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STRADA DELL'OLIO E DEL VINO DEL MONTALBANO - LE COLLINE DI LEONARDO

"Renaissance and Baroque periods" - Aristocratic architecture and art


The appearance of the Montalbano countryside today is a direct consequence of a specific date: 1470. It was around that year that Lorenzo de? Medici began to purchase land in Montalbano. His scope was probably land investment (and therefore investment in the agricultural economy) of an area which, until then, had not been rationally used in terms of agricultural production. Montalbano, the way Lorenzo must have seen it, was mostly covered by forests, especially in the hill and mountainous area; it was washed by rivers and torrents and, in the Padule area, by marshlands. The first purchases by the Medici took place in the area of Carmignano and Tizzana. Gradually, over time, their purchases extended to the entire Montalbano area. As regards the methods by which this process took place, we can plausibly consider Montalbano as a ?symbolic? area of a systematic operation, similar to a huge laboratory in which a non random project was applied. Above all the Medici, but also the Popes and the most important noble families of central Italy, were responsible for architectural construction and landscaping. And so, in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, a trip through Montalbano is a journey through this project, which includes the art, the economy and the society of that period. A project which, today, continues to influence the organisation of these sectors. The Renaissance and Baroque periods in Montalbano also translate into significant sacred monuments, frescoes and devotional furnishings, a sign of the population?s great sense of religiosity throughout history.

THE 50 VILLAS OF MONTALBANO

From the southernmost part up to Serravalle, Montalbano is a landscape of Renaissance villas. A summary calculation indicates the presence of more than 50 villas, scattered over a territory of just 9 cities (Vinci, Capraia e Limite, Cerreto Guidi, Larciano, Monsummano Terme, Serravalle Pistoiese, Quarrata, Lamporecchio and Carmignano), which also constitute the Montalbano area. In addition to the villas, there are numerous Palazzos and farms which, in terms of design and function, have the look of residential buildings. Nowhere is the original meaning of ?Villa? ? in the sense of a microcosm of agricultural activities supervised by a Court, so evident as it is in Montalbano. Following is a list of the most significant testimonies to the Villas and Palazzos of Montalbano Lamporecchio: Villa Rospigliosi Papiano: Villa Torrigiani Limite: Villa Bibbiani Cerreto Guidi: Medicean Villa Bassa: Villa La Motta, Villa di Colle Alberti Gavena: Villa Mori Stabbia: Palazzo di Stabbia Artimino (Carmignano): Villa Medicea ?La Ferdinanda? Vinci: Villa Martelli, Villa del Ferrale, Villa Calappiano, Villa Dianella Serravalle Pistoiese: Villa Costa Righini o Il Cassero, Villa De Rossi, Villa di Lanciole, Villa Montegattoli Vinacciano: Palazzo Cancellieri Quarrata: Villa La Magia Monsummano Terme: Villa Renatico Martini, Fattoria delle Case Montevettolini: Medicean Villa Castelmartini (Larciano): Villa Poggi Banchieri At the centre of Montalbano, precisely in Spicchio di Lamporecchio, rises one of the villas of greatest visual and functional impact: Villa Rospigliosi. The Rospigliosi family, originally from Milan, appears in documents of the XIII century as the owner of land in this area of Tuscany. Giulio Rospigliosi, Pope from 1667 to 1669 with the name Clemente IX, had the Villa built. It appears that the project was commissioned to Bernini, although it was then carried out by one of his pupils, Mattia de? Rossi. The construction of the Villa was completed after the death of Clemente IX, in 1675. It is currently privately owned, but hosts conventions, events and banquets. The body of the building is composed of three parallelepipeds on an ?H? plan. The two main entrances, in Berninian style, open on to a raised floor, at the front and at the back. They are surmounted by the coats of arms of the Rospigliosi family, which bear the papal insignia. The exterior is linear, in accordance with the widespread Tuscan style of that period. The Tuscan influence is also evident in the contrast between grey stone and plasterwork. There are four floors: basement, ground floor or raised floor which corresponds to the main floor, mezzanine and first floor. The most striking room is the main salon, with decorations by Ludovico Gimignani (XVII century). The frescoes and the decorations include ?Aurora e Apollo sul carro del sole? (Apollo and Aurora on the Sun Chariot) at the centre of the ceiling, the allegories of the signs of the zodiac in the pendentives and faux architectural walls. The other rooms on the raised floor are decorated with depictions of minor importance. The Villa complex includes the family chapel dedicated to Saints Simone and