If you came directly to this page you may wish to see a page with an introduction to this section and a map of Val di Chiana first.
View of the medieval Cassero (Keep) from near the Railway Station
passes through Castiglion Fiorentino, which the vetturini generally make one of the resting-places between Rome and Florence.
The Leone Bianco is a very fair village
inn, with a civil landlord. Castiglione
is not without its pictures.
John Murray - A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy - 1857
In 1866 coaches were replaced by a railway line which linked Florence with Perugia (and eventually Rome) via Arezzo, Castiglion Fiorentino and Cortona.
Archaeological area on the Cassero showing evidence of an Etruscan settlement (L, N, O)
In the late XXth century the area around the keep was cleared of the uninteresting small buildings which were built there after the XVth century. This led to identifying some ancient structures which were part of an Etruscan settlement of the IVth century BC. Evidence of Etruscan pavements and drainpipes can be seen in a small archaeological area beneath the medieval fortifications.
Sistema Museale Castiglionese: Terracotta decorations from the Etruscan temple which stood on the Cassero (see similar better preserved Etruscan temple decorations at Civita Castellana)
The site of an Etruscan temple was identified in the modern esplanade which surrounds the keep. Most likely it was built before the settlement. Until these XXth century findings there was no evidence of Castiglion Fiorentino having been an Etruscan town and this puzzled archaeologists because of the commanding position of the site and its proximity to Cortona which was a major Etruscan centre (see its large archaeological museum for other Etruscan exhibits).
cassero from Arabic "al qasr" - the castle which in turn derives from Latin castrum is a term used only in Tuscany and Latium (see Porta del Cassero at Civita di Bagnoregio); cassaro has the same meaning and today it indicates one of the main streets of Palermo. The fortifications of Castiglion Fiorentino are dated XIth century but the high tower was built in ca 1350 when the town was a possession of Perugia and it was called Castiglion Perugino.
Porta Fiorentina and the main street of the town
In 1384 the Republic of Florence bought Arezzo and Castiglion Fiorentino from Charles of Durazzo who had conquered them in 1380 at the head of an army of Hungarian mercenaries on his way south to oust his cousin Joanna from the throne of Naples. Charles was in bad need of money to pay his troops and Florence was the banking centre of Europe. The town was renamed Castiglion Fiorentino and the same applied to its northern gate.
The image used as background for this page shows a fresco on the back of Porta Fiorentina.
S. Francesco: (left) fašade; (right) cloister
The church and the adjoining convent were built in the IInd half of the XIIIth century. The town was a minor centre, but its closeness to Assisi and the fact that St. Francis received the stigmata while he was praying on the mountain of Verna, north of Arezzo greatly favoured the development in Tuscany of the Order of Friar Minors which had been founded by the Saint. The cloister of the convent was redesigned in the early XVIIth century.
Among the old painters who were much alarmed by the praises rightly
given by men to Cimabue and to his disciple Giotto, whose good work
in painting was making their glory shine throughout all Italy, was one
Margaritone, painter of Arezzo, who, with the others who in that
unhappy century were holding the highest rank in painting, recognized
that their works were little less than wholly obscuring his own fame.
Margaritone, then, being held excellent among the other painters of these
times who were working after the Greek manner, wrought many panels
in distemper at Arezzo. (..) He made throughout an infinity of pictures,
and (..) a S. Francis portrayed from nature on a panel, whereon he placed his name, as on
a work, in his judgment, wrought better than was his wont. (..) He was the first who considered what a man must
do when he works on panels of wood, to the end that they may stay
firm in the joinings, and that they may not show fissures and cracks
opening out after they have been painted. Taddeo di
Gaddo Gaddi, a Florentine, after the death of Giotto who had held him
at his baptism and had been his master for twenty-four years after the
death of Gaddo (..) remained among the first in the art of painting and
greater than all his fellow-disciples both in judgment and in genius.
* * *
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors and architects - translated by Gaston Du C. De Vere - 1913
The St. Francis is signed "Margaritone Aritio Me Fe(cit)".
Taddeo di Gaddo Gaddi, a Florentine, after the death of Giotto who had held him at his baptism and had been his master for twenty-four years after the death of Gaddo (..) remained among the first in the art of painting and greater than all his fellow-disciples both in judgment and in genius.
