PERCORSO BASSO - del Padule
Testi redatti da Paolo Santini
Leonardo's birthplace in Anchiano
To celebrate the fifth centenary of Leonardo’s birth in April 1952, the doors were opened to his birthplace in Anchiano, home to the memory of the Genius and his family. In fact, already much earlier, Anchiano, which had been acquired by the Da Vinci family in the early fourteen-eighties, had been recognised as a focal point in the biography of the Genius.
The house was to remain in the Da Vinci family until 1624 and finally in 1950, after changing hands several times, its last private owner, Count Rasini di Castelcampo, donated it to the municipality.
Testifying to Leonardo da Vinci’s birth in this farmhouse on April 15, 1452, is an ancient tradition perpetuated by the numerous visits of such famous people as Giuseppe Garibaldi, Telemaco Signorini, and many others.
On arriving at Anchiano we capture the essence of the genius loci, following in the footsteps of the many visitors who come on a lay pilgrimage to discover in person what is left of the world Leonardo knew in his childhood and adolescence. We head up to Anchiano to discover Leonardo’s purest essence
The watermills of the Acqua Santa gorge (Vinci) and the Barco Reale
Walking along the road from Leonardo’s birth home in Anchiano to Sant’Amato, as soon the uphill part starts we arrive at the entrance to the route of the ancient watermills.
The first watermill we come to on the path is the great Baldassini Mill, which also has an olive-oil mill and at least two millstones for grinding wheat and chestnuts. Further ahead we can see the Bongi mill and a little higher, the Camillino mill, both well preserved.
Just before the last visible mill, the small Nannini mill, we can see the remains of the wall of the Medici Barco Reale, the fifty-mile-long walled hunting enclosure built by the Medici in 1624 on the Montalbano ridge to safeguard and protect the game. The mill, which is located inside the perimeter of the grand-ducal hunting reserve, was once an entrance gate.
Next to the mill, the ruins of a Barco Reale bulkhead can be seen on the main waterway. Going up further, we come to the "the poor people’s mill", so called because to bring wheat or chestnuts to be ground here was extremely arduous, hence the milling price was lower than that of the other more easily accessible mills.
From the tabernacle of La Costareccia to the road of Santa Maria al Pruno
The Da Vinci family lived in a house at La Costareccia from the 15th century until the mid-19th century. It was in fact one of their properties, at least as of 1451, when Antonio, Leonardo’s grandfather mentioned it in the cadastral registry of that year, describing it as situated in the municipality of Vinci, in the district of Santa Maria al Pruno, in a place known as La Chostereccia.
A worker's house with an "olive grove and vineyard" on the land that was also cultivated with wheat. Going past the houses of La Costareccia, in the direction of Orbignano, on the road leading to the Sorbo gorge, we come across a tabernacle which marks an intersection, but also the boundary between the properties of the Ciattini and Da Vinci families.
Upon reaching the Sorbo gorge, before heading back to the church of Santa Maria al Pruno, we can admire an 18th-century boundary stone (1778) indicating the border between the municipalities of Cerreto and Vinci on one side, and Serravalle Pistoiese with Lamporecchio on the other. Here the road begins to climb, and we go up a paved road only rediscovered in 2019 and returned to all its splendour by various local associations.
This stretch of medieval road, built on top of even more ancient structures, perfectly preserved and buried for centuries, is now viable and allows us to slowly enjoy our journey in a timeless place.
The first documented mention of the toponym Orbignano dates to 779, Along with other properties, the villa de Urbiniano was later involved in a long dispute between the bishop and the Municipality of Pistoia. Around 1244, Urbignanum was registered as a rural municipality in the Pistoian county, but then in 1350 the people of the Orbignanese municipality took steps to make it enter for form part of the Florentine county.
The church of Santa Maria al Pruno di Orbignano
The Church of Santa Maria is officially registered with the title of ecclesia S. Marie del pruno. This name is relevant, since it testifies to the presence in the church of the object that gives it its name, a Madonna in carved and painted wood, called "del pruno" (bramble bush) because, as legend has it, at an unknown time during the Middle Ages it was discovered in a prunaio (brambles) after being stolen and abandoned there.