Giuda, completed in 1679 on a plan by Mattia de? Rossi and cupola frescoed by Alessandro Gherardini (late XVII century). The villa is surrounded by a large park, divided into an upper portion (?I Giardinetti? The Gardens) and a lower portion (?Il Chiuso? The Chase), formerly used as a hunting reserve up to the IX century. In the park we find holm oak, cypress, oak and downy oak, cluster pines, turkey oak and national pine, some as tall as 30 metres with a diameter of 70 centimetres. A Holm oak lined road leads to the Villa. Not far from Lamporecchio is Papiano, where we find Villa Torgiani, built in the XVI century. It was reworked and reconstructed in Neo-renaissance style during the XIX century. It is also called ?Villa dell?Americana? (The American Lady?s Villa), in reference to its owner, Laura Jonne Merrick. Villa Martelli rises in the centre of Vinci; it was rebuilt in the 1920s by the architect Adolfo Copped? under commission by the Hon. Alessandro Martelli (private property). The villa is located on the roadway of the Borgo Nuovo area and can by reached by following a cypress lined lane. The architectural style used can be defined as eclectic ? revivalistic, with a majestic tower in brick, and three semicorpi. The central part of the Villa is elevated by a covered loggia resting on columns, with balconies characterised by wood brackets and repeated decorative motifs. Also in Vinci, in the direction of Anchiano, where Leonardo?s house is, we find Villa del Ferrale. The building already existed at the time of Leonardo, and hosted Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1867, as commemorated by an epigraph on the fa?ade. Five kilometres from Vinci, on the Campocollese hill, we find Villa Dianella, surrounded by a century old park of fir, horse chestnut, Holm oak and cypress trees. The date of the first construction is uncertain, because in reality it is composed of several buildings grouped together. It was owned by the Medicis; in this Villa, the poet Renato Fucini (1843 - 1921) composed ?Le Veglie di Neri?, he lived here and was buried here in the family chapel. In the same chapel, a Roman funeral stone is visible, with inscriptions and decorations of vine shoots, grapes and scenes from the Aesop?s fable ?The Fox and the Stork?. Continuing southwest from Vinci, not far from the provincial road to Fucecchio, we find the numerous farms and Villas of Cerreto Guidi. The original toponym (Cerreto in Creti or Greti) is testimony to the alluvial soil transported by the Arno. The current name derives from the Conti Guidi, large landowners in the area. The town conserves a variety of ancient monuments, including the Church of Santa Liberata (built in 1336 and expanded starting in 1655), inside Giottesque frescoes by Bernardino di Civiglio), the parish church of San Leonardo, built in the XI century, with bell tower built from one of the towers of the Guidi fort. Inside there are various works of art from the XVI and XVII centuries, among which the table ?Santi Giacomo e Sebastiano in adorazione della Trinit?? (Saints James and Sebastian in adoration of the Trinity) attributed to Sebastiano Vini (1571); the baptismal font in glazed polychrome terracotta with episodes from the life of San Giovanni, attributed to Giovanni della Robbia (dated 1511). In Cerreto we find the Medicean Villa. Its construction has been documented between 1564 and 1568, on commission of Cosimo I. The Villa was the centre for coordinating the various farms owned by the Medici family in this area and was also used as a lodge during hunts for the pheasant, wild board and deer which populated the surrounding countryside. In building the Villa, part of the old fort walls were knocked down and replaced by Medicean ramps. The Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo di Loreno allowed the population to use the Stalloni (large stalls) under the ramps for a covered market (1780). The ownership of the Villa passed through several hands in the nest two centuries: from Antonio Tonini from Pescia to the Maggi family of Livorno (who built the carriageable Villa road and ordered the internal Neoclassic decorations), from the Geddes of Filicaia to Galliano Boldrinio. In 1966 it was donated by Boldrinio to the State. It has been open to the public since 1978. Today the Villa houses the Museo Storico della Caccia e del Territory (The Historical Museum of the Hunt and the Territory) and an important collection of paintings and objets d?art, mostly from the collections of the antiquary Stefano Bardini. Outside the villa there is an Italian garden, small but of particular visual and picturesque impact. Also in the vicinity of Cerreto Guidi, to the west of the town, is the village of Stabbia, a place particularly suited to grazing lands but also fortified, as noted by Emperor Federico II in a document dated 1244. No trace is left of the small fort. The Medici family built a farm here and constructed a furnace and a Palazzo, where