The Piccola Cassia Way is an ancient Roman road that extends the route of the better-known Cassia Way through the country between Modena and Bologna. It has been extensively used, from when the Apennine valleys were first settled through to the Middle Ages and today, too.
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 at regular intervals along the new Via Aemilia, which runs through them east-west. Meanwhile, the cities of ancient Emilia-Romagna were connected with the countryside and the hills along a north-south axis, and some of those routes offered a quick and convenient trans-Apennine link.
One such was the Piccola Cassia Way. It began at the southern gateway of Modena, near St Peter’s monastery, and made for Vignola and Savignano sul Panaro. The road then joined the Romea Nonantolana Way, crossing the ridge between the Panaro and Samoggia valleys towards Zocca and Castel d’Aiano, where it entered the River Reno valley before descending into Tuscany through the Ombrone valley to the city of Pistoia.
Originally, then, the Piccola Cassian Way, which was actively used until the late imperial era, was mainly a link between Modena and Tuscany through three valleys, the Panaro, Samoggia and Reno.
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 place 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 and, as the Roman empire battened down the hatches against the barbarian raids. It regained its strategic importance in the Lombard period when the conflicts with the Byzantines in and around Bologna made the Piccola Cassian Way one of the few safe routes between Modena and Rome.
The Little Cassian Way runs for about 105 miles through two regions, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, linking up with the Romea Strata and Romea Nonantolana ways, en route to Rome. It’s a fascinating path with a liberal sprinkling of religious and historical sites, with Nonantola Abbey, Bazzano Castle and many more. The path threads through the unspoiled countryside from fertile plains to vineyards and hillsides and from dense mountain forests to the great pastures of the Apennine ridge.
The Piccola Cassian is an excellent hiking and mountain-biking route with an array of accommodation facilities to meet all needs.
Services and practical information
The Little Cassian Way’s official website offers information about the various stages and details on other places to explore while you’re here.
You can also download GPS files for each stage and order the dedicated guide map.
The site describes the scenery and the food and wine experiences not to miss in the area. There’s an up-to-date calendar of the fairs and festivals taking place in the villages along the way.
The Emilia-Romagna segment of the Little Cassian Way has 8 stages spanning 75 miles.
Italian regions traversed: 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 (15.1 miles)
Stage 4 | Abetaia – Rocca Corneta (9.8 miles)
Stage 5 | Rocca Corneta – Capanna Tassoni (11.2 miles)
Stage 6 | Capanna Tassoni – Cutigliano (8.6 miles)
Stage 7 | Cutigliano – Ponte Petri (14.7 miles)
Stage 8 | Ponte Petri – Pistoia (11.4 miles)
Length: 110.2 miles (at most 77.2 in Emilia)
Difficulty: medium, as some legs are rather long, but there are no particular technical difficulties.
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