Tuscany Experience- San Miniato
I live in San Miniato but today I decided to discover it as a tourist..well I was spoilt for choice! San Miniato is a charming, small and romantic village immersed in the Tuscan countryside. It is located 15 mins. far from Montaione, 40 mins, from Florence and 1 hour from Pisa. It was called also “San Miniato al Tedesco” to distinguish it from the convent of San Miniato al Monte in Florence. The archaelogical site of San Genesio tells us that the village dates back the paleolithic era, 783. In this year the Longobards built a church and consacrated to the martyr San Miniato. In 962 was built then the castle by the Emperor Ottone I and he seat here the Imperial Vicars with power all over Tuscany. The Countess Matilde of Canossa was born here in 1046. San Miniato had many Emperors, in 1147 then Frederic called “Barbarossa”, Henry IV, Ottone IV and was also siege of Pontififfs. San Francis of Assisi went here and founded a beautiful convent in 1211. In medieval times in fact San Miniato was on the via Francigena which was the main connecting route between northern Europe and Rome. It also sits at the intersection of the Florence-Pisa and the Lucca-Siena roads.In 1236 the village was under the Ghibelline side and Frederic II built a complex of walls (with a great path that can be visited)and the Rocca, a tower dominating the valley. The legend says that Pier delle Vigne, Frederic’s chancellor was emprisoned and died in this tower. Nowadays it is the best place for admiring the panorama. Here on June 23 of every year there is a big fire for the “Fuochi di S.Giovanni” party. San Miniato in XII century passed from the Guelph League (1291) to the Florentine Republic but the inhabtants of San Miniato rebelled also against Florence twice. The Spanish troups of Charles V occupied the town as well but they were defeated by Francesco Ferrucci who gave the city again to the Florentine Republic. In the later period of Duke Alexander of Medici San Miniato became of the most important cities in Tuscany. In 1620 thanks to Mary Magdalene of Austria, second Cosimo II’s wife, San Miniato became “town” and Diocean centre. Also Napoleon I felt the fascination of San Miniato..he came here for a visit to his canonical uncle Philip and held a council of war. In 1860 San Miniato was part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany when was absorbed into the kingdom of Italy.
There are many important people who lived in San Miniato: Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, the naturalist Michele Mercati junior, the painter Ludovico cardi also called “Cigoli”, the painter Dilvo Lotti, the chemist Gioacchino Taddei, the philosopher Augusto Conti, the poet Pietro Bagnoli.
Absolutely not to be missed:
- The Tower of Federico called also “Rocca” built by Frederick II in the 13th century on the summit of the hill at an altitude of 192 meters, venue of hail for Pier delle Vigne,Frederick ‘s II chancellor. The tower was destroyed during the II World War and rebuilt in 1958. It is a great place for a picnic!
- The Cathedral- also called Duomo, named to Santa Maria Assunta and San Genesio martire . It features beautiful majolica bowls on the façade representing the stars with the “orsa polare” as main point for all pelgrims. The interiors are simply stunning. The original style was Romanic, then became Gothic featuring also Renaissance details.
- The Diocesan Museum set beside the Duomo.It shows paintings by Filippo Lippi, Verrocchio, Cardi called “Cigoli”
- The Townhall with the great hall decorated by Cenno di Francesco Cenni and the marvellous “Sala delle 7 Virtù” venue also for civil weddings.
- The Oratorio del Loretino beside the Townhall with great interiors and paintingd by Francesco Lanfranchi called Spillo,Andrea del Sarto’s brother
- The Church of San Domenico with terracotta masterpieces from Luca della Robbia.
- Renaissance buildings like Palazzo Grifoni. Quite all houses in San Miniato had a famous inhabitants, from writers to musicians look at the tablets on the houses!
I suggest to start the tour from Palazzo Grifoni, stroll in via IV Novembre, the main street offering nice art&craft shops, artisans doing hand made shoes , vintage shops and retrò cafés like the “Bar Centrale” where having a good cappuccino. Continue admiring the Loggiati di San Domenico venue of the library, the church and then continue for Piazza della Repubblica admiring the Seminario building, take the staircase to reach Piazza del Duomo and then continue up to the Tower of Federico.
Once back in via Conti..don’t miss an ice-cream at Camilla shop, they do great ice-creams! Stroll for another hour (it is not difficult!) and go to “Pepe Nero” for dinner, the most exclusive restaurant in the area. If you prefer a pizza there is the “Vecchio Cinema” Pizzeria (the cinema was here) on the other side of Pepe Nero (via IV Novembre)