Cosimo I lived in the years prior to the edification of the Villa di Cerreto. Although reconstructed, the Palazzo still exists. The Church of Santi Pietro e Paolo, which rises here, dates back to 1783, and was built by commission of the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo. Going back up to Larciano, it is possible to visit the Church of San Rocco, from the end of the XVI century. In 1631, the original Church (dedicated to the Beata Vergine) was rebuilt and dedicated to San Rocco (St. Rocco), in thanks after the end of the plague. From the XVII century period, the Church conserves an alter in grey sandstone (1641). In the XIX century reconstruction the church was transformed into the current Latin cross plan. In Larciano we find the Oratory of the Compagnia del Santissimo Sacramento, where the painting ?L?Ultima cena? (The Last Supper) dated 1699, the work of an anonymous artist, can be admired. Sacred works of particular importance, realised between the XV and XVI century, are conserved in the Church of San Niccol? in Cecina. The very Romaneque altar of the Church, in its original form, is engraved with the date 1632. Inside, of importance we find the fresco with ?S. Lorenzo, l?Arcangelo, l?Arcangelo Raffaele e Tobiolo, S. Sigismondo and S. Rocco? (?St. Laurence, the Archangel, the Archangel Raphael and Tobiolo, St. Sigismund and St. Rocco?), by an anonymous artist (the attribution to Donnino di Domenico is quite plausible), which can be dated to the XV century, and the painting depicting ?La Madonna in trono? (?The Throned Madonna?), from the first half of the XVI century. There is a fresco dedicated to San Nicola in the vault of the altar, dating to the end of the XVI century. Moving to the north and following the provincial road to Monsummano, we reach Castelmartini, where we find Villa Poggi Banchieri, with its large park (private property). The original building, formerly property of the Panciatichi family, the Ammannati family and the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, was rebuilt in the course of the IX century. It is composed of a single rectangular body, with annexed farm buildings. It is at the centre of a large park, crossed by geometric paths. The Church of San Donnino is in the town and was formerly a chapel in the Poggi Banchieri hunting reserve; it was elevated to parish church in 1782. It conserves the eighteenth century painting ?San Giuseppe tra i Santi Antonio Abate e Donnino? (St. Joseph in the midst of Saints Anthony Abate and Donnino), an eighteenth-nineteenth century crucifix and wood choir from 1877. Travelling northeast from Larciano towards Monsummano, we come to Montevettolini, where we suggest a visit to the Oratory of the Madonna della Neve (The Madonna of the Snow) (XV ? XVI century), the Church of San Michele (already existing in the XIII century, large part of which was rebuilt in the VIII century; frescoes and paintings from the XV and XVI centuries) and the Medicean Villa. The construction of the Villa dates back to 1597 and was built on the plans of the same architect who received the commission to build the Sanctuary of S. Maria della Fonte Nuova in Monsummano. This was a stopping place during the hunting trips in Ferdinando I de? Medici?s Barco and became the point of reference for the coordination of the reclamation works ordered by the Medici family in the Valdinievole. The Villa has an irregular plan, being built on the foundations of the ancient fort. It was sold in 1650 by the Grand Dukes and passed to the Bartolomei and Borghese families. It is surrounded by a huge park, with shrubs and long-trunked trees. Also in Montevettolini, we find the Palazzo Bargellini, from the beginning of the XVII century, property of the Borghese family, and Palazzo Mimbelli from the end of the XVI century, as well as the seventeenth century Palazzo Baldini, overlooking Piazza San Bartolomeo; on the fa?ade is the characteristic coat of arms with a rampant goat, symbol of the first owners. In Monsummano Alto, we recommend a visit inside the Church of San Niccolao (XII century, with XIII century bell tower), which conserves seventeenth and eighteenth century paintings. But, it is in Monsummano Basso that the Renaissance and Baroque devotion in Montalbano finds its maximum expression in the Basilica-Sanctuary of S. Maria della Fonte Nuova. Legend holds that two miracles occurred in this place: the appearance of the Virgin to the shepherdess Jacopina Mariotti, June 9, 1573, and the sudden springing of a fountainhead on July 7, 1601. Thanks to the fame of the first miracle (legend holds that the Virgin appeared to the shepherdess who, having lost her flock, was kneeling in front of a Marian tabernacle praying for help in finding it), an oratory, the destination of pilgrimages, was built in the span of a few years. The second miracle took place during a drought and increased the number of the faithful. The construction of the Sanctuary was commissioned