The Casentino area separates the Province of Florence from that of Arezzo. This valley is characterized by its views of the high peaks of Falterana (source of the Arno river). Nature-lovers will readily appreciate its lush vegetation including beech, pine and chestnut. Soul searchers will be particularly drawn to the three-faced peak, Mount Verna. This massive forest-covered mount is where Saint Francis of Assisi went for his spiritual retreats. It was precisely on Mount Verna that the saint received his stigmata during the summer of 1224. The Great Sanctuary built at the peak was given to Saint Francis by a feudal count who hoped the gesture would earn him redemption. Other places of spiritual interest are located throughout the Casentino area; Camaldoli, for example, hosts the Monastery of San Romualdo—home to the Camaldoli monks. The area’s hermitage, located in the heart of the forest, consists of twenty evenly-lined cells and a small vegetable garden. The monasteries of Bibbiena and Vallombrosa are located in the valley of the same name.
Situated on the right bank of the Arno river, the municipality of Capolona encompasses a close formation of hills that make up the southern spurs of the Pratomagno.
Almost on the riverbank is the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena a Sietina, the most important historical and artistic feature in the area, built along an old Roman road in the early 11th century. The church features a nave and two aisles terminated by three apses. The interior walls are covered with excellent Gothic and Renaissance frescoes. From the village of Pieve San Giovanni, the eye roams from the crest of the Alpe di Catenaia to the hills of the Chianti. At the centre of the village stands the old parish church, which houses a superb 14th-century crucifix.
The old part of Bibbiena, a medieval fortress, is set at the top of a hill surmounted by theTorre Tarlati. A noteworthy monument is the 16th-century Palazzo Dovizi, named after the renowned family to which Cardinal Bernardo, called il Bibbiena (1470-1520) belonged. He was secretary to Pope Leo X, diplomat, and author of the play “La Calandria,” which explored Renaissance society. It is also worth visiting the 15th-century Church of San Lorenzo, which contains two lovely terracotta works, a “Deposition” and an “Adoration” by Andrea della Robbia; the Oratory of San Francesco, a jewel of Tuscan Rococo; and finally, the Church of Santi Ippolito and Donato. Built in the early 12th century, along with other valuable works, this church preserves a superb 13th-century wooden sculpture depicting a “Madonna and Child” by Ligozzi, a masterly triptych by Bicci di Lorenzo, an “Annunciation” by Balducci, and a very rare panel painting by Cola di Camerino.
Chiusi della verna
It is situated between the valley of the river Arno and the river Tereve, in a strategic position between Casentino and Valtiberina.
The wide rocky outcrop rises up high from the hillside , which makes the Sanctuary of San Francesco alla Verna visible from all the surrounding countryside. This evocative site is one of the most famous for followers of San Francesco. The surrounding silvery beech forest only adds to the sanctuary’s allure.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta visitors will find works of art by Andrea della Robbia, such as the ‘Annunciazione’ and the ‘Incarnazione’, both highly sacred works.
For those devoted to San Francesco there are several things that mustn’t be missed, such as the Sasso Spicco where the saint used to prey. There is also the Corridor and Chapel delle Stimmate (of the Stigmata), the place where, in 1224, the saint received the ‘last seal’ from Christ.
The ancient medieval village of Poppi is one of the best-preserved examples of “walled city”, surmounted by the majestic castle of the Guidi Counts: also in excellent condition even today.
In the XII century the name of Poppi started to appear in documents. The most important one is from 1191, an Imperial act with which Henry IV confirmed dominion of the Guidi Counts over a series of territories and castles between Tuscany and Romagna, including that of Poppi. For three centuries the Guidi family exercised undisputed dominion over Poppi and her population, finishing important fortification works such as the town walls, completed in 1261, and the stronghold.
The powerful Guidi’s submission of Poppi to the Guelph Florentine Republic dates back to 1266. Before the end of the century Poppi enters Italian history due to the battle of Campaldino, fought just a few kilometres from the village. This was the 11th June 1289 and its outcome determined the beginning of the definitive supremacy of Florence over Arezzo on one side and the major force of the Guephs over the Ghibellines on the other. The passing of Poppi to Florence was however consolidated only in 1440, after the other decisive Florentine victory at Anghiari.
So Poppi became the seat of a Vicariate that administered justice of the entire Casentino area. Fully part of the Grand Duchy state founded by the Medici family and maintained by the Asburgo-Lorena, Poppi finally lived centuries of peace and development, during which the economical traditions of woodland and pasture were joined by artisan wool and wood work, also linked to the activity of “strolling sellers” of utensils and other furnishings.
Another important village is Soci, where, in addition to the “panno casentino” (woollen cloth) with its characteristic green and orange colours, high-quality carded and combed wools have been produced for over a century. On the outskirts of the village, there is a 17th-century villa called the Mausolea that was formerly the guest-rooms and hospice of the Camaldolensian monks.