Convento di S. Francesco: 1627 fresco by Pellicione da Colle depicting St. Francis preaching to the Sultan of Egypt at Damietta in 1220 during the Fifth Crusade; see another painting depicting an event of that Crusade where personages are portrayed in XVIIth century attire
When the sultan saw his enthusiasm and courage, he
listened to him willingly and pressed him to stay with him.
Francis, however, was inspired by God to reply, "If you
are willing to become converts to Christ, you and your
people, I shall be only too glad to stay with you for love
of him. But if you are afraid to abandon the law of Mahomet
for Christ's sake, then light a big fire and I will go into
it with your priests. That will show you which faith is more
sure and more holy.'' To that the sultan replied, "I do not
think that any of my priests would be willing to expose himself to the flames just to defend his faith, or suffer any
kind of torture" (he had just caught a glimpse of one of
his priests, an old and highly esteemed man, who slipped
away the moment he heard Francis' proposal). Then Francis continued, "If you are prepared to promise me that
you and your people will embrace the Christian religion, if
I come out of the fire unharmed, I will enter it alone. But if
I am burned, you must attribute it to my sins; on the
other hand, if God saves me by his power, you must acknowledge "Christ the power of God, Christ the wisdom of
God as true God, the Lord and Savior
of all." The sultan replied that he would not dare to accept a choice like that, for fear of a revolt among his people.
Major Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure - transl. by Fr. Benen Fahy - 1964
In 1219, hoping to convert the Sultan of Egypt, St. Francis went there where a Crusader army had been encamped for over a year besieging the walled city of Damietta. The Sultan al-Kamil was encamped upstream of Damietta. An attack on the city was launched by the Christians, following which both sides agreed to a ceasefire which lasted four weeks. It was most probably during this interlude that St. Francis crossed the Muslims' lines and was brought before the Sultan, remaining in his camp for a few days. He returned unharmed. No known Arab sources mention the visit. According to some late sources, the Sultan gave St. Francis permission to visit the sacred places in the Holy Land and even to preach there. He left the Crusader camp for Acre, from where he embarked for Italy in the latter half of 1220. Due to these events Franciscans have been present in the Holy Land almost uninterruptedly since then.
Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall)
In 1411 the Republic of Florence bought also Cortona; it had already established its hegemony over Montepulciano so it controlled all the northern part of Val di Chiana and the border with the Papal State which ruled its southern part was fixed (it is still the border between Tuscany and Umbria). The Republic of Florence enlarged and embellished the Town Hall in 1489 because, not being a military power, it chose to maintain the local government structures.
Palazzo Pretorio: (left) rear part; (right) fašade
The palace was built in the Ist half of the XVth century and it incorporated some medieval structures. It housed a tribunal with a jail and some guards, praetor being the Latin term for magistrate. At Cortona, Arezzo and in other towns of Tuscany the envoys of the Republic of Florence affixed their coats of arms on it, but at Castiglion Fiorentino they did so in the main square. The building today houses the archaeological section of Sistema Museale Castiglionese.
Qual dolor fora, se de li spedali/ di Valdichiana tra 'l luglio e 'l settembre/ e di Maremma e di Sardigna i mali / fossero in una fossa tutti 'nsembre, / tal era quivi, e tal puzzo n'usciva/
qual suol venir de le marcite membre.
"What pain would be, if from the hospitals / Of Valdichiana, twixt July and September, / And of Maremma and Sardinia/ All the diseases in one moat were gathered, / Such was it here and such a stench came from it / As from putrescent limbs is wont to issue."
Dante - Inferno - XXIX, vv. 46-51 - Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Fish and wild-fowl were the main economic resource of Castiglion Fiorentino until the XVIIIth century, because the town was surrounded by unhealthy swamps.
The scenery from the terrace, below the old town, is magnificent. It commands the broad valley of the Chiana in all its length, scattered with villages, while in the foreground is one of the richest districts of Italy, abounding in vineyards and in every kind of agricultural produce. Murray
Florence was a city of merchants and it promoted trade in the towns which were part of its territory (see a similar loggia at Montepulciano). This policy continued after the Republic was replaced by a Duchy and in 1569 by a Grand Duchy. Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) was born at Arezzo and he became the court architect of Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. In this capacity he was involved in the design of many buildings in Florence and other towns of Tuscany. He most likely supervised a 1570 redesign/restoration of the loggia of Castiglion Fiorentino which was originally built in 1513.
