Situated at an altitude of 277 metres, Castelnuovo is the principal town and the heart of the green Garfagnana area, a territory that constitutes the northern part of the valley of the Serchio River, which runs between the mountain walls of the Apuan Alps and the Appenines. The town is 40 km from both Lucca and the Versilia coast.
The ancient outlying villages of Palleroso, Monterotondo, Antisciana, Gragnanella, Cerretoli, Colle and Rontano are beautifully situated and accessible on country paths through "green woodland". A walk to these villages allows visitors to be in contact with nature and at the same time to discover the traditional daily rhythms of an agricultural people and to admire their rural architecture.
The town's patron is St Peter, with his feast day on 29 june.
The main festivities include the Carnival, with its procession of floats and masked celebrants, Commerce Week in August, and the traditional September Fair featuring folklore, sport, music, gastronomy and artisan activities, But all the way from June to October there is continuos cultural activity, with the outlying villages featuring traditional popular events. From Castelnuovo the most important torist sites of the Serchio Valley can be quickly reached. There is trekking on foot or on horseback, mountains-bike itineraries, modern and efficient sports facilities for any sort of activity from swimming to tennis, football and athletics.
The earliest documents date back to 740 AD, when Castelnuovo must have been a small village depending on the nearby parish church of Fosciana. By 872, just over a century later, the town was already defended by walls and castles. Under Countess Matilda it became came a transit point. Then followed Frederick I, the Papacy, a free commune, the Florentines and the Pisans fighting Lucca for control.
The ring of defensive walls was enlarged in the 14th century. In 1430 the town, together with many other Garfagnana settlements, submitted voluntarily to the rule of the Este family and obtained important privileges that brought it to the highest point of its development. Castelnuovo became Provincial capital and as such the residence of the commissars and governors sent to rule over the Province. Among these were the poets Ludovico Ariosto (1522-1525) and Fulvio Testi (1640-1642). At the end of the 18th century the occupying French forces put down a popular uprising with great harshness. With the establishment of the Napoleonic principality of the Baciocchi family the town because the seat of a prefecture.The Este family was then restored to power and ruled the Garfagnana till 1859,when by plebiscite it was annexed to Piedmont and in 1860 to the Kingdom of Italy.It was included in the Province of Massa and again became the seat of a sub-prefecture.In 1924 Castelnuovo was finally transferred to the Province of Lucca.
The Castle of Castelnuovo presents itself substantially renaissance being of course the result of continuous adequate restorations carried out throught out many centuries.The original structure dates back to the 11 century, probably a tower-house. Subsequent additions were carried out particulary during the Lucchese domination under Castruccio Castracane degli Antelminelli , who built a large section of the town walls, and under Paolo Guinigi. When Castelnuovo became principal town of the Este province the castle became the seat of government and dwelling of the commissars. While maintaining its original structure, it underwent various modifications to adapt it to its new functions. Serious damage was caused to the building, as to the rest of the town, during the second world war and farreaching post-war restoration has had the effect of altering the structure itself.
The cathedral, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, is situated within the town walls. Its origins date to the 10th century but the present structure is a rebuilding of the ancient Romanesque church carried out at the start of the 16th century with enlargement of the walls and architectural additions to the interior. There were modifications to the interior colonnade during the Baroque period, while the austere facade was left intact. During the last war there was serious damage to the whole structure, and the subsequent restoration revealed the original classical lines. The cathedral still houses important works at art, such as the San Giuseppe altar-piece, a Della Robbia-style glazed terracotta work attributed to Andrea del Verrocchio or his school, a Blessed Crucifix in wood by a 15th century sculptor which is popularly known as the Black Christ, the painting by Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio called the "Madonna with Saints", and a marble cornice of Civitali's Lucca workshop and various 17th century prestigious painting.
It was founded in 1860 on the initiative of a group of local notables, the Counts Luigi and Giovanni Carli, the latter also begin the responsible for the design, and Antonio Vittoni. It was originally dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, and it acquired its present name following the birth of the Republican State. The Alfieri can rightly be considered the most representative theatre in Serchio Valley, and in both its form and in its half of the nineteen century. Up to the start of the last century, the theatre staged prevalently opera, with seasons featuring performances by national companies supported by local amateur groups. Subsequently, a significant reduction in the theatrical activity and a succession of different managements generated difficulties that were somewhat relieved by the decision to use the theatre for the projection of films, which became the prevalent activity in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1997 the theatre was purchased by the Town Council of Castelnuovo, and it was reopened in 2006.
Construction began in 1632 on the orders of Giambattista d'Este, formerly Duke Alfonso II of Modena who, four years previously, had abandoned the throne to enter the Capuchin order. Here he died in 1644 and the funeral monument within the church is a memorial to his work.
This stands on a hill just outside Castelnuovo. It was built by Duke Alfonso II towards the end of the 16th century so as to provide the town with a safe refuge and point of defence in the event of attack or siege.
Constructed to the plans of the architect Marco Antonio Pasi, it is made up of a long ring of walls with seven bastions asymmetrically positioned to meet the features of the terrain. Inside were the buildings for the troops and their officers. Only seven of these buildings survive today, the others having been destroyed or allowed to fall into ruin.
A walkway has been constructed around the hill on which the Monte Alfonso fortress stands. Called the "Sentiero dell'Ariosto", it offers an hour's walk in green surroundings. Access is either from Castelnuovo itself or from the suburb of Torrite.
There is widespread archeological evidence from the Upper Serchio Valley, as can be seen from a visit to the museum. Besides in educational exhibition illustrating human evolution, it concentrates on two periods that are particularly well-documented in the Garfagnana by important and peculiar finds. These are the Mesolithic (8000-4500 BC), with illustrations of the various aspects of the territorial settlement and the use and function of stone tools, and the Iron age, mainly showing finds that illustrate aspects and ways of life of the Ligurian Apuan people from the 4th century BC up until the Roman occupation.
A Tourist attraction of great importance as well as being a meeting point for all the population of the Garfagnana is the ancient "stalls market", of medieval origin, these markets are now held every thursday morning in the squares and streets of the historical center. The markets were once attended by many merchants of the neighbouring provinces, here it was possible to sell, buy and exchange all types of articles such as agricultural products, cattle and all sorts of manifactured goods: even the recruitment of soldiers was treated.
To understand the economical and social importance, you must know that an este law would not allow any arrests on a thursday so as not to disturb the outgoing of the markets.
The september fair is also an ancient tradition that for eight days gives life to many initiatives of the rural traditions (the garfagnino cheese, the cattle and other local agricultural products) as well as interesting promotional and cultural manifestations, of which the characteristic drawning of the "bingo in the main square".