La Rocca Chianti - Culture and history

La Rocca - Culture and history


foto 1 The town of Tavarnelle can be found for the first time in a document of 780, where it is mentioned under the name of "Tabernulae". Proof of its ancient origins comes moreover from the numerous Roman remains discovered in the vicinity of the Church of S. Pietro in Bossolo. In fact the remains of an early Christian baptistery dating from the fourth century can be found in front of this Romanesque style church. The interior of the church contains a Madonna and Child of Byzantine origin, a Madonna and Child by Rossello di Jacopo Franchi and a sixteenth century tabernacle.
The town of Tavarnelle grew up from the union between three mediaeval country hamlets: Tavarnelle and Borghetto, situated along the route that linked Florence with the Francigena Road in the Elsa Valley, and Mocale, which stood on a road that turned off from the Roman road for the castles of Pogni and Marcialla and the road to Volterra. No obvious trace remains today of these mediaeval constructions because the village had no structures of defence and was therefore frequently sacked. Tavarnelle's importance can be confirmed by the fact that the Franciscan monks built a convent at Borghetto in the first half of the 13th century. There was also a hospice in the village, near the convent, several inns offering accommodation, as well as being the second stop along the route of the postillions of the granducal government.
Several buildings can still be seen along today's Via Romana that have interesting 18th and 19th century facades, as well as a construction that was once used as an inn, with an internal courtyard surrounded by loggias and a large open area with the stables.
Not far from Tavarnelle we can also find the delightful village of Marocco with its church of S. Maria, dating from the fifteenth century, though greatly altered, which contains an Annunciation by Andrea della Robbia, fragments of fifteenth century frescoes, a bust of the founder of the church (Niccolò di Giovanni Sernigi), attributed to Luca della Robbia, a 13th century Madonna and Child, as well as other works by Neri di Bicci and a Virgin enthroned by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Baberino Val d'Elsa

foto 2 The territory that historically belonged to the Castle of Barberino Val d'Elsa, in spite of the fact that part of it was recently taken away to create the municipal territory of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, is still one of the most significant of all the "beautiful" Tuscan landscapes. This highly populated area can be considered as both the result and the meeting point of the two worlds of the town and the country.
This is, in other words, the sharecropping landscape that Fernand Braudel defined as the "most moving countryside that exists", and that Henri Desplanques likened to a work of art, the expression of a refined people.
In fact, located in the middle of Tuscany, the territory of Barberino has all the ingredients of such countryside with its castles, churches, scattered houses and villas, and the shapes of the fields in a backdrop in which the gentle hills seem to be painted. But over and above what the human eye can see, the earth itself hides and returns real treasures, as proof of the vigorous presence of humans ever since olden times.
The territory of Barberino is not just distinguished by the remains of the past, whether they are objects or buildings, but also by their qualitative characteristics that always act as reference points for the various styles. A good example of this is the Church of Sant'Appiano, a real and proper feast of Romanesque style, or the chapel of San Michele with its remarkable reproduction of Brunelleschi's cupola, to commemorate the short-lived and unlucky "town" of Semifonte, razed to the ground in the spring of 1202 at the end of a twenty year war against Florence, on the ashes of which the town of Barberino rose. It's a cultural heritage that is not concentrated in one place but distributed all over the territory, thereby characterising all of it.

San Donato in Poggio

foto 3 The ancient system of main roads that united Florence and Siena and was so vitally important during the Middle Ages, also passed through the Elsa river valley. This essential linkup between Florence and the Francigene road divided just past San Casciano to create two routes which both eventually led to Siena (as a result they were both called "via romana" or the road to Rome.
The Castle of San Donato "De Pocis" stood on the road that wound across the tops of the ridges of the hills dividing the river valleys of the Pesa and the Elsa; its strategic position on this important artery was eventually to make it, after Barberino itself, the principal inhabited centre in the "League of Barberino Valdelsa" so that, during the XIII and XIV centuries, it commanded one of the Tertiaries into which the league was subdivided.
The basic design used for the typical urban structures in the mediaeval "land of walls" can still easily be made out at San Donato: in other words, it is a hill settlement of fairly regular urban tissue, surrounded by thirteenth century curtain walls linked together by wall towers and cut through by a main street that connects the two gates of access. Apart from the high tower that absolved the functions of a keep, the interior contains several mediaeval buildings, which still conserve various technical and decorative elements (arch mouldings, architraves, stone facings etc.), dating from the XIII century at least.
The main square of the castle contains Palazzo Pretoria, which dates from Renaissance times, with its facade decorated by a fifteenth century fresco, although today much of the palace has been rebuilt after the damage caused during the second World War; the public cistern, rebuilt in 1867, and the Gothic church of the castle, dedicated to Santa Maria della Neve.

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