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Conditions of the Roads

The favorable comparison with the roads of the Papal States

Already in the Medici period, and to an even greater extent under the Lorraine, the general state of the Tuscan roads was judged to be sufficiently good, and certainly much superior to the very poor conditions to be found in the Papal States. Travelers who passed through the latter complained about the worsening of the roads, as well as being struck by the bareness and barrenness of the land, which contrasted with the florid Tuscan countryside. So while the journey from Florence to the borders of the grand duchy was an orderly succession of hills and valleys, passing through densely populated areas dotted with olive groves and vineyards, as soon as you crossed to the other side it turned into a series of rocky slopes and mountains, linked together or separated by deep ravines, giving the landscape the appearance of a catastrophe. The main butt of this criticism was, not unjustly, the post house of Radicofani, a place regarded as “awful” by the majority of visitors.

Continual improvements

The state of the roads and the size of the network were destined to improve, moreover, as the ruling house had made this a plank of its policy. Following the peace of Aachen in 1748, in fact, and the strengthening of the Austrian presence in Northern Italy, it became necessary to create a fast and safe road linking the grand duchy with Milan and the Habsburg empire. The decision was taken to transform the old mule tracks that crossed the Tusco-Emilian Apennines at several points into roads capable of meeting the demands of the new traffic, and in 1776 the new route was opened. Laid out by the engineer Leonardo Ximenes, it led from Pistoia to the Abetone and then joined up with the Emilian section built by the Modenese engineer Pietro Giardini (Tongiorgi, 1992).

The qualities of the Italian road system

On the other hand the Italian road system as a whole was considered excellent (it appears that German roads, in the 18th century, were the ones most feared on the European tour). At the end of that century Charles Thompson, a traveler with great experience of the world as he had made journeys outside Europe in addition to the Grand Tour, spoke authoritatively of the esteem that the Italians had earned in Europe in this sector (Brilli, 2004).


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