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From Pratovecchio to the Castello di Romena

Eight walks inspired by The Divine Comedy

Here the poet is at the end of the Malebolge, in the Eighth Circle of Inferno; amidst the makers of counterfeit coins, he meets Master Adam, whose plight gives him the opportunity to re-evoke one of the places where Dante spent a few years of his exile, and which recurs a number of times in the geographic descriptions of The Divine Comedy, namely the Casentino. This valley, closed in da Pratomagno al gran giogo (the Apennines), is where the Arno - fiumicel che nasce in Falterona,/e cento miglia di corso nol sazia rises and where the Battle of Campaldino between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines (in which Dante participated) was fought in 1289. But Dante also recalls other significant geographic locations in the Casentino, for example the river Archiano, the Hermitage of Camaldoli - a pié del Casentino/traversa un'acqua c'ha nome l'Archiano,/che sovra l'Ermo nasce in Apennino - and Monte della Verna, the crudo sasso intra Tevero e Arno.

Li ruscelletti che de' verdi colli
del Casentin discendon giuso in Arno,
faccendo i lor canali freddi e molli,
sempre mi stanno innanzi, e non indarno,
ché l'imagine lor vie più m'asciuga
che 'l male ond'io nel volto mi discarno.
La rigida giustizia che mi fruga
tragge cagion del loco ov'io peccai
a metter più li miei sospiri in fuga.
Ivi Romena, là dov'io falsai
la lega suggellata del Batista;
per ch'io il corpo sù arso lasciai.
Ma s'io vedessi qui l'anima trista
di Guido o d'Alessandro o di lor frate,
per Fonte Branda non darei la vista.

"The rills, that from the verdant uplands sheen
Of Casentino, down to Arno flow,
Cooling with moisture soft their margins green,
Still haunt mine eyes: nor vainly order'd so:
Because their image drains and parches more,
Than what in face makes me all meagre grow.
Unbending Justice, that torments me sore,
Finds motive from the place, my sin that knew,
To haste my sighs more swiftly than before.
There stands Romena, where the coinage true,
Stamp'd with the Baptist's head, I falsified:
For which my corpse, left at the stake, I rue.
But, could I see in torture at my side
Guido, or either of his brothers twain,
The sight I'd not exchange for Branda's tide."

(Inferno, Canto XXX, 64/75)

Of the various possibilities we chose the Master Adam episode because it's less well-known yet is very suggestive and geographically precise. There's a description of the valley, with streams flowing down the wooded mountain slopes into the Arno. There's the Castello di Romena, one of the historic strongholds in the area, built on a hill overlooking Pratovecchio. There's Fonte Branda, once an important spring emerging from the hill where the castle is built, now unfortunately dried up. Master Adam, in fact, as a chronicle of the period notes, "was brought to the Castello di Romena in the Casentino [where] Count Aghinolfo, Count Guido and Count Alessandro […] set him up and had him produce florins with the mint mark of the Comune di Firenze, which were the right weight but weren't gold […] They spent lots of these florins; in the end, Master Adam came to Firenze one day, the coins were recognized to be false, he was captured and burnt alive". For this reason, the Master, consumed by thirst, is doomed in The Inferno to imagine the streams