Ancient Luni: Romans & Marble in Liguria

A Story of Bishops, a Fertile Valley, the Silting of a Harbor & Pirates

Luni (sometimes called Luna) lies on a fertile, inland plain ringed with mountains near the mouth of the Magra river. Luni, or ancient Lunae, was once a sea port from which ancient Romans sent blocks of marble for processing all over the Mediterranean. Then it happened. The inevitable, an oft told tale among archaeologists: the harbor silted up and the glimmering marble city eventually fell prey to pirates. 

Luni is near the Tuscany-Liguria border and became a Roman colony in 177 B.C. Besides sending marble to be carved or processed, the valley produced wine, cheese and olive oil. It still does; one of our favorite wineries is close by and named after the ancient city: Cantine Lunae.

In the 5th century, Luni was chosen as the seat of a Diocese, giving rise to the Bishops of Luni, who controlled the territory. That lasted until 1204, when the bishops’ headquarters were moved to Sarzana and the decline (and looting) of Luni began, its population spreading into the historical territory we now know as the Lunigiana.

ancient luni
Ancient Luni Ruins Landscape

Luni Amphitheater

Luni's amphitheater is on the outskirts of the old city, an easy walk from the main site or you can drive there and park in the lot provided. It's really the jewel of the site, but much above the current level of the earth was plundered or reused, so the best view is from above.

Built in the second century, the amphitheater held 7000 people. Its dimentions are 70.2 meters by 88.5 meters

Currently the amphitheater is used for some events, requiring the use of chairs because the seating areas aren't part of the ruins. There is a separate entrance charge for entering: 1 euro at time of writing. The views of the mountainside villages make a visit worthwhile. 

ancient luni amphitheater
Luni Amphitheater by Roccella~frwiki, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other main attractions as you stroll the ruins of Luni are the Great Temple, one of Luni’s most ancient sights, and the Forum.

At various places on a self-guided tour you'll come across ancient fresco and mosaic fragments.

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Ancient Luni Mosaic: Oceanus, giving birth to dolphins from his seaweed beard.

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Ancient Luni Fresco Fragment

Colle de Luni Wine

When you're visiting Luni, you'll have a great opportunity to taste its best wines. 

La Baia del Sole FEDERICI produces a great Vermentino, according to a friend. This is confirmed by the Grand Gold Medal with a score of 96/100 the Vermentino garnered at the Vermentino National Competition that took place in Sardinia in the commune of Quartu Sant'Elena recently. They have a sign as you enter the archaeological site of Luni.

Lunae produces a great many wines that reflect the flavors of this part of Liguria. The winery was winery of the year in 2020, and you can visit them at Via Palvotrisia, 2, 19030 Castelnuovo Magra SP, Italy, just north of Luni.

Where to Eat in Ancient Luni

There are a couple of restaurants you can reach while you tour the site. We had a fine meal at La Baracchetta di Luni. It's famous for its fried frogs and eel, but if you're a finicky eater you don't have to have them, if course; there are plenty of other menu options, mostly traditional regional food. 

The other restuarant is the more formal Chioccia d'oro. Both are near the amphitheater.

There are many fine restaurants in Sarzana, to the north of the Luni ruins. It's also a good place to stay to visit all the area offers. Find a hotel or apartment in Sarzana.

Getting to Luni

Luni is a roadside attraction. You can easily visit it by taking the A12 Autostrada that runs between Genoa and Livorno. An effort has been made to create a pull-off parking lot and bridge that allows you to walk to the site from either side of the road. Alas, the "the southbound parking lot will be closed from Monday, February 20, 2023 to Friday, June 23, 2023" according to the official website. 

Follow the "Ancient City of Luni" tourist signs. The parking lot for the museum is located on Via Falaschi.

Address and Contacts:
Via Appia 9 19034 Luni (SP)
T +39 0187 66811

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