The green waters of the lake Vagli in northern Tuscany shine and reflect the outline of the mountains all around. At first glance, you can’t imagine the secret it holds. On the bed of this little artificial pond, like a small Atlantis lies peacefully the submerged village of Fabbriche di Careggine.
27 years after the last time, the ruins of the sunken village will see the light again. ENEL, the Italian power company owning the site, officially announced the emptying of the dam of Vagli Lake in 2021. The exact date has not been defined yet, but probably will be during the summer. An event of great importance for the local community and the entire Italy that after the notice the excitement was already at fever pitch. At least, before COVID-19 came changing the order of priorities in our life.
The story of Fabbriche di Careggine before the submersion
The fascinating story of the sunken village underneath the Lake of Vagli in Tuscany began in 1270. A team of blacksmiths originating from Brescia in northern Italy moved to work in this mountainous area in what today is called Tuscany. They came for the iron extracted from the Apuan Alps and found the village of Fabbriche di Careggine. For more than four centuries, thanks to the flourishing ironworking industries, the town was one of the most relevant centers of the Dukedom of Modena.
During 1700, when the main commercial routes changed, ironworking lost its importance and the local economy switched to agriculture and sheep farming. In the following years, as in any small rural hamlet, life in Fabbriche was hard but still quiet and pleasant. At least until the mid-1900s when, in fact, it was turned upside down.
The birth of the artificial Lake of Vagli
The power company Selt-Valdarno, today is known as ENEL, decided to create a hydroelectric reservoir. They blocked the course of the Edron stream to build, from 1947 to 1953, a huge dam of 92 meters in height.
Exoduses are always difficult and traumatic. The 146 residents reluctantly had to leave for the last time their houses, the church, and the graves of their beloved buried in the local cemetery. A brand-new village nearby, Vagli di Sotto, was waiting for them. The history of an anonymous mountain village was changing forever.
According to Plato’s words, the Island of Atlantis disappeared in the depths of the sea in a single day and night. The end of Fabbriche di Careggine took less time. In a matter of hours, 34 million of water submerged the entire village, its thirty-one houses, the bridge with three arches, and the Romanic Church of San Teodoro.
The emptying of the lake
Today, the ruins of the submerged village come back to the surface only when ENEL decides to empty the pond due to maintenance operations to the dam. In the recent past, it happened four times: in 1958, 1974, 1983, and 1994. We can only imagine the emotions of all those “emigrants and their families” forced to leave years before when their hometown emerges from the green water of the lake.
By the time, the emptying of Vagli lake turned into a touristic attraction. The last time in 1994 the success was huge. In only 5 months, a million visitors reached the Garfagnana to admire the ruins of Fabbriche di Careggine rise again in the sky.
As previously said, we hope to have a great chance to walk around the sunken village in 2021. We personally do not know what to expect because we only saw a few pictures and listened to the words from people who were there in 1994.
“Summer of ’94 was sweltering. A long queue on the only road that leads to the lake. Like a mirage, suddenly the sunken town of Fabbriche di Careggine appears to our eyes. An extraordinary monument in solid mud in the middle of a surreal, lunar landscape. The ruins of the houses with no roof, the church, and the bell tower still stand. You could only try to imagine how life was before. Blacksmiths working the iron and shepherds bringing back home their flock of sheep. Women washing clothes along the green banks of the river. And the ringing of the bell tower at every hour, marking the passing of the time. “
Where is the sunken village of Fabbriche di Careggine
We are in Central Italy. The lake is located in the Garfagnana in the northern part of Tuscany.
Garfagnana is a wild, green area set between two mountain ranges: the Apuan Alps and the Italian Apennines. Still unspoiled, it is out of the main touristic routes and the perfect place for people who need to distress from daily routine and disconnect their minds.
How to get to Lake Vagli
The best way to get to Vagli by car. It also allows you to discover wonderful surroundings. Lucca is only 62 km (39 miles) away. Driving the road SR445 you will be by the lake in approx 1 hour and 15 minutes away.
Coming from the north, i.e. Cinque Terre, Parma, or Milan, you have to reach the town of Aulla in Lunigiana driving the A15 Autostrada Della Cisa highway. From there, take the normal road passing through the typical mountainous landscape of Tuscany.
If you are spending a few days along the coast of Tuscany, in Forte dei Marmi, Pietrasanta, or Viareggio, you need about 2 hours to reach the lake Vagli. Skip the highway and take the panoramic bending road that goes up to the top of the mountains and then descends on the other side taking you to Garfagnana.
There is also a train station called “Poggio-Careggine-Vagli”. But it is in the valley, not very close to the lake which is upon the Apuan Alps at a heigh of 563 above sea level.
The ride from Lucca lasts approx 1.15 hours. Taking a train from Aulla takes about 50minutes/1 hour. From the train station Poggio-Careggine-Vagli, you need bus E52 to reach the lake.
A daily tour to Vagli by train is doable, but I would consider the idea of spending at least a night in the surroundings of the lake. Check the timetable on the Trenitalia website before planning your trip to Vagli Lake by public transportation.
How to visit the submerged village of Vagli Lake
The surfacing event of 2021 will have huge touristic relevance. At the moment there is no information. Nothing has been organized yet. And COVID-19 emergency has probably delayed any kind of decision. We do hope the visit to the sunken village will still be possible. In the next few months, we will update this post with all information you need to know.
The Vagli lake is located in the deep Tuscan countryside surrounded by the Apuan Alps. And there is only one bending road to go. We are sure that local authorities and the government of Tuscany will work hard to prepare properly the area for the arrival of thousands of visitors. They come to admire a unique show and to bring home amazing memories of the sunken village before it goes back to its peaceful sleep under the green waters of the lake.
The surfacing of the remains of Fabbriche di Careggine is also an opportunity to discover the treasures of Garfagnana, one of the wildest areas of Tuscany still not hit by mass tourism.
Other Things to do at the Lake of Vagli
Because you can see the sunken village only when they empty the lake, which is every 20-25 years, there are other reasons why you should visit Vagli and the Garfagnana.
- Rest in the quiet nature by the lake.
- Take an adrenalin run on the Zipline of Vagli Park. Hooked to a steel cable, you have the chance to fly over the lake at an altitude of 350 meters (1150 feet) reaching a speed of 130 km/h (80 mph). The activity is designed also for people with disabilities.
- Walk across the lake over a suspension bridge. It offers a dramatic view of the valley and mountains. The bridge is open 24/7. Nearby you find also a collection of marble statues (of questionable taste in our opinion), and a small park with local animals (both domestic and wild) and native plants. For all these three attractions there is a small ticket of € 2,00 to pay at the entry turnstile. It is accessible also to people with motor disabilities.
- Challenge yourself at the Adventure Park. Test your sense of adventure with an easy Via Ferrata, a protected climbing route, and the Tibetan bridge. With its 160 meters of length (525 ft), it is the longest in Europe. There are also activities for kids in total safety.
- Explore the natural beauties of Garfagnana. Visit the lovely hamlets of Barga and Castelnuovo Garfagnana or the Verrucole fortress. Hike one of the mountain trails on the Apuan Alps or an easier path in the wilderness park of Orecchiella between beech, fir, and chestnut trees.
- Taste the traditional dishes of Garfagnana like the Spelt Soup, polenta, and the delicious Necci, a kind of crepé made with chestnut flour. Here is the Necci Recipe to prepare them at home.
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