Chiantishire among its Castles

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1 Chiantishire among its Castles - 0 -

2 ***** Tuscany is famous for its art, nature, good wine, olive oil, but also for its history, whose numerous castles and abbacies, but also small country villages, remain as witnesses. The Chianti territory straddles between Siena and Florence province, to the West of Val di Pesa and Val d Elsa. Characteristic of this part of Tuscany is the charming mix of villages, vineyards and hills that follows one to each other creating a suggestive medieval atmosphere. Here upraises the historical centres of the most famous Italian s wine production and each road leads to a winery, to a castle and to a farm whose name is on a wine label with the famous brand of Gallo Nero that indicates the excellence of Chianti. ***** - 1 -

3 THE BROLIO CASTLE The castle of Brolio has a Longobard origin, although today of the ancient original small fortress remains only the location. Its role in the history began to be remarkable at the beginning of the 12 th century, when the powerful feudal family of the Ricasoli from Cacchiano took office on it. Still today the castle belongs to their descendants. Its position was always strategical for the control of the Chianti s area, edge of the Florentine influence at the borders with the territory of Siena. For this reason, since the 13 th up to the mid 16 th century, the castle was often interested in frontier wars. We are in fact in the heart of the Florentine territory of the 'Chianti League' - formed by the 'Terzieri' (Terzieris) of Radda, Castellina and Gaiole - rich of feudal presence and strongly contended between the two big cities of Florence and Siena. All the castles of the zone, either Florentine that Sienese people, were aside always strengthened, so much that two real contrasting defensive lines were created. The castle was always in the hands of Florence, to the exception of a temporary Sienese occupation after the second Aragonese invasion of the Chianti in Consequently at this event, from 1484 when the castle - 2 -

4 returned Florentine, began a great work of restructuring and expansion of the fortification to adjust the walls at the new fire weapons, so we can consider Brolio one of the first Italian bastionated fortress. Its ramparts, in stone and still today in perfect state, have an irregular pentagonal plan with a primitive structure if compared with the development that this new form of fortification had in the following years. It is not certain, but it seems that the architect responsible of the work was Giuliano da Sangallo, sharpening his art at the service of the Medici. This bastioned walls enclose the rests of the original medieval castle, above all the keep and the Roman Chapel, over that a neo-gothic building was built to the place of the pre-existing one from the Baron Bettino Ricasoli, , famous political man of the last century, known also as the 'Iron Baron'. The castle rises at the centre of boundless vineyards, from which since 1141 the Ricasoli distilled their famous wines, place to grow old in the cellars inside the mighty walls of the fortress. Brolio is private property but it is visible with the exception of the baronial building. Is still possible to complete the walk of the ramparts, from which we can have splendid sights on the Chianti region

5 THE MELETO CASTLE The origin of Meleto was in the 11th century, as a possession of the monks of the near Coltibuono Abbey. The first vassal of the castle results to have been a certain Guardellotto. This was stripped of all his possessions for some contrasts born with the emperor Federico Barbarossa that entrusted Meleto to the local family of the Firidolfi, already installed in the other castles of the zone. From here had origin the branch of the Firidolfi known as 'from Meleto' while another division of the family, known as Ricasoli Fibindacci, will strongly tie their name to the history of these zones of the Chianti. The strategic position, on a hill to direct control of the underlying road of connection between the Valdarno and the Chianti, plus the proximity with the border between the territories checked by the Sienesis and those Florentines, of which the castle was the last rampart, made of Meleto one of the principal fortifications of the Terziere (one of the three parts in which this Florentine military organization was organized) of the 'Chianti League' headed by Gaiole. For these reason the castle was for centuries theatre of wars, however without suffering serious destruction. The essentially 'military' destination of the installation can still be found today, despite to the transformations suffered in the 18th century: the form of irregular quadrate, almost a trapeze, with the presence at the centre of the keep, although notably lowered, show us a classical example of castle-enclosure. In 1478 the castle was occupied by the Aragonese army allied with Siena, two years later it was quickly regained by the Florentines that started great works of reinforcement of the structures. The 1480's addition is today practically still intact and consist in the two mighty cylindrical bastionated towers, gifted of machicolulis (opening between corbels of a parapet through which the defenders can drop rocks or fire projectiles against an enemy directly below them) posted at - 4 -

6 the two southern angles (the more exposed); of two hoarding in bricks at the northern angles overlooking the border of the crag, so already naturally defended; the reinforcement of the walls curtains toward the only road of access and the insertion of loopholes and gun holes, partly disappeared, along the perimeter of the enclosure. Thanks to this in the 1529 Meleto victoriously withstand to the siege of the imperial troops. Never destroyed through disputes, sieges and battles the castle was transformed in villa during the 18th century and its defences were partly dismantled. The interior, visible by a fee, has still today the aspect of this period, with decorated halls and a particular little theatre of the year 1742 still provided of its seven original sets design. Meleto remained ownership of the Ricasoli family until about thirty years ago, today is centre of an agricultural firm for wines production

