Florence is the Capital of Tuscany. It has almost half a million inhabitants and lies on the Arno River at the foot of the Appenines.
The cultural and physical impact of Florence is overwhelming, its museums, palaces and churches contain more art than probably any city in Europe. This is in large part a result of the great explosion of artistic and architectural activity that occurred during the Renaissance that Florence still embodies.
Florence is famous as the birthplace of the Renaissance. From the early 15th century onwards some of the greatest artists of all time were at work in the city. Many of their masterpieces survive here and Florence is visited every year by art connoisseurs from all over the world.
The museums of Florence form a vast and varied reality. They display art and history, ethnography and folk traditions, scientific relics and excellent examples of craftsmanship, religious images and ancient classic myths, the oldest examples of antiquities and the most modern examples of contemporanity….
The hills surrounding Florence, dotted with numerous beautiful old villas on picturesque lanes, medieval hamlets in stunning locations and tranquil villages are well preserved. Visitors have been coming here for centuries, some to sight-see and others to take up residence.
The Roman colony of Florentia on the Arno-river was founded in 59 B.C. by Julius Caesar. At that time the river was navigable from the sea up to this point, an important factor in the economic growth of the Roman town which by the 3rd century A.D. had a population of more than 10,000.
The Comune of Florence was established in the first decades of the 12th century. Florentine merchants in the cloth trade and money-lenders prospered under this government.
The political life of the 13th century was dominated by the long-drawn-out struggle between the Guelfs (who supported the Pope) and the Ghibellines (who supported the Emperor).
The letter of credit was invented by Florentine bankers to enable Florentine merchants to circulate abroad. The Florentine coin Florin was used as the standard gold coin in Europe. The Tuscan cities of Pisa, Pistoia and Siena were brought under the control of Florence after their defeat in battle.
By the beginning of the 14th century Florence was among the five largest cities in Europe with a population of about 100.000.
In 1382 an oligarchic form of government was established which was to last for forty years. Direct access to the sea was acquired when Pisa was conquered in 1406.
At the beginning of the 15th century Florence became the intellectual and artistic centre of Europe. A new concept of art and learning symbolised the birth of the Renaissance.
The ducal power of the Medici was established in 1537 at the start of the long despotic rule of Cosimo I. His active reign assured the independence of the Tuscan State from both the Emperor and Pope.
In the last decades of the 16th century numerous works of art and architecture were commissioned and the Uffizi collection was formed.
Tuscany then came under the rule of the Austrian Imperial house until 1859.
In 1860 Tuscany became part of united Italy and from 1865 to 1870 Florence was the Capital of the Italian Kingdom.
In the 20th century Florence suffered hardships during the Second World War and again in the disastrous flood of the Arno river in 1966 which damaged paintings, frescoes and books. Supported by contributions from all over the world, experts worked for years to salvage the city’s art treasures.
Panzano in Chianti
The little town with Etruscan origins is situated on the Chiantigiana road, the SR 222 between Castellina and Greve: a populated centre of Chianti which had experienced a tormented history caused by the bloody quarrels between Florence and Siena. The area enjoys climatic conditions highly compatible with human settlement and agricultural activity: excellent exposure to the sun, the shelter provided by the Chianti mountains, and the ideal altitude of between 400 and 500 m above sea level.
During the second half of the 10th century, members of Chianti`s landed aristocracy began building castles, or fortifications, from which to defend their properties. The years between the middle of the 11th century and the early decades of the 12th century saw the highest rate of construction of such fortifications, one of which was the Castle of Panzano.
The seigneurs who chose the site for construction of the castle, most probably members of the Firidolfi family, opted for the summit of the hill facing the San Leolino church (see below). Once fortified, the position provided a formidable defence.
Within a brief period of time, the castle became the focal point for population growth in the area, as well as its centre of power.
Situated at the highest point between the Greve and the Pesa River Valley, the castle undoubtedly had the role of a Firidolfi advanced-post stronghold.
During the early years of 14th century, the city of Florence reorganized the administration of its lands into autonomous jurisdictions, called “Leagues”. The Castle of Panzano fell into the “League of the Greve valley” where it played a dominant role. First, it was the most populous centre in the area. Secondly, in times of war, the commissioner of the Florentine Republic charged with overseeing the defence of the jurisdiction resided at Panzano.