Eremo di Camaldoli
Camaldoli, a place of high spirituality, is absorbed in the beautiful nature of the National Park of the Forests of the Casentino in Tuscany. Camaldoli, its Holy Hermitage, its Monastery are also places with an ancient history and places of art.
The actual Hermitage of Camaldoli was founded in 1012 by San Romualdo, a Benedictine monk.
At the hermitage of Camaldoli, you have to visit the Cell of San Romualdo and the Church with its two characteristic bell towers on the façade. The inside of this, in Baroque style, is embellished by beautiful works of art (see photo). The whole environment of the hermitage is very suggesting, in particular the area of the cells, closed to the public, but easy to see.
Downstream you find the Monastery of Camaldoli. Here you have to see the inside cloisters, particularly that one of Maldolo, the ancient pharmacy and the Church devoted to the Saints Donato and Ilariano. Its inside is in Baroque style and seven sixteenth-century tables of the great painter of Arezzo George Vasari are here preserved.
Inside the town of Stia, whose origins date back to the Roman age, we can admire the Porciano Castle, the Church of St. Mary delle Grazie and the Florentine Palagio.
Apart from its Roman origins, shown also by its very name “Stia”, a Latin term that indicated the nearby Staggia stream, the oldest mentions in reference to the village are from 1053. It is information regarding the parish of St. Mary “de Staia”, noted in a register of the Camaldolite monks. In 1093, a “casale di Stia” is also mentioned. In the Middle Ages, the village was developed as a commercial centre of the Porciano county, under the jurisdiction of the Counts Guidi di Palagio.
Near to the hilltop is Stia Vecchia and an urban conglomeration is developed lower on the plains, near the market. In 1230, the Guidi family built the “palagio”, the luxurious residence from which they gained their nickname. Their authority over the territory of Stia lasted until the beginning of the 14th century. Then, in 1402, the village was conquered by the Florentine Republic, struggling against the Ghibelline aristocratic families of the Arezzo area.
In modern times, the council has seen a considerable economic development, linked to the wool industry. In particular, it was the birth of the “Casentine Cloth”, actually in Stia, that ensured its success. At the beginning of the 20th century, a good 500 inhabitants were employed by the Stia Wool Factory. Its closure inevitably depopulated the centre, that today enjoys a new economic resour
The Valdarno is the valley through which the river Arno flows, one of the most typical Tuscan Landscapes , between Arezzo, Florence and Siena. It borders on the Chianti hills to the west and the Pratomagno mountains to the east. It was completely sudmersed by a Pliocene lake, then traversed by old roads, (the Clodia and the Cassia Vetus) which connected Etruscan and Roman towns, later conquered by the Florentine Republic which built a series of walled towns such as San Giovanni Valdarno, Terranuova , Castelfranco. These towns were built according to plans attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio.
To the east of the Arno river art and landscape characterize the ancient meandering of the Setteponti road. Bordering on this area between terraced olive groves and iris fiels is Castelfranco di Sopra, one of the the Florentine “new Towns” Futher along the Setteponti we find ourselves in the world of the Balze (Crags), a protected landscape of particular geological interested, which is unique of its kind in Italy, interspersed with villas, farms and small towns and villages: Montemarciano, Poggitazzi, Persignano, Piantravigne.
In the 16th century, Leonardo da Vinci undertook this journey along the Pratomagno to study the course of the Arno, and the famous balze appeared to the artist like “deep ridges carved If you’re looking for a special landscape, something evocative enough to have inspired Leonardo da Vinci, then you ought to pay a visit to the rocky outcrops, or ‘balze’, of Valdarno. The whole Valdarno area is full of these pinnacles and rocky spires which have more in common with Bryce Canyon in Utah, US, than they do with the rest of Tuscany. As in Bryce Canyon, these balze were formed by the sediments deposited by a lake in the Pliocene and Pleistocene ages. The lake was around 20km long and covered the whole area over 2 million years ago. As the lake was formed, the water, along with the sun and the wind, eroded the mountains. When the lake began to disappear after several millennia, atmospheric elements reacted with the sediments left behind to form the rocky shapes that are visible today. The colour of these balze can be anything from blue-grey to amber, which contrasts beautifully with the surrounding landscape of oak woods and farmland. It’s easy to see how Leonardo was so fascinated by this captivating landscape. So fascinated in fact that he painted the balze in the background of the famous Gioconda. This truly is an area to lose yourself in the sights and sounds of nature.
Loro Ciuffenna is the gateway to the mountains: the Pratomagno is covered with vineyards and olive groves at its base, as you go further up by great oaks, chestnuts and lastly by beeches right at the top. The Setteponti road takes us on towards the old Roman parish church of Gropina, a simple and austere Romanesque monument near Loro Ciuffenna . We arrive at Ponte Buriano where the nature reserve and the Romanesque bridge, which spans over the river most probably the background of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.