The pre-existing Romanesque building, of which few traces remain, was extensively renovated with important additions during the 14th century. Of note, obviously, is the highly venerated wooden statue of the Madonna del Pruno on the left altar, as well as an interesting holy-water font on the right side of the entrance.
The Lamporecchio Castle
Lamporecchio was mentioned for the first time in 1057, in a donation deed by the bishop of Pistoia.
In the following century, however, the rural municipality of Lamporigium came under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Pistoia, which considered the site to be a strategic spot for guarding the very important road from the Montalbano pass to San Baronto.
In the mid-14th century, Florence started to extend its authority here too, and as happened in all the territories under its dominion, every six months it appointed a podestà, a chief magistrate in the local Florentine government. The Lamporecchio Castle, often mentioned by Leonardo da Vinci in his papers, was however situated further upstream from the current town; today there are still impressive basement ruins of the castle structures on a high plain in the district of Castellaccio.
Worth noting, on the road leading to San Baronto, is the Vitoni Tower at Collececioli, built in the 12th century; also significant is the presence of two towers, both dating to the 12th century, that of Porciano, still clearly visible, and the one demolished during the Second World War at Montefiore on the mountain ridge.
All these towers, visually connected one to the other, were part of a very effective lookout and defence system.
The Parish Church of Santo Stefano at Lamporecchio
The current building in neo-renaissance style was erected to a design by architect Bernardini between 1900 and 1921 on the spot previously occupied by the 14th-century church. Inside, there is a monumental structure with three naves, with transept and dome set on the cross vaults, and several altars from the pre-existing structure.
Numerous works are worthy of note, especially the very valuable polychrome glazed terracotta altarpiece depicting the Visitation, dating to around 1524 and attributed to Giovanni della Robbia and his workshop. It was commissioned by the town of Lamporecchio to thank the Virgin and the Saints for the end of a plague epidemic.
The villa Larziana, or Larciano, one of the numerous properties belonging to the Guidi Counts in the area south of Pistoia since a few decades before the year one thousand. The tower of the castle fortress, still intact, was part of the Guidi fortifications.
The people of Pistoia purchased the castle of Larciano from the Guidi Counts in 1226 and as it was strategic from a military point of view, they soon took care of fortifying it. The Lucchesi, with their outpost of Monsummano, managed to conquer Larciano in a military coup in 1302.
After various vicissitudes, the castle returned to Pistoia, but in 1401 it entered into the Florentine orbit, in this way forming part of the county of the ‘city of the lily’ and becoming a permanent seat of the Podestà. The current municipality with scattered nuclei of settlements was formed in 1897.
The Church of San Silvestro I Pope in Larciano
Radically transformed several times, the current aspect of the Church is the result of 17th-century interventions.
Inside, it has a single nave intersected by the transept. The organ and the white marble baptismal font with a hexagonal bowl on the right side of the first bay are both valuable.
There are numerous works of art in the church and sections of 14th-century frescoes in the adjoining sacristy.
The Larciano Castle
The ring of walls of the fortress, on the highest part of the hill, was erected by the Pistoians. At the centre, the tower, about 30 metres high, a twin of the one of the Vinci Castle, both of which belonged to the Guidi Counts.
During domination by Pistoia, at the end of the 13th-century, the village was equipped with an imposing circle of walls to protect the rapidly developing settlement. Three doors, still perfectly preserved, guaranteed access to the village.
The Civic Museum of Larciano is housed in an underground room, where materials from the Valdinievole and surrounding areas are on display, spanning a chronological timeframe from prehistory to the late Renaissance.
The Medieval Village of Cecina
The villa di Cecina was first mentioned in in 1226, in a document recording the purchase of various properties belonging to the Guidi Counts by the Municipality of Pistoia.
Built in the period after the purchase by Pistoia, the ring of walls which still enclose the village has three entrance gates, two of which are intact and visible today. The centre of the walled village houses an extraordinary example of a marketplace, practically the only one of its kind still intact in the area of Montalbano.