Down through the centuries, in fact, Panzano was frequently to find itself embroiled in war. The recurrent controversies between Florence and the Sienese State guaranteed that Panzano, situated at the southernmost boundary of the Florentine State, stood at the centre of a “hot spot”.
During the 15th century, Chianti suffered two disastrous invasions at the hands of the Aragonese. Panzano served as the last bastion of the Florentine defence. The castle itself was not badly damaged, but the surrounding countryside was apparently laid waste.
After the fall of the Sienese Republic in 1555, defence ceased to be of the highest priority. The fortifications which had made the Castle of Panzano the most important fort of the League of the Greve Valley were gradually dismantled and converted into farm buildings.
The castle walls still stand around the entire perimeter of the fort and two of the original corner towers still stand. One serves as the bell tower for the parish church. The other, more imposing, is a private home.
The style of many architectural elements in the surviving structures leads us to date the construction of the castle in the 13th century. Among these features are: the care taken in the construction of the walls, with their regular rows of limestone and tufa; the archivolt of the entry portal and the rounded archivolts of the windows of the tower stronghold.
Later, a village grew up around the foot of the castle, and became the most visible part of the settlement.
Today as in the past, part of the area of the castle is occupied by the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo. The church was built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries on the site of a former, late-medieval church building. It contains a few works of art salvaged from the previous building.
The Church of San Leolino (Panzano in Chianti)
Coming on the SR 222 from Siena, about 1 km before Panzano a little road to the right leads to the Pieve di San Leolino of Romanesque style but with an elegant 16th century portico.
The works of art are numerous: Madonna and Child with Saints, a 13th century altar frontal attributed to the Florentine painter Meliore di Jacopo, a 14th century Madonna and Child by the “Master of Panzano”, and the wonderful triptych of the Madonna and Child with Saints painted by the Florentine Mariotto di Nardo in 1421.
An Etruscan stele discovered near the parish church of San Leolino is the most important archaeological find ever made in the area of Chianti between the Valleys of the Pesa and the Greve Rivers.
The stele demonstrates the existence of an Etruscan settlement in the area.
After the Etruscans came the Romans. Sporadic archaeological evidence of a Roman presence during the classical area exists. More revealing, however, is the linguistic evidence. The toponomy of the area bears witness to a diffuse presence of Roman settlements around Panzano.
The original church of San Leolino was presumably built at some time during the 8th or 9th century when the population of Chianti was beginning to organize into small villages or communities.
A record of the year 982 contains the earliest reference to a village called Flacciano situated at the centre of the valley between Panzano and San Leolino.
During the 11th century San Leolino was rebuilt in Romanesque style. The basic structure consists of three naves divided by six arches. The ceiling of the central nave is crossed by beams. The church is nearly devoid of decorative elements except for the simple, rounded cornice at the top of the pilasters.
A number of architectural additions were made at San Leolino during the 16th century: the façade received a coat of plaster and a portal framed in stone. A portico was built along the front of the church. An elegant campanile was added at the rear of the church. The single apse was substituted with a wide rectangular space. Other “modernizations” were made at the same period, but eliminated during the restorations of 1942-43.
The Oratory of Sant`Eufrosino – Panzano in Chianti
The cult of the Saint has been documented only from the early years of the 12th Century and it is quite plausible that this figure was associated with the conversion of Chianti to Christianity.
The basic structure of the Oratory is a simple, wide, rectangular space with a vaulted ceiling. The essential structure of the building dates back to the 15th century and during the 16th century it underwent a series of architectural modifications, i.e. a cusp-shaped stone shrine, built to display relics of the Saint.
Probably at the end of the 17th century the church was embellished again: a light portico was built along the front exterior, the internal décor was enriched by the addition of a Sienese canvas and several reliquaries of Sant`Eufrosino were brought in.
The niche where the Saint`s remains were buried, is still intact today. The spot corresponds with the right transept of the early oratory, exactly where Sant`Eufrosino`s tomb was said to lie.
Recent finds confirm the historical existence of Sant`Eufrosino and strengthen the hypothesis that he was an oriental missionary who proselytized in Chianti during the first half of the 7th century.
Not far from the Oratory, at the end of a short walk along a footpath with a view of the valley, stands a small shrine to the Saint and his curative waters. It was thought to be the spring in which the Saint once bathed and for that reason to have therapeutic powers.