by the Grand Dukes of Tuscany to the architect Gherardo Mechini and to the master-builder Domenico Marcacci. The basilica was completed in 1616. The outside portico of the Sanctuary has a semicircle of arches and 14 lunettes with frescoes by Giovanni da San Giovanni depicting the miracles and history of the place. The bell tower is from 1650. The interior has a single nave, crossed by a transept, embellished by several seventeenth century paintings. Next to the Sanctuary, are the seventeenth century Oratory of San Carlo and the Osteria dei Pellegrini (The Pilgrims? Inn) (1616). In the surroundings of Monsummano, we find Villa Renatico-Martini. According to tradition, the building already existed at the time the Sanctuary was constructed, at the beginning of the Seventeenth century. The Grand Duke, who had come to Monsummano when the work on the Basilica began, lived there. In any case, the current structure dates to the nineteenth century and was commissioned by writer and politician Ferdinando Martini. The Villa is owned by the city and houses the museum. It is composed of a compact, two story block, with entry stairway and a double row of windows. The interior is embellished by coffered ceiling painted and decorated with tondos in polychrome ceramic. Continuing north, to Serravalle Pistoiese, we find the Palazzo del Podest?. Built in the sixteenth century by Cosimo I De? Medici, it originally included the Palazzo Pretorio, the prisons and the residence of the Podest?. From Serravalle, following the road to Pistoia and turning to the right towards Collina, we reach Vinacciano, where we find Palazzo Cancellieri (XVI century, adorned with towers) and also the Parish church of Saints Marcello and Lucia, rebuilt in the XVII century, but with much older origins. Inside there are various works, including the painting ?Madonna in trono con Bambino e Santi Batolomeo e Marcello Papa? (Throned Madonna with Child and Saints Bartolomeo and Pope Marcello), probably work of the fifteenth century artist Leonardo Malatesta. Returning to the road for Quarrata, a visit to Villa Costa Righini or ?Il Cassero? in Cantagrillo is a must. Built in the first decades of the XVIII century on a plan by architect Piero Antonio Tosi of Pistoia by commission of senator Coriolano Montemagni. Its popular name, ?Cassero?, is derived from ?castrum?, in reference to the castle which once occupied this spot. The layout of the villa is a parallelepiped on three floors, with particularly simple lines. Instead, the interior has numerous, important frescoes, including the decorations of the Billiard Room, work of Paolo dell?Era (1871), representing allegories of the game of cards. The private chapel, in the garden behind the Villa, dates to 1729. In front of the Villa there is a rotunda with an Italian garden and centre fountain. Finally, we reach Quarrata and the Villa La Magia. According to legend, the name of the Villa, the toponym of which already existed in the XIII century, dates back to a ?monna Magia? (Lady Magic), who also gave the name to a hamlet of Pistoia. However, the etymological construction remains uncertain, leaving open the possibility that it may be a noble patronym. In the Middle Ages, on this spot there was a castle that was successively transformed into a residence. In 1530, Gualtieri Panciatichi hosted Emperor Carlo V and Alessandro de? Medici here during a hunt. The Villa was then purchased, at the end of the XVI century, by Francesco I de? Medici, who had it rebuilt by Bernardo Buontalenti, the court architect. The Barco Reale, the ring-wall, with a perimeter of about 50km and built around the hunting reserve by the Medici family in 1626, passed through this spot. Built on two stories with a square foundation, it conserves a thirteenth century dovecote tower and has an Italian garden. And we reach Carmignano, with its numerous villas, scattered throughout the neighbouring areas. First and foremost, in Artimino, Villa La Ferdinanda, built by Ferdinando I de? Medici (1551 ? 1609). It faces Artimino and is called ?la Villa dei 100 camini? (The Villa with 100 chimneys) for its numerous smokestacks. Its spectacular magnificence is justified by the fact that it was the Medicean hunting residence inside the ?bandita? (game reserve). The illustrious author of the this Villa was the Florentine, Bernardo Buontalenti. The Grand Dukes owned it until 1782, when it was sold to the Marquis Lorenzo Bartolomei. The successive owners, the Maraini family, had extensive restoration work done in the first decades of the twentieth century. It has a rectangular foundation, with two sloping corner bastions and a front fa?ade with a Doric column loggia, surmounted by the bust of Ferdinando I. The Villa is accessed by a double ramp of stairs, built in 1911. The internal rooms are each named for their function or for a decorative peculiarity. In any case, the interior is very linear and simple, according to the Tuscan style. There are a number of frescoes inside and various stuccos, coats of arms and festoons in the loggia. Inside the Villa we find the chapel with frescoes and paintings (public property). In the area of Carmignano, in Poggio alla Malva, we find the Church of Santo Stefano, XVII century. The frescoes of the earlier Church (XI century) are detached and positioned on tables placed inside the building. On the left altar, we find the ?Madonna con Bambino e Santi? (Mother with Child and Saints) by Neri di Bicci (1419 ? 