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The Val d’Elsa is an area of Tuscany that lies between the Provinces of Florence and Siena, is crossed by the river Elsa, and is characterized by a very suggestive landscape with hills of olive groves and vineyards. In short, it is the classic, idyllic Tuscan landscape of the collective imagination.
The Val d’Elsa is located in a strategic position between Florence and Siena, two of the cities of art destination for every Tuscan itinerary, and definitely worth a visit during your trip to Tuscany.
It has a rich historical and artistic heritage consisting of churches, rural churches, medieval villages, and Renaissance palaces. The gastronomic tradition draws from local villagers and retains the imprint of traditional country cooking. Taverns, restaurants, and guest houses are popular tourist facilities in Val d’Elsa, and were built by recovering houses, farms, and estates scattered around the countryside. It has been a strategic area since the Middle Ages as it is crossed by the Via Francigena, and was renowned for its glass and the cultivation of saffron.
Besides San Gimignano, there are other historical towns of Val d’Elsa that are worth visiting.
Monteriggioni is one of the best examples of a fortified medieval village that is still intact, and is famous throughout the world. It emerges in the Tuscan countryside, with its crenellated walls with 15 towers standing 15 meters high and of elliptical shape that wraps around the top of the hill called “Monte Ala.” The walls, still intact, are 570 meters long and 2 meters in width, and are equipped with two input ports: Porta Franca (direction of Siena) and Porta San Giovanni (towards Florence).
Monteriggioni Castle was built in 1213 by the Republic of Siena around a pre-existing Lombard farm to hinder the expansion of Florence, with which it had a strong rivalry. During this time, one of the most important streets of the time, the Way Francigena, was built. In later centuries, Monteriggioni represented a strong point of the defensive belt of the Republic of Siena, until 1544, when the castle was sold to the Florentines through treason, even though they had suffered a major defeat. It then became the property of the Medici family, who then sold it to a Sienese noble, and was subsequently gradually passed on to local families.
The interior of the village retains its original appearance. It is made up entirely of cobblestones and opens into a large square, Piazza Roma, on which stands the church dedicated to St. Maria Assunta, with its polychrome facade.
Monteriggioni has only 42 inhabitants. To stay inside there is a unique hotel with which you must book well in advance. Every summer, a famous reenactment with actors in costume and tournaments takes place.
Certaldo has Etruscan-Roman origins, an imposing medieval castle, and the keep, a fortification consisting of a single fortified tower, which provided stable, stately accommodations, and armory.
This town is world famous for being the town of Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the fathers of the Italian language and author of the Decameron, the famous collection of short stories. He was born in Certaldo in 1313 and died there in 1375.
The greatest evidence of the city’s history are found in the upper part, which leads to the main squares through a funicular.
COLLE VAL D’ELSA
This Etruscan town realized its greatest expansion since the Middle Ages thanks to its proximity to the Via Francigena. Its converging roads brought to the city a considerable amount of traffic of goods and people. It is located in the center of Val d’Elsa and is historically an important manufacturing center for the production of crystals and fine paper. Particularly interesting are the “Gore,” artificial channels of the thirteenth century, and in part still visible, which take water from the river Elsa into the village and the factories of the area.
The urban fabric was formerly divided into three parts: the Borgo di Santa Caterina, the Piticciano Castle, and Piano, today simply called Colle alta and Colle bassa. The best preserved part is the section of the village where are located the Medici palaces, the Tower of Arnolfo, the Cathedral, and the Church of San Francesco, one of the first settlements of the followers of St. Francis in Tuscany.