'Ponte della Maddalena' - 'Bridge of Madeleine', aka 'Ponte del Diavolo' - 'Devil's Bridge'
Located near Borgo a Mozzano in Lucca province, this ancient bridge over the Serchio river remains freely open to the public.
Devil's bridge is a beautiful example of a classic medieval 'donkey back' bridge with a peculiarity that makes it truly unique: Five asymmetric arches with a central one that reaches a height that defies architectonic ingenuity!
The bridge was commissioned around 1100 by the then powerful and influential Countess Matilde di Canossa (1046-1115).
However, the current aspect is due to the reconstruction carried out around 1300 by Castruccio Castracani (1281-1328), sire of Lucca in the early 14th century.
The legend of the bridge
Once upon a time a respected master builder lived in a village on the banks of the Serchio River. The inhabitants of the village approached him, asking him to build a bridge to connect their village with the one across the river.
He immediately set to work, but he soon saw that the work was not progressing as quickly as he'd promised his fellow citizens it would and, being a man of his word and one who always fulfilled his obligations, he became very unhappy and desperate.
He continued to put great effort into the work day and night so as to finish the task within the time allowed for in the contract, but the work continued to proceed very slowly while the days flew by.
One evening while the builder was sitting alone on the banks of the Serchio looking at the work and thinking of the shame and discredit he would suffer for not having completed it in time, the devil appeared to him in the form of a respectable businessman. He went straight up to the builder telling him that he'd be able to finish the bridge in a single night.
The man didn't believe what the devil was saying, but listened anyway, and in the end accepted his proposal. Naturally the devil wanted something in return: the builder was to undertake to give him the soul of the first person that crossed the bridge when it was completed.
The builder accepted and the following day the village had its beautiful bridge that can still be seen today in Borgo a Mozzano.
The people were stunned and unable to believe what had been accomplished, and went to congratulate the craftsman who ordered them not to cross the bridge before sunset.
In the meantime, the builder got on his horse, a little worried if the truth be told, and set off for Lucca to ask the Bishop for advice. At that time the Bishop was Saint Frediano.
The Bishop listened to the builder's story and then told him that sadly since he had freely made a bargain with the devil and sinned in the eyes of God, there was no choice but to allow the devil to take the soul of the first person to cross the bridge.
The builder was shocked at this, but offered to sacrifice himself to eternal damnation for the salvation of others.
Recognising the goodness in the man standing before him, the Bishop then offered the builder a pig and instructed him to let it cross the bridge first, before any man, woman or child.
This was done and the devil, furious at having been tricked, threw himself into the waters of the Serchio, and has not been seen in the area since.