exchange for the soul of the first one who crosses it. The man accepted and that night the Devil lifted the bridge span with his pitchfork. Full of regret, however, the master builder confessed what he had done to a local priest, who proposed that a pig, not a man, be the first to cross over. When this was done, the Devil appeared once again, but – realizing he had been fooled – he threw himself off the bridge into the river and disappeared forever from this land. Quite a fairytale . . . or is it!?
1. Booking a Flight to the Wrong Place
The Mistake: Flying to the wrong city.
How to Avoid It: Check and then double-check.
I blame the crazy people who set up the airport code system, but the blame game won’t help you if you make a this mistake. Instead, skip your gut check and do a real check to make sure that the code on your ticket is actually the place you want to go. Tip: Want to go to Florence Italy? You want (FLR)—not (FLO), which is Florence, SC.
2. Trying to Book Your Own Ultra-Complicated Flights
Mistake: Booking complicated flights yourself.
How to Avoid It: Consider a travel agent.
Just because you have the Internet doesn’t mean you always have to use it. If you’re losing patience trying to find a flight, there’s no harm in reaching out to a travel agent to see if their help might be worth your money. While I usually book my own travel there is something to be said for less stress trying to figure out each leg of the trip.
3. Not Clearing Your Cookies
Mistake: Pulling all-night search-a-thons for the fare you can't actually buy.
How to Avoid It: Clear your cookies, switch browsers, use a ‘private or ‘incognito’ window, or buy it when you see it.
The jury is mixed on whether the tracking cookies that search engines leave on the sites you visit are smart enough to raise the price on you if you leave a booking site and come back later. Still, there are those who swear by it. Why take the risk? Clear the cookies on your device before every new search, switch browsers, or use a new ‘private or ‘incognito’ window. Even better: Know what you want to pay and stop looking when you get close enough. Sure there’s a chance there’s a better deal out there, but there’s also a chance you’ll lose the deal (whether to evil cookies or just another consumer) if you wait.
4. Missing Out on Third-Party Perks
Mistake: Thinking the only thing a travel agent does is book flights.
How to Avoid It: Consult a travel agent for additional perks.
I know you know how to search for airfares online, but often travel agents can offer more than just a cheap flight. Upgrades, a rental car at no extra charge, or simply peace of mind if something goes wrong and you need a quick re-route. Loyalty pays: If you’ve got an agent you love, and who loves you, you’ll quickly see the perks pile up.
5. Depending on a Single Flight Search
Mistake: Relying on one search engine exclusively.
How to Avoid It: Spread the wealth.
There are some great search engines out there that allow you to compare flight prices on multiple sites at once. But relying on any one of them would be a mistake. Instead, check out the fares at a few different sites. Some to try:TripAdvisor, Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak, and Hopper. And don’t forget to compare the fares you find with those offered directly from the airline.
6. Forgetting to Find Out the Real Price
Mistake: Comparing fares that really aren’t comparable.
How to Avoid It: Factor in taxes, fees, and extra costs.
That $500 return fare you’re drooling over might very well be a $800 ticket. Make sure you check to see if the rates you’re excited about include all taxes and fees. Also consider the other costs (baggage fees, seat choice fees, etc.) you may be facing once you hit purchase. Weigh all of the costs to know if you’re really getting a deal.
7. Not Getting Creative with Flights
Mistake: Booking round-trip flights all the way to your destination.
How to Avoid It: Check out short-hop one-way options as well.
You’re going there and back so of course you’ll book a round-trip ticket, right? Wrong. Sometimes booking your major flight as a return and then adding smaller, short-haul flights on a play-it-by-ear basis can save you big bucks. Want to fly to Florence? Why don’t you find a great deal to Paris and consider a smaller commuter flight on a local carrier? Sometimes the best deals are found when you are actually on the continent you’re looking to explore. Lately we’ve been flying nonstop to Stockholm and then pick up a short flight to Italy. This option isn’t the easiest way to travel (it will mean looking hard at the fare rules and limitations, and leaving yourself plenty of connection time) but it can net some big savings. The most common booking mistake is not realizing you arrive in Europe the next day when scheduling connecting flights.
8. Not Booking Enough Time Between Connections
Mistake: Assuming a plane will wait for you.
How to Avoid It: Plan for the worst.
Generally speaking, if you’ve booked your connecting ticket on the same carrier (for instance, one Delta flight to another Delta flight) the airline is aware of any flight delays and will usually act swiftly to help you connect to your flight (or rebook you ASAP). But if you’ve booked individual connecting flights, you’re on your own. Give yourself a fighting chance by leaving enough time between flights to allow you to make the connection, even with delays. (Different airports have different rules about how far in advance you need to be at the gate.) As soon as you realize you’re not going to make it, reach out to your connecting airline by phone, email, or social media so it can get started on the rebooking process.
9. Cheaping Out
Mistake: Booking a flight that’ll make you wish you’d paid a bit more.
How to Avoid It: Know yourself, and book accordingly.
Before you even open your laptop, consider what you want out of the flight you’re looking for. The super cheap red-eye flight or early morning option may come with a tempting price tag, but will it seem as attractive when you arrive in a destination exhausted, or so early that you won't be able to get into your hotel room for eight hours? Choose carefully.
10. Paying Full Price
Mistake: Paying full fare when everyone else scored a deal.
How to Avoid It: Stay socially connected.
Technology is a traveler’s friend when it comes to scoring really great deals. You may not be at your desk checking websites constantly for deals, but someone is, and you want to know them. Savvy travelers are finding deals and sharing the wealth. Social media groups like Nomadness Travel Tribe and SecretFlying often post incredible deals on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for their newsletters. Hopper is another great way to post a watch on the route you want to take, and it will alert you when prices are at their lowest. A very user friendly site!
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.