The Piccola Cassia Way is an ancient Roman road that extends the route of the better-known Cassia Way, and that crosses the area between Modena and Bologna. It has been extensively used, from the time of the first settlements of the Apennine valleys through to the Middle Ages up until our times.
To understand the history and role of the Piccola Cassia Way, we need to go back to when the Romans founded the Regio VII Aemilia region. From the 3rd century BC, the Romans began to expand into what was called Cisalpine Gaul (corresponding roughly to Emilia-Romagna now), founding new colonies and revamping the new region’s road system.
Ariminum, Forum Livii, Bononia, Mutina and Regium Lepidi were just a few of the towns that they built along the new Via Aemilia, which ran through them from east to west. Along the north-south axis of the cities there were communication routes with the countryside and the hills, some of which could be convenient and fast routes connecting the regions north of the Apennines with those to the south.
This is the case of the so-called Piccola Cassia which started at the southern gate of the city of Modena, near the monasteries of San Pietro, and then continued to Vignola and Savignano sul Panaro. From this point the road entered the ridge between the Panaro and Samoggia valleys and continued towards Zocca and Castel d’Aiano, where it entered the Reno river valley to descend into Tuscan territory and, through the Ombrone valley, finally reach Pistoia.
Originally, the Piccola Cassia, which was an active route until the late imperial age, was mainly a connection route between the city of Modena and Tuscany, crossing the Panaro, the Samoggia and the Reno valleys.
It was Cicero who mentioned the Piccola Cassia Way between Modena and Pistoia as a northern extension of the more famous Cassia Way (which was generally considered to end in Lucca). This has been confirmed by contemporary scholars and is reflected in several local places names, from Cassiola and Cassola to Casola and Casolano.
Whether it was part of the Cassia Way or not, the route was abandoned in the 4th century AD, coinciding with the crisis of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions. It regained its strategic importance in the Lombard period when the conflicts with the Byzantine Empire in and around Bologna made the Piccola Cassia Way one of the few safe routes between Modena and Rome.
The Piccola Cassia Way runs for about 105 miles through two regions, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, joining with the Romea Strata and Romea Nonantolana ways. It is a beautiful path dotted with many religious and historical sites, such as Nonantola Abbey, Bazzano Castle and many more. The path threads through the unspoiled countryside from plains to vineyards and hillsides, from lush mountain forests to the great pastures of the Apennine ridge.
The Piccola Cassia Way is an excellent hiking and mountain-biking route with an array of accommodation facilities to meet everyone’s needs.
Services and practical information
The Piccola Cassia Way’s official website offers information about the various stages and details on other places to explore while you’re there.
You can also download GPS files for each stage and order the dedicated guide map.
The website describes the scenery, the food and wine experiences in the area. There’s an up-to-date calendar of the fairs and festivals taking place in the towns along the way.
The Emilia-Romagna stretch of the Piccola Cassia Way is about 77 miles long and is usually divided into 8 different stages.
Italian regions crossed: Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany
Stages: the trail can be divided up into the following legs, from north to south:
Stage 1 | Nonantola – Bazzano (16.1 miles)
Stage 2 | Bazzano – Tolè (18.3 miles)
Stage 3 | Tolè – Abetaia (15 miles)
Stage 4 | Abetaia – Rocca Corneta (9.8 miles)
Stage 5 | Rocca Corneta – Capanna Tassoni (11 miles)
Stage 6 | Capanna Tassoni – Cutigliano (8.5 miles)
Stage 7 | Cutigliano – Ponte Petri (14.7 miles)
Stage 8 | Ponte Petri – Pistoia (11.3 miles)
Length: 11.23 miles (77 miles in Emilia)
Difficulty: medium, as some legs are rather long, but there are no particular technical difficulties.