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Description

Santa Maria a Monte, founded by Lucca between the Cerbaie hills and the Arno, was the first military outpost in the Valdarno, and so Florence, Lucca and Pisa contended for domain over it, until, in 1327, it was forced to yield to the Florentine siege. In those years the town underwent profound changes. The castle was reinforced through the construction of the Rocca (fortress), and today we can still make out, on the walls of the houses, the remains of medieval buildings: arches, hidden walls, curtain walls, false windows. Worthy of note is the Palazzo del Podestà with its adjacent Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower) and the Pieve Collegiata church. Inside are a pulpit from Lucca dating from the thirteenth century, a fifteenth-century baptismal font by Domenico Rosselli, the 1255 wooden Madonna with child attributed to a student of Giotto and the crucifix realized by the Camaiore Master and datable to the mid-fourteenth century.
Santa Maria a Monte was the birthplace Galileo Galilei’s father Vincenzo, a distinguished composer and lute player. The family of the poet Giosuè Carducci lived in Santa Maria, where his father was a rural doctor. Every year on Easter Monday, the Processione delle Paniere (procession of the baskets) winds its way through the town. At this festival, girls carry a basket of flowers on their heads in honour of the Blessed Diana Giuntini, a wealthy fourteenth-century lady who gave up her belongings to live in poverty.
The municipality has a very unusual urban structure. The old city centre is one of the most interesting examples of a medieval Tuscan village, with a spiral shape that quite faithfully reflects the three circles of walls that surrounded the castle in ancient times.

Information
Museo Casa Carducci
Via Carducci, 29
56020 Santa Maria a Monte
t. + 39 0587 261632
www.comune.santamariaamonte.pi.it

Geographical area
Valdarno Inferiore

Population
over 13.000

Distance from Pisa
30 km

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Culture

Medieval Cistern
It dates to the thirteenth century and is currently located within the Municipal Library. It is covered by a ceiling in tuff reinforced with rounded arches, and situated next to an underground tunnel apparently originally used as a secret military passage.

Underground tunnels
In addition to the Santa Maria a Monte on the surface, there is another Santa Maria a Monte, an “underground city”, remaining from centuries past, which can be visited today. Tunnels dug into the tuff, unmarred cellars and cisterns still offer an account of what was probably a secret network for the defenders to use in case of siege.

The renowned Pieve Collegiata of San Giovanni Evangelista and Maria Vergine Assunta
In the fourteenth century this church looked like a small oratory and was dedicated to Saint John, for whom the nearby gate of the castle is also named. Around the end of the fourteenth century, following the Florentine conquest of 1327, it was enlarged considerably since the Florentines decided to replace the then Pieve di Santa Maria, located at the highest point of the castle, with a fortified Rocca to better protect the area. The ancient watchtower was adapted into a bell tower, and the church was consecrated in 1466 by Bishop Matteo da Pontremoli. In an urn to the left of the altar are the remains of the Blessed Diana Giuntini. She is the patron saint of the town, and her feast day Easter Monday.

The Casa Carducci Museum
This is the house where the Carducci family lived from 1856 to 1858. Michele Carducci, Giosuè’s father, was contracted as the town doctor for Santa Maria a Monte, and moved there from the “diacci” (Tuscan dialect for ice) of Monte Amiata, with his wife Ildegonda and their children. The eldest son, Giosuè, had a position teaching rhetoric at the secondary school in San Miniato and returned every Saturday to his family in Santa Maria a Monte. It was in this house, in 1857, that a tragedy took place. It is an event shrouded in mystery – the death of Giosuè’s brother. Although Dante’s death was recorded as a suicide, tradition whispers that it may have been his father who attacked him with a scalpel after one of their many quarrels. Since 2007, the hundredth anniversary of Giosuè’s death, the museum has been home to the permanent exhibition “Tenero Gigante” by the painter Antonio Possenti. The artworks are dedicated to poetry of the illustrious Giosuè, seen in a portrait with his family, nature and his surroundings.

Museo Civico Beata Diana Giuntini
Near the La Rocca Archaeological Area, on the ground floor, visitors will find the exhibition routes most closely connected to the history of the community and the Blessed Diana herself. The first room connects the civil coat of arms of the community to the medieval statue of the Madonna and Child held in the collegiate church. The second room offers all the documents and artworks that help trace the life story of the Blessed Diana Giuntini. Since September 2017 the first floor has housed the more purely archaeological itinerary, involving the finds from the excavations at the Sant’Ippolito site in Anniano and at the Rocca.

Rocca Archaeological Area
Excavation lasted thirty years and has made it possible to go back through the various settlements in the town, from the first religious building, an eighth-century Lombardic “oraculum” dedicated to Maria Assunta, to the enlargement of the church towards the east. Today, traces of the transept with its three apses and crypt remain. When Florentine domination became more stable beginning in 1327, the church was partly dismantled and the area was fortified with a new entrance hall, the medieval cistern of which remains today. The panoramic terrace permits a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view around the Arno Valley.

Torre dell’Orologio
Visitors can tour the interior of the clock tower and enjoy a picturesque view from it over the Arno Valley. Today it is about six metres high, but it must have stood much taller in the fourteenth century, when it served for defence along with the three circles of walls. Later, given its proximity to the palace of the chief magistrate, it became a city tower and an important landmark for the entire community because its clock bells rang to mark the farmers’ days.

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Food and wine

The “Tosca” potato from Santa Maria a Monte
For years, the ideal climate has made it possible to cultivate this tuber. It is an oval-shaped potato with yellow flesh and a pronounced taste, much appreciated by experts in the sector and by consumers. The local potato is celebrated at a festival every year around August.

Wine
The municipality is a stop on the Pisa Hills Wine Trail.

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Crafts

The leather district
Santa Maria a Monte is one of the six municipalities in the Comprensorio del Cuoio leather area. The others are Santa Croce sull’Arno, Castelfranco di Sotto, Montopoli in Valdarno and San Miniato in the Province of Pisa, and Fucecchio in the Province of Florence. Most of the shops that produce leather and footwear are located in the Ponticelli industrial zone. The most important sectors are tanning and especially leather work (shoe production, shoe uppers, soles, leather shearing and heels).

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Activities for visitors

The Pianore loop
The Anello delle Pianore loop can be covered in two hours and thirty minutes and crosses the Cerbaie woods around the Villa delle Pianore.

The Observatory
It opened in 1999 and is equipped with excellent tools; in fact it works with Cambridge’s Minor Planet Center in the US and is on the list of the region’s protected sites.

Urban hiking
A two-and-a-half-hour itinerary that starts from the Palazzo Comunale and touches all of the town’s most important museums and monuments: the “La Rocca” archaeological area, the Museo della Beata Giuntini and the Museo Casa Carducci – concluding at the Torre dell’Orologio.