1491). In Capraia, the Parish Church of Santo Stefano (XVII century) merits a visit, while in Limite we suggest a visit to Church of S. Maria (mentioned for the first time in the XII century, radically restructured in the XVIII century; inside, in the apse, ?Annunciazione fra i Santi Francesco e Antonio? (Annunciation in the midst of Saints Francesco and Antonio), XVI ? XVII century, and ?Madonna del Rosario e Santi? (Madonna of the Rosary and Saints, 1631), The Oratory of the Santa Trinit? (1578; Baroque refurbishiments), the Abbey of San Martino in campo (medieval origins, transformed in the XVII and XVIII centuries; bell tower, 1681). In Limite we find Villa Bibbiani. The complex with the Estate, the Villa and the Bibbiani Park separates the residential areas of Limite sull?Arno and Capraia Fiorentina, extending from the bank of the river to the slopes of Montalbano. The total area of approximately 410 hectares includes 270 of coppice-wood, 20 of vineyards and 45 of specialised olive grove, 20 of arable land and 30 of specialised arboreous plants (poplar, walnut, cherry). The historic Villa Bibbiani is at the centre of the estate, in the heart of a monumental 20 hectare park created between 1815 and 1830 by Cosimo Ridolfi; the smaller part of the park is an Italian Garden, and the larger part is an English park, replete with highly valuable arboreous specimens. The Villa and Park have been declared monuments by the Ministry of Cultural and Environmental Heritage; they are part of the Association of Historical Italian Residences. Of particular interest, the eighteenth century theatre in the villa, the medieval ?ice house?, the Arch of Man and the arboretum of exotic conifers, which carry on the Ridolfian tradition. A Lombard Court in the VIII century, property of the Benedictine?s until the XIV century, property of the Frescobaldi family until the XVIII century, Bibbiani was given to Pietro Ridolfi as a dowry by Anastasia Frescobaldi, who raised her son Cosimo at Bibbiani, giving him a love for nature and agriculture, which will be several of the fundamental impulses of this great Florentine. In the XX century, following a brief ownership by the Franchetti family, in the 1930s Bibbiani became the propoerty of the Del Gratta family, who undertook the repair and reclamation of the villa and the park, damaged during the war, the reconstruction and extension of the vineyards and olive groves, including ultra-modern wine cellar facilities. With its wine and oil, Bibbiani holds a good position on the international market with a wide selection of wines, from Chianti DOCG Poggio Vignoso, to the typical Montalbano, from pure a Sangiovese in Pulignano purity to the IGT Treggiaia and Montereggi, joined by a high quality Vin Santo and the pleasant Bianco Ambra di Bibbiani. The Park can be visited by reservation from May to September; guided tours are also possible (Tel. +39 (0)571 57338, fax +39 (0)571 979356; e?mail bibbiani@penteres.it; www.bibbianivilla.it). In addition to the splendid vegetation, the visitors can also observe several species of birds and small woodland animals, including numerous squirrels.


A PRICELESS OFFERING IN LAMPORECCHIO

In 1524, the population of Lamporecchio commissioned Giovanni Della Robbia with a work of art in thanks for the end of the plague which had racked the territory. The ?Visitazione? (Visitation) altarpiece, in glazed, polychrome terracotta is found in the Parish Church of S. Stefano, in Neo-Renaissance style built on Bernardini?s plan between 1900 and 1921 on the place of a previous XIV century Church, of which the bell tower with battlements remains. The altarpiece depicts the Virgin and S. Elizabeth at the centre, S. Sebastian, to the left and S. Rocco, to the right. The dove of the Holy Spirit and two angels. On the predella, divided into compartments, passages of the Evangel of Luke are depicted, St. Stephen, St. Peter, the Annunciation, St. Paul and St. John the Baptist. On the pillarets are depicted scenes from the Passion of Christ; above the entablature, the Redeemer between two angels. Today?s church conserves altars in grey sandstone from the previous Church, one of which shows the Rospigliosi coat of arms, and a XVII wood crucifix. The niche of the baptismal font also dates back to the older Church. In the presbytery we find various paintings from the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries.


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