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From the Etruscans to the Middle Ages - Hamlets, castles and religious architecture of the Middle Ages

Hamlets, castles and religious architecture of the Middle Ages This thematic route in the midst of reminders of the Middle Ages in the Montalbano area is rich in monuments which are witness to the intricate events that took place in the area. The imprint of the entire territory, on both the western and eastern slopes, is historically medieval. Apart from a toponymy, which can be traced to the Etruscan and Roman epoch (the toponym of Montalbano itself is said to be derived from a pre Indo-European language alba-alpa, which means ?mountain? and Lamporecchio derives from ?lama? in the sense of ?water?), the architecture consists essentially of castles and fortified hamlets, especially numerous towards the Valdinievole, and parish churches, which are instead numerous mostly on the eastern slope, towards Pistoia. As regards the prehistoric period, several specimens of chipped stones, lead us to assume the presence of hunters and fishermen in the southern area of Montalbano, while the remaining part, marshy lowlands and covered by forests on the hills, was probably not substantially inhabited. Instead, the testimony of the Etruscans is significant, most of which is concentrated in the Carmignano area. From ancient times through the Middle Ages, Montalbano has been the backdrop for the alternation of the Romans, the Longobards, Carolingians, from the Ottoman Empire up to the rebirth in the year One Thousand, and then again, it was the arena of struggles between Pistoia, Florence and Lucca, with a culmination of armed battles in the first decades of the 1300s. Only the subjugation of Pistoia to Florence (1306) brought with it a period of relative tranquillity. In an ideal and physical route, from north to south, the path of Montalbano through the Middle Ages begins from Serravalle Pistoiese, which in the Roman epoch was crossed by the Via Cassia. Here we can admire the Porta della Gabella (XIII century), the Rocca Vecchia (Old Fort) with its square tower, and the Nuova Rocca (New Fort) with a hexagonal tower (1318). The Church of San Michele dates back to the eleventh / twelfth century, with seventeenth century refurbishments, the apse holds examples of Romanesque style terracotta brackets. It conserves the fresco of the ?Miracolo di San Biagio? (The Miracle of San Biagio) by an anonymous artist dating to the first half of the 1300s, and the triptych by Bartolomeo di Andrea Bocchi from Pistoia (1438) depicting the ?Madonna in trono col Bambino, due angeli e i Santi Ippolito, Jacopo, Michele e Stefano? (Throned Madonna with Child, two angels and the Saints Ippolito, Jacopo, Michele and Stefano?). The Church of Santo Stefano is also particularly worthy of mention, documented from the second half of the 1200s, in Romanesque style. It was destroyed by fire in 1501 during the struggles between the Panciatichi and the Cancellieri, and so the interior was rebuilt in Baroque style. Also of interest, the cycle of frescoes recently discovered and recuperated in the Oratory of the Vergine Assunta, executed by artists from the Pistoia school, with Giottesque influence. The torre ?del Barbarossa? (Redbeard?s tower) is conserved in the Rocca Vecchia, it is 40 metres tall and dates back to 1177. The well-preserved Rocca Nuova was built by the citizens of Lucca on the western slope, overlooking the Valdinievole; built on a triangular plan, it has a quadrangular bastion (it is accessible and offers an enthralling view over the Valdinievole), a pentagonal bastion connected by a walkway to the hexagonal Tower, built under Castruccio Castracani, captain from Lucca. Descending along the eastern slope of Montalbano, we reach Quarrata, where we find the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, built on a Romanesque plan, but reworked in the last decades of the 1800s. After Quarrata, in Tizzana, we note the Parish church of San Bartolomeo, already existing in 1138. In Buriano, the Church of San Michele Arcangelo and the rectory show evidence of the system of the medieval walls. Continuing from north to south, we can follow medieval history starting from Monsummano Terme, where in 1331 the first Florentine Podest? took power; in the high part of Monsummano we find the vestiges of the circle of the ancient walls, a pentagonal tower (XIV century) and two medieval access gates. In the hamlet, we find the Church of San Niccolao (XII century) and the bell tower (XIII century). In Montevettolini, between Monsummano and Larciano, the towers of the castle, dating back to the XII century, continue to exist, and have been transformed into the bell tower, in the body of a Medici Villa and in a corner of the City Hall, which in turn dates back to the XII century. To be visited, the Church of San Michele Arcangelo and San Lorenzo Martire (documented in 1260), with a bell tower built from a tower. Inside, we fine several paintings from the XV ? XVI century. Not to be missed, a visit to Larciano and, in particular, to its fortified hamlet (XIII century) where a 36 metre high quadrangular tower rises, which may have been built before the fortress, constructed after 1226, year in which the descendents of Count Guido Guerra of Modigliana sold Larciano to the City State of Pistoia. At the centre of the fortress there is a cistern, which points out the potential autonomy, in terms of water, of the fortification in case of siege. The Municipal Museum, with items that go from the prehistoric age to the Renaissance, is housed in the fortress. From the Prehistoric era, the Museum exhibits include collection of stone tools found in the Larciano area (including scrapers from the Upper Paleolithc Age), objects from one of the cremation funeral tombs of Poggioni, Roman coins, cremation vases and poculum, majolica from the XIV and XV centuries, Renaissance majolica, Etruscan ceramics, fibulas as well as objects and fragments from areas other than Montalbano. Also in Larciano we find the Church of San Silvestro (1260), object of significant reworking in the centuries to follow. Not far from Larciano we find Cecina, on the road from Biccimurri. Its appearance is that of a fortified city; two of the three ancient entry gates remain. In the hamlet we find the Church of San Niccol? (XIII ? XIV cent.). However, the medieval history of Montalbano has a symbolic centre, which is also the centre of the hilly ridge: San Baronto owes its name to the pilgrim of French origin who lived here as a hermit until his death in 681. A Church was built on the place of the hermitage, already documented in the year One Thousand, part of the local Benedictine monastery. The Church, which can still be visited today, is dedicated to San Baronto and is a clear example of Romanesque architecture in bare stone, inside a single nave, Latin cross plan. Inside, on the altar, there is a wood crucifix from the XIV century. San Baronto can be reached from Lamporecchio, on the western slope of Montalbano, and from the road between Casalguidi and Quarrata, on the eastern slope of Montalbano. In Lamporecchio we suggest a visit to the Parish church of S. Stefano. The current building is of recent construction (1900 ? 1921), however it rises on a wall system dating to the XIV century (exquisite altarpiece in glazed terracotta by Giovanni della Robbia). On the other side of Lamporecchio, the western slope continues through medieval history until we reach Vinci, where we suggest a visit to the splendid Castello dei Conti Guidi, related to Matilde di Canossa and beneficiaries of numerous chivalric and noble rights, namely burial in the Cathedral of Pistoia and the naming of one of the two city gates in their honour. The castle of Vinci, built around the year One Thousand, was transferred by the Conti Guidi to the City State of Florence in the XIII century. The strategic position of the castle, positioned between Pisa, Lucca and Pistoia, made Vinci an outpost of particular interest, to the point that it first caught the attention of Castruccio Castracani (1326) and then, that of Giovann Acuto (1364-65). Originally the castle was accessible from two gates; today, as in the Middle Ages, it is dominated by the fortress. Various reworkings partly modified the structure, but did not affect its structural might and its dramatic visual impact. Today it houses the Museo Leonardiano. In the vicinity of the castle, we find the Church of Santa Croce, built on a Romanesque plan. In the surroundings, Sant?Ansano in Greti (Church of S. Giovanni Battista; conserves the Giottesque altarpiece ?Sant?Ansano e angeli?) and S. Amato (Church of S. Pietro, which was built by the precise will of Matilde di Canossa). In the direction of Padule del Fucecchio, Cerreto Guidi conserves the traces of the walls, vestiges of the city walls composed of 8 towers depicted by Leonardo in one of his drawings. Not far from Cerreto Guidi we find Bassa (Church of Santa Maria Assunta, dating back to 998) and Gavena (traces of the old Church, dating to 1260, incorporated in private homes). Moving on to the west, we suggest a visit to the medieval hamlet of Capraia, where what remains of the castle walls is incorporated into the lower part of the Church of Santo Stefano. Finally, in the southeast off-shoots of the Montalbano range, we find the medieval architecture of Carmignano: the fortress (dating back to 1125), the city walls (XIV century), with interesting crypt. In the area surrounding Carmignano we suggest visiting Seano (Medieval Church dedicated to San Pietro) and Artimino (bridge, castle, city gate, vestiges of the ancient walls and Parish church of San Leonardo and Santa Maria, which, by tradition, was built at the orders of Matilde di Canossa).