7 THE BARBISCHIO CASTLE The castle of Barbischio overlooks the town of Gaiole in Chianti, in the Middle Age 'Terziere' (one of the three principal members) of the military force constituted by the Florentine named 'Chianti League' [Lega del Chianti]. The first notices of Barbischio dates back to year In 1220 the castle and its territory were granted in fief by the emperor Frederick II of Schwabia to the Counts Guido of Battifolle. Together with the near Montegrossi, Vertine and Meleto the castle belonged to the Florentine defences of this area of Chianti, on the borderline with the territories of Siena. The principal function of Barbischio was, thanks to its tall watch tower, to be used as fortification. Subsequently, as many castles of this area, Barbischio became possession of the powerful feudal family of the Ricasoli. The last historical event that interested the castle was in 1478, when it was occupied by the Aragonese army. After this event the fortification was abandoned and allowed to go slowly in ruins. Recently the rests of the tower have been consolidated and transformed in a private residence. Around the tower are still visible a part of the enclosure wall, and it is still well appreciable the full dominion on the underlying valley that could be practiced from here. All the area is now famous for the production of 'Chianti Wine'

8 THE MONTEGROSSI CASTLE The castle of Montegrossi, also known as Montegrossoli, was the sentinel and last rampart of the medieval feudal system constituted in the Chianti region. Erected at around 700 meters high on the crest of the last relief of the small mountain chain on the border between the territories of the Chianti and the Valdarno, perennial object of disputes between Florence and its enemies, the castle dominates the pass and the road that connects the two areas and also a big part of the valleys from both sides. The first notices of the small fortress are of the year In 1172 it was conquered and destroyed by the Florentines that wanted to free their movements in the zone from a big obstacle. After few years the rests of the castle became fief of the Firidolfi family, that took care of its reconstruction. There are notices that these vassals also used Montegrossi as base for actions of brigandage and looting of the caravans directed to Florence. A little afterwards the castle entered to make part, as important stronghold, of the chain of fortifications wanted by the emperor Barbarossa from the Chianti to Fucecchio, in the low Valdarno, to control central Tuscany. But a few years later, during the war between the League of the Tuscan Communes and the imperial armies, the Florentines took again posses of the castle. Montegrossi was strengthened and, due to its strategic importance, was gifted of a permanent garrison. In the following centuries Montegrossi was many times with great fury besieged. The strongest attacks were brought first by the Aragonese army in 1478 and then in 1530 from the army of Charles V that levelled definitely the castle to the ground, to avoid that the defeated Florentine Republic was once able to use it again as point of strength of the Chianti. Since then the ruins of Montegrossi were abandoned, but on the crest of the mountain still rises the mighty keep surrounded by the walls, unfortunately only shed stones in the vegetation, of the fortified enclosure. On the keep we can be still able to notice the beautiful gate of access, at a raised level from the ground, and at the interior the capitals of stone that sustained the batten of the attic. In the northern part, the residence for the garrison, we can see in some locals the rests of the stone ceiling. Unfortunately the whole complex is in serious risk of ulterior collapses, so much that also a visit could be dangerous. To reach the ruins is necessary to leave the car and to follow a path that departs from the wood on the left of the last curve of the asphalted road that brings to the small suburb of Montegrossi. Despite its scarce rests the presence of the castle cannot pass even today unobserved to whom transits from the Valdarno to the Chianti or vice-versa. The better view we can have of it is from the near Coltibuono Abbey, site on the Arno valley slope of the - 7 -

9 pass, while to realize what was the strategic importance of Montegrossi all it takes is climbing until the ruins and let space the view to 360 degrees. Today the castle shows its northern side on an artificial precipice provoked by a cave of stone, that has also defaced the surrounding landscape

