by Gloria Chiarini

The land of the Renaissance
Empoli, Montelupo, Vinci, Cerreto Guidi
A territory with its river and artists

Right in the heart of Tuscany and only 32 kilometres from Florence, in the direction of the sea, we can find a vast area whose particular uniformity has not only influenced the environment but also many of its social and cultural aspects. Close to Florence, this area, often known as the "Land of the Renaissance", encompasses the valley around the middle reaches of the Arno and includes four towns and their districts, Empoli, Montelupo, Vinci (Leonardo's home town) and Cerreto Guidi. Guicciardini called this fertile area "the granary of Florence". Bathed by the rivers Arno and Pesa, man has chosen this valley for his settlements from times remote; this can be seen from the large number of finds dating from prehistoric times (from the Paleolithic age to the Protovillanovian culture) that have been discovered almost everywhere in this zone. Although several towns already existed on the hills in Etruscan times, the area actually acquired many of the methods of economic and administrative unity that still characterize it today during the Roman colonization of I B.C.: such traces can still be found in the division of agricultural land and the design of some of the houses.

Empoli and the Collegiate in a painting by Bicci di Lorenzo

Empoli was almost immediately to rise to a prominent position in the area and this was to continue, though to a lesser degree, right through the early Middle Ages: the increase in the population during the 11th century led to the Parish of Sant'Andrea becoming one of the main settlements in what was eventually to be the Florentine countryside. The unsettled period that ensued as a result of the decline of the Carolingian Empire eventually led to the feudal dominion of the Counts Guidi, who came from the area of Pistoia, and of the Counts Alberti di Capraia. The former took possession of Empoli and Vinci, while the Alberti family added the Castles of Pontorme and Montelupo to their estates. The Republic of Florence began to take an interest in the area during the last twenty years of the 12th century with the result that the people of Empoli pledged their loyalty to the city of the Lily in 1182. Florence destroyed and then rebuilt and enlarged the Castle of Montelupo in 1203, rebaptizing it Montelupo Fiorentino. The Counts Guidi sold Empoli, Vinci and the surrounding land to Florence in 1254, while the noble Florentine families like the Adimari, Frescobaldi and Mannelli, gradually acquired an important positions as landowners of the former feudal estates.

Montelupo, Renaissance plates in the Museum of Ceramics

The disastrous flood of 1333 demolished the castle walls of Empoli, Pontorme and Montelupo, which were then provided with new walls of defence. After this, the area was to remain firmly in the power of Florence; the only important political and military event was marked by the seige of Empoli by Spanish troups in 1530, brought about by the alliance between Charkes V and the Pope Clement VII, who had every intention of regaining the government of Florence for the Medici family. Empoli fell on May 28th, in spite of Francesco Ferrucci's heroic defence and the courage of its inhabitants. Giorgio Vasari portrayed this event in a fresco in the Room of Clement VII in Palazzo Vecchio. United by history, this area can also be described as "designed" by the Arno: the presence of the river has always played an important part in the formation of the identity of the territory. A river is not simply an element in the landscape, it is also a driving incentive and powerful economic source for all the towns that lie along its banks, thus encouraging various forms of production as well as civic life.

We will follow an itinerary alongside the slow curves of the river as it flows towards the sea and discover all the little known landscapes, beautifully designed parish churches, villas and castles scattered throughout the territory. However, before we go and admire our reflections in the waters of the Arno, we should make a stop along the course of the Pesa, the main river in the valley, which flows into the Arno at Montelupo.

PAGE 2 ->

©MEGA Via Lombroso 6/5 a
50134 Firenze
fax +39 055 412931