Intrigue and mystery accompany the reconstruction of Etruscan history, which has also left important traces on Montalbano. The area of Carmignano, more than any other offers the possibility of visiting and learning about Montalbano?s Etruscan history; this area was the site of a village in the VII century BC. In the municipal territory of Carmignano, in Artimino, there is an Archaeological Museum in the Medici Villa ?La Fernanda?, where the most important finds are exhibited. These finds come from Montereggi and primarily from Comeana, where several excavations conducted in the 1960s a necropolis brought to light. Two tombs were discovered in the Montefortini tumulus, one circular and the other rectangular. Not far from the Montefortini tumulus, the Etruscan tomb of the Boschetti was found. It contained arms and horse bits - reason for which it is also referred to as the ?tomba del guerriero? (the warrior?s tomb) - and women?s jewellery.
All of this leads us to believe that it was the tomb of a man and his companion in life and.. in death. Other finds come from the necropolis of Prato del Rosello, where there are five tumuli from the VIII ? VII century BC. The most valuable piece conserved in the Artimino Archaeological Museum is an incensory in boccaro dating to the VII ? VI century BC: it is composed of five elements, jointed by pins and joints with an engraved trumpet support.


The defensive system of Serravalle has its foundations on two forts: the Old one, which according to tradition dates back to the Lombard era and which was reinforced in 1177, and the New one, on the western side of the town, built by the citizens of Lucca starting in 1302. The 40 metre high quadrangular tower, known as ?del Barbarossa? is found in the perimeter of the Rocca Vecchia (Old Fort), while the hexagonal tower rises in the Nuova Rocca (New Fort), which was built under Castruccio Castracani.

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