10 THE VERTINE CASTLE The castle, or walled town, of Vertine rises to the extreme north-oriental layer of the Chianti area, in the middle of a series of reliefs, called Chianti's Mountains, the watershed between this area and the Valdarno Superiore [Upper Arno Valley]. This zone is particularly rich of castles because it matches to the ancient territory of the medieval 'Chianti League', Florentine rampart at the borders with the territory of Siena. In the zone the feudal presence was always strong and the castle of Vertine, as the near Montegrossi and Brolio, was remembered in public acts before the year Vertine was also the Chianti's castle that reached the greatest consistence as walled town. Already in 13th century it was under control of the Ricasoli, Florentine commissioners of the zone and, as a token of its great importance, was many times residence of the same feudal family. According to circumstances Vertine was never at the centre of war events as sieges or fights, so the castle reached us without traces of the destruction and reconstruction that were the cause of the modification of many other medieval settlements. In 15th century the fortifications suffered a restoration and an expansion but this modified not radically its aspect. The castle is still today surrounded by its almost intact walled enclosure and, on the southern front, rises a splendid rectangular tower that had the function of keep. On the left side of the keep is opened the north gate, once twin of the opposite partially disappeared south gate, still today the only two entries of the suburb. The arch of the south gate is lost but we are still able to notice the tower that defended it. The splendid worked stones used for the construction of the walls and the keep give Vertine a typical medieval image and the visitor that crosses its narrow streets can still today have a real 'full immersion' in the ancient times

11 THE VOLPAIA CASTLE Volpaia, is a fortified village of medieval origin. The first document in which the castle is clearly mentioned was written at Cintoia, a small village about 12 miles south of Florence, on April 21 st, It notes that the brothers Franculus and Galfredus da Cintoia, after having obtained the consent of their father and of "Liquiritia, uxor Franculi" (wife of Franculus), have obtained a loan of 28 silver pounds from Spinello da Montegrossoli. Their possessions, situated in the "court and castle of Vulpaio," were offered as security for repayment of the loan. The castle was probably constructed in the 10th century, when others were being built in the upper valley of the Pesa River. It perches on the ridge of one of a series of hills stretching from the Badia (Abbey) of Montemuro toward Radda. Posted on the very spine of the hill separating two small valleys formed by tributaries of the Pesa, it could be defended easily. The choice of site is evidence of the basic insecurity of feudal society. In Volpaia's case, the siting of the castle had a more specific significance, for it was constructed in a frontier area between Florentine and Sienese territories. From the political point of view, the fortified village, along with the nearby Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, was considered by the end of the 11th century to be within the jurisdiction of Florence. Any uncertainties on that point were dissipated early in the second half of the following century when the district became a dependent territory of Florence. It was at that time that the Republics of Florence and Siena first marked out their common border. When Florence in 1250 organized its possessions, creating the autonomous jurisdictions of the "Leghe" (Leagues), Volpaia was placed within the district of the Lega del Chianti (Chianti League) among the people of the "Terziere" of Radda in

12 Chianti. The political arrangement, in turn, determined the territorial organization of the Churchland the layout of the region's network of roads. Volpaia was incorporated in the diocese of Fiesole and the village-castle's church, dedicated to St. Lawrence the Martyr, was dependent on the Chapel of Santa Maria Novella. The chapel was an important hub in the Chianti highway system. A road that began at the little community clustered around the walls of the chapel and passed by the Castello di Volpaia connected the upper valleys of the Pesa and Arno. That route was responsible for the construction at Volpaia in the 15th century of an hospice where pilgrims could find shelter. The road descended to the floor of the Val di Pesa, where some traces of its path are still visible today. The route then climbed the mountains again in the direction of Albola. From that point, it was an easy climb to the ridge of the mountains separating Chianti from the upper Valdarno. Moreover the Volpaia Castle was built by the Florence family of della Volpaia, in the middle of the Renaissance and expressed many artists as Benvenuto and Lorenzo (the second one was also a friend of Leonardo Da Vinci). The most important renaissance building is the Church of Sant'Eufrosino. Attributed to Michelozzo, it was deconsecrated in 1932 and declared a National Monument in In 1250 Volpaia became an important part of the Lega del Chianti (Chianti League). One of the village's most illustrious families were scientific instrument makers. The family took its surname from the village itself and during the renaissance Benvenuto and Lorenzo della Volpaia became famous. Not only was the latter a friend of Leonardo da Vinci but their instruments are still on view at the Science Museums in Florence and Greenwich, as well as the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Throughout the centuries the families who owned the village and its vineyards dedicated themselves to the arts and wine making and thanks to their foresight the village has managed to keep its original architectural features