The Florentine representatives had initially the title of podestÓ, a medieval magistrate, usually a foreigner, who was appointed for a very short period of time, and later on of commissari; their actual role was more that of an overseer than of a governor. The high number of coats of arms shows that they were rotated very often.
Castiglion Fiorentino was part of the diocese of Arezzo, thus it did not have a cathedral and its main church had the name of Collegiata because a college of canons ensured that ceremonies were held with some pomp. The Collegiata of the town was enlarged and redesigned in 1840-1860. It originated from Pieve Vecchia di S. Giuliano, an adjoining medieval church which became the sacristy of the new building and today houses a museum of sacred art.
Collegiata/Pieve Vecchia di S.Giuliano: (left) detail of a baptismal font showing the coat of arms of the Visconti and the letters T and V (ca 1480); (right) Deposition, fresco by Luca Signorelli
Collegiata, which has been recently restored and partly rebuilt, is an interesting altarpiece of the early Sienese school, representing a Virgin and Child
by Bartolomeo della Gatta in very bad
condition, removed from Sta. Maria
della Pieve, a very beautiful altarpiece
by Luca (?) della Robbia and in the
chapel of the Sagramento, an early fresco
of Luca Signorelli, the Deposition from
the Cross - an interesting work. Murray
The baptismal font is an indirect memorial of the wars (1423-1454) between the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Milan which was ruled by the Visconti. The Republic of Florence was an ally of the Venetians and the Visconti invaded the territory of Arezzo. A member of their family married a local woman of the Guiducci family. Teodora Visconti, their daughter, donated the baptismal font.
Today the fresco by Signorelli is thought to follow and not to precede his 1502 famous Deposition for the Cathedral of Cortona.
Chiesa del Ges¨ (it was not a Jesuit church, which explains the simplicity of its design)
The church was built in 1545 to house a XIIIth century wooden crucifix. It stands on an artificial terrace very near the Collegiata. The portico resembles the Loggia del Vasari. Both were decorated with pietra serena, the light grey stone which characterizes many monuments of Florence.
(left) View southwards from Chiesa del Ges¨; (right) Castello di Montecchio
Beyond Castiglione the road passes below the village of Montecchio, a stronghold erected in former days to defend
the road. Murray
The castle was built in the XIth century but the Florentines seized and redesigned it in the late XIIIth century. It lost its military relevance when the whole region was acquired by the Republic of Florence. It was abandoned and small farms nested inside it. In the 1860s it was bought by Giacomo Servadio, a rich banker of Florence. He and the following owners of the castle have emphasized its medieval appearance, similar to what occurred at that of Gradara in the 1920s.
Madonna della Consolazione
A small church outside the southern gate of the town housed an image of the Madonna and Child. According to tradition Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I, after having prayed at the altar of the church, regained her sight; she suffered of tuberculosis and the disease might have caused her swollen eyes. In 1565 she promoted the construction of a shrine to replace the small church. The building is a fine example of Renaissance architecture; some sources believe its design was based on a project made by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, who built Madonna di S. Biagio, a shrine outside the walls of Montepulciano. The octagonal layout can be noticed also in other Renaissance shrines outside the walls of towns, e.g. at Bagnaia, near Viterbo. The shape derives from that of the Baptistery of S. Giovanni in Laterano which was detached from the basilica.
Palazzo Onesti: plaque celebrating the passage of Don Carlos of Bourbon on his way to the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples in 1734
During the XVIIIth century Castiglion Fiorentino was a rather sleepy town, although the gradual reclaiming of the swamps provided it with new resources. Don Carlos of Bourbon who was grown up in the luxury of the Spanish court was hosted by the Onesti, a local family whose name can be seen in the Loggia del Vasari and in a former nunnery which today houses a section of the local museum.
Sistema Museale Castiglionese: (left) Holy Cross from S. Francesco (Rhine region - second half of the XIIIth century); (right) Processional Cross (local workshop - early XIIIth century)
Orvieto - Medieval Monuments
Orvieto - Cathedral and Papal Palace
Orvieto - Renaissance Monuments
Orvieto - Museums
CittÓ della Pieve
An Excursion to Chiusi
Castiglione del Lago
An Excursion to Cortona
An Excursion to Montepulciano
An Excursion to Arezzo