The sanctuary and the tomb of Sant`Eufrosino, the chapel with its well and “miraculous” waters, together with the shrine at the spring, provide a picturesque setting.
Badia a Passignano
On the Sienese road of Sambuca, you reach the splendid Badia a Passignano with its small centre, the tower house and the church of Saint Biagio with remains of frescos dated from the 500`s. The Abbey, founded in 1049, became right away an imposing fortified monastery complex, including the church with a single nave in the form of the Latin cross of Saint Michael Archangel.
Inside are conserved frescos and important paintings, which include the frescos of the main chapel, by Domenico Cresti, nicknamed "Passignano" and the paintings of Saint Giovanni Gualberto to whom is dedicated the chapel.
The monastery is still today occupied by the Valombrosiani monk community.
Greve in Chianti
Situated on the Chiantigiana road, SR 222, about 25 km south of Florence.
The great navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano was born in the family's castle not far from Greve in Chianti, but today many of Greve's residents are involved in agriculture or wine production.
Developed as a market place at the confluence between the Via Chiantigiana and the road leading to the Upper Valdarno-area, Greve in Chianti retains the memory of that ancient function in its main square, of triangular shape formed by the three off-branching roads, with porticos where merchandise once was displayed. The funnel created by the surrounding buildings, converges towards the church of Santa Croce with its 15th century triptych of the Madonna Enthroned and Saints, attributed to the Florentine Bicci di Lorenzo. The most important religious building in the surroundings is the nearby Pieve di San Cresci (10th – 12th century) with its stunning architecture. The façade is distinguished by a portico in which opens a portal flanked by two mullioned windows, the result of an extremely rare architectonical solution.
The area surrounding Greve is well know for its beauty while the city offers the noteworthy 19th century Piazza Matteotti, the beautiful loggias and the small Piazza Santa Croce.
The Castle of Montefioralle - Greve in Chianti
The fortified hamlet with a sentinel`s round with its few houses facing it, dominates one of the hills that overlook the Greve valley. At the top of the village, beside the ancient castle, there is the church of Santo Stefano with notable works of art: a Madonna Enthroned with Child of the late 13th century Florentine school, accompanied by a 15th century gold leaf panel with The Trinity and Saints attributed to Neri di Bicci.
Castellina in Chianti
Situated on the Chiantigiana road, the SR222.
Castellina in Chianti is a small town nestled at the top of a rolling green hill that separates the Pesa and Staggia rivers. From here you have a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape and the beautiful countryside.
The fortress and observation deck date back to the Middle Ages as does the Via delle Volte, a road used originally for military purposes, from which there is a unique view of Chianti.
You can visit several Etruscan tombs and it is believed that the area around Castellina in Chianti was full of numerous settlements of this population which, even today, is considered quite mysterious
Castellina in Chianti has historic and noble origins. In the 13th century it was built on a high ridge, probably over Roman ruins. There must have been a castle with two doors and a single road which all of the houses faced. The name Castellina in Chianti dei Trebbiesi, in honor of a nearby noble family, is tied to the civil history of Florence and the religious history of Fiesole.
It was part of the Chianti League and given its position near the border with Siena it was of great strategic importance. It has a 14th-15th century character with a number of religious structures, including the parochial church of San Salvatore.
Radda in Chianti
Situated on the road SS 429 from Castellina in Chianti to Montevarchi.
The "Leghe" (leagues), were born among the population of the Florentine country folk in the early years of `300 for defensive reasons. At the head of every league was a captain or mayor named by the Florentine Signoria. He was obliged to reside in the provincial capital of the league.
Today, Radda in Chianti conserves the medieval harmonious structure of the village, but in its territory several wine factories also operate and it is the headquarters of the "Centro Studi Storici del Chianti" (Chianti Historical Studies Centre), founded in 1984 at the Fattoria Vignale.
Gathered around a little square, overlooked by Palazzo Pretorio, its façade adorned with heraldic devices, Radda in Chianti still retains its Medieval elliptical urban layout. Its chief historical memory is linked to its ancient function as administrative centre of the Chianti League, a district of the Florentine Contado made up of the municipalities of Radda, Castellina and Gaiole, established around the middle of the 13th century and existing until the 18th century. Meriting a visit in the vicinity is the architecturally interesting hamlet of Castello di Volpaia, mentioned for the first time in the second half of the 12th century.