13 THE MONTERIGGIONI CASTLE Looked from a distance, the Castle of Monteriggioni with its walls and remaining towers witnessing the distant past, gives an impression that time has come to a stand - still - both inside and outside of its walls. Even though the inhabitants and their ways of life have changed through centuries, those that still choose to live in the castle today remain in touch with history and the old agricultural values, retaining the slow, natural rhythm of life. The image of the fortification on the hill-top, a sentinel in the defence of the Republic of Siena, has always inspired travellers. Because of its beauty and position, it became a natural magnet for tourists. Nowadays it is visited by something like 70,000 people every year. But how much more majestic and powerful it must have appeared to Dante Alighieri who saw it at the time of battle during one of his travels! The fortress, at the time just a few decades old, was at the height of its splendour. With its circular shape and high towers crowning the walls, it certainly instilled enough sense of cyclopic majesty for Dante to find it worth of description (Dante Alighieri Inferno Canto XXXI). Actually, Dante can be considered among the very first "tourists" to visit Monteriggioni. Among those that visited it recently were Ted Kennedy, Tony Blair, and many other VIPs. The Castle has often been chosen as a site for films and short commercials. The image of Monteriggioni is famous for yet another reason: it is a part of the emblem of Italy, the crown on the head of its effigy symbolizing Italy's invincible spirit. In fact, due to the type of its fortification, Monteriggioni remained an invincible fortress for three centuries. From the time of its construction in 1213, it resisted every siege, thus ensuring freedom to the Republic of Siena. It fell only in 1554, and that because of a betrayal; the traitor, the ill-famed Captain of the garrison, made a secret

14 plot with the Florentines and in exchange for some favours surrendered the fortress to them without any battle. According to the legend, there were tunnels and secret passages connecting the castle with other fortifications. Legend also tells that there was an underground road that went all the way to Siena. Monteriggioni is a typical example of a fortified village. It is a little town of just 42 inhabitants, bordered by a surrounding wall. Inside there are the citizens houses, two bars, one food shop, two restaurants, one souvenir shop, one herbalist, one hotel and one typical products shop. The surrounding wall is put over a high hill called Ala which dominates on the neighborhood. The inside village is fairly little and it had never been bigger because of the small size of its wall which are only 570 meters long: the castle best diameter is 172 meters, the wall depth is 2 meters. The towers arises over the wall for 6,5 meters and their measure is 4x6 meters, but in medieval time their highness reaches 15 meters. The number of towers at the beginning was 15 but now you can see only 11, the ones that still arise over the wall; the others 4 are today reduced at the wall level. On the top of the surrounding wall there was a walking passage which goes along all the defensive structure. The Roma Square: After passing through the main door of the castle and after walking for a little along the street, a big square, the Roma square, opens itself to your sight. It is the main square of the castle that at the same time maintains Tuscan village characteristics and the typical country feeling as well. The square, and the whole castle also, has not been paved until the 60 and Monteriggioni was built starting from 1213; the works for its construction lasted 6 years. It was built thanks to the Republic of Siena around a preexisting longobard farm to stop the way to the Florentines, during the long wars between the two cities. The construction of a new castle was a symbol of the new expansionistic policy of Siena, that had already bought other castles (as the Quercegrossa one) not so far. So The Republic of Siena bought the land by some Staggia nobles and built the castle on the top of the hill. The castle was approachable by two doors, the east one (which looks to Siena) called Porta romea o franca and

15 the west one (which looks to Florence) called Porta S.Giovanni o Fiorentina. Both of them are still today showing the door hinges used for closing the castle. The people of Siena probably wanted to build the Monteriggioni castle to make everybody remember the battle of Monte Ala (1145) when they defeated the Florence army. To achieve the ownership of Monteriggioni, Siena and Florence fought one against the other in 1244 and in In 1269 after the battle of Colle Val d Elsa (Dante Alighieri wrote about that in his Divina Commedia, Purgatorio, Canto XIII). The Sienese people were defeated and tried to save themselves in Monteriggioni which was besieged by the Florentines without success. As per the Statuti del comune et uomini di Monteriggioni in 1380, the defenders inhabitants of Monteriggioni were considered as Siena citizens. During the 15th and the 16th century its walls were cut down to be more useful for the new techniques of war like the artillery. In 1526 the Florentines besieged Monteriggioni with 2000 infantrymen e 500 cavaliers and destroyed the surrounding walls with the artillery. The Monteriggioni castle held on and after the July 25th of the same year the Sienese people defeated the Pope Army (allied with the Florentines ) and broke down the siege. On the April 27th 1554 Monetriggioni was given by the Captain Zeti, under betrayal, to the Marchese of Merigliano without fighting. The Marchese was going to stop the Republic of Siena freedom, thing that happened in Only with this betrayal Captain Zeti succeeded in destroying the defensive system of Siena and defeated an impregnable fortress determining the end of the Republic of Siena. The inhabitants of Monteriggioni were brought to Florence as slaves and we did not know nothing more about them. Despite Monteriggioni had been conquered, that was not enough to scratch his impregnable fortress fame. The castle passed from the Republic of Siena to the Medici princedom, and later it was sold to the Golia family of Siena, then to the Batta s, to the Visconti s, to the Fabbroni s, to the Daddi s and in 1704 to the Accarigi family. The last member of the Accarigi finally passed the ownership to the Griccioli family which has some properties in the castle still today

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