Due to military requirements gradually disappearing after Cecina also became part of the Florentine county in the 15th century, there was a decline in these mid-hill zones in favour of flatter, more easily accessible areas.
The Church of San Nicola at Cecina
In the highest part of the village of Cecina, near one of the three entrance gates, stands the church dedicated to San Nicola.
Only the characteristic semi-circular apse of the Romanesque construction remains, while the building was heavily remodelled between the 17th and 18th centuries. Inside there is a single nave, but near the presbytery we can admire the Chapel of the Holy Rosary, with an altar dated 1632.
Worth noting in the second bay on the right is a fresco from the late 15th century depicting San Lorenzo. On the facing altar, a remarkable 14th-century wooden crucifix is considered to be miraculous.
The Madonna della Neve Oratory at Montevettolini
In a place filled with “Leonardian” suggestions, due to the name of the ancient oratory, not far from the village of Montevettolini, we come to a small rectangular building with a portico and lowered arches. This is the oratory dedicated to the Madonna della Neve.
The original nucleus of the building was erected in the 17th century to protect an ancient frescoed tabernacle.
The company of the Madonna della Neve ran the oratory and in 1710 equipped it with a new altar, later enlarged in 1769. In 1853, significant restoration works gave the oratory its current appearance.
Above the altar is a fresco belonged to the original tabernacle which portrays St. John the Baptist, St. Michael, the Madonna and Child, St. Peter and St. Stephen.
The Church of San Michele at Montevettolini
The Church of San Michele, which faces onto the ancient Montevettolini marketplace, now Piazza Bargellini, has three naves inside divided by pillars with numerous valuable works.
On the central altar is a canvas of the Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Anthony, from the first half of the 17th century attributed to Francesco Curradi;
in the left aisle, there is a large wooden crucifix from the end of the 14th century and interesting works by early 17th-century Florentine painters.
A valuable wooden predella with monochrome decorations from the Madonna della Neve Oratory portrays scenes taken from the legendary miracle. Worth noting, in the 15th century there was also a female monastery dedicated to the Madonna della Neve near the church in the village.
The Montevettolini Castle and Hamlet
The Montevettolini Castle, located in a border area, was first disputed between the authorities of Pistoia and Lucca and later by the Florentines. Already in 1331, Florence had sent a Podestà there, a representative of the political and judicial power of the dominant city.
The spot was strategic for the properties owned by Florentine families in the area.
It is also relevant to note that the Medici decided to build a villa here, a genuine political and economic garrison dominating the entire Valdinievole. In fact, the villa, which is visible from all the surrounding territory, represented a permanent symbolic presence of the prince's power, even in his absence.
Not much remains of the 14th-century city walls, just the Sprone Tower in the north-western section, later used as a bell tower and the sole survivor of the six original towers, and two access gates.
Of great interest, the ancient town hall dating back to the 13th century which overlooks Piazza Bargellini and has a series of sandstone and glazed terracotta coats of arms on the façade testifying to the presence of the various Florentine Podestàs that in turn dominated over the centuries.
The Medici Villa of Montevettolini
Construction of the villa started in 1597.
The layout, strongly influenced by the pre-existing foundations of a 14th-century fortress and the presence of imposing walled structures that had to be incorporated, gives it the appearance of an irregular dodecagon.
In a dominant position over the town and the entire valley, the building of the villa was ordered by Ferdinando I de 'Medici as part of the policy of timely management of the Valdinievole, especially in relation to the rational exploitation of the cultivated lands adjacent to the Fucecchio marshes and the resources coming from the same lake basin, as well as a great overall reorganisation of the Medici’s villa and farm system.
A striking iconographic source depicting the Montevettolini villa is the lunette by Giusto Utens, part of a series illustrating the 17 Medici villas originally commissioned by Ferdinando I - between 1599 and 1609 - for a living room in the villa of Artimino (today the 14 survivors are exhibited in Villa La Petraia, Florence).
In 1650, Ferdinando II sold the villa and the Valdinievole estates of the farm to the Bartolomei family for 75 thousand scudi. In 1871, the villa passed into the hands of the Roman family of the Borghese Princes, still its current owners.