Gaiole in Chianti
Situated on the road SS 408, from Siena to Montevarchi.
Gaiole in Chianti owes its development to its position in the valley where an important market for the local populations was centered around the year 1000.
Its name likely comes from "gaggiolo" used to indicate a large forest.
After 1300 Gaiole became important not only as a market but as a tertiary city of the League of Chianti, Florence's administrative and political instrument.
Castello di Brolio – Gaiole in Chianti
The Brolio Castle is truly spectacular, even after its neo-gothic transformation that took place in the second half of the 19th century.
The history of the Brolio Castle begins in the latter part of the 12th century. Its name is tied to the family of the Ricasoli Firidolfi who took sides with Florence against Siena. The Castle was invaded by the Sienese in 1252.
The Castle was altered and transformed over the years before the definitive 19th century version carried out by Baron Bettino Ricasoli. Today you can visit the interior, the neo-Gothic Saint Jacop's Chapel, the observation deck and the palace with its beautiful tapestries.
San Gimignano is Italy’s best preserved medieval city, famous for its medieval towers looming over the landscape.
San Gimignano's history dates back to the 10th century, and its towers date back to the 11th to 13th century. It got its name from the Holy Bishop of Modena, Saint Gimignano who eventually saved the town from the barbarian hordes. In the Middle Ages it increased its wealth and development due to a trading and pilgrim route that passed through it. Due to this prosperity there are many beautiful works of art in its churches and monasteries. In 1199 it became a free municipality. Soon after, due to internal power struggles, it divided into 2 factions.
In 1348 the Plague dramatically reduced the population, which put the city into a crises that caused it to submit to Florence in 1353. It has overcome its downfall due to its beauty and cultural importance and the rediscovery of its agricultural heritage.
An important agricultural product of San Gimignano is saffron. Its cultivation dates back to the medieval period when it was of extreme economic importance to the town, since it was used to pay debts and as an excise tax.
It is now cultivated with natural methods that forbid any use of chemicals at any stage.
The Palio in Siena
First of all Palio is not a horse race in the modern sense, but a medieval joust in which ten Contradas fight only with one intent: the final victory that means power and honor. So Palio is a Sienese festival for Sienese people where tourists are welcome, but it’s a little difficult for them to understand its deeper significance. Siena is divided into 17 contrada's, which are almost like little Republics. At the Palio only 10 can run, seven of these are those that did not run in the proceeding race and the other three are selected from the remaining 10 by a draw that takes place at least 20 days before the palio. The following are the main appointments of the palio.
Three days before the race:
The owners of the horses bring their horses for a medical check-up. The horses are put into groups and are run three times around the Piazza il Campo, to test their ability on the track. At the end of the trials the contrada captains, in the presence of the Mayor, choose the 10 horses that will run the race. After which, in front of the Palazzo Pubblico there is a draw and each contrada is assigned a horse. Each contrada then takes its horse to the stable of the contrada.
The trial runs:
There are six trial runs, which occur every morning (at about 9am) and each afternoon (at around 7:30pm). These are important to check the conditions of the horse and the jockey.
The fifth trial is called the "prova generale" (the “dress rehearsal”), at the end of this there is a huge dinner on the streets of each contrada's area of the city.
The day of the race:
At about 8am in the Chapel next to the Palazzo Comunale there is a mass for the jockeys. Immediately after the last trial is run. At about 3pm in each chapel of the 10 contrada's there is the blessing of the horses, after which there is a parade of all the horses and contrada through the city streets. This parade enters Piazza del Campo at about 5pm.
The horses make their way towards the start where they get called to line up by a draw. Nine of the horses line up and the tenth starts the race from behind them. He is the starter, he has a running start.
The jockeys will then bribe each other and try to get the enemy contrada in the worst position possible for the start of the race. If the horses are not still and in line the race cannot be started. They may be called out of line and recalled until the horses and jockeys calm down. This is decided by the 'mossiere', who calls the line-up.
The horses have to do 3 runs around the square. A horse can win even if his rider falls off and he arrives at the end alone.
The celebrations start immediately after the race. The Palio (prize) is given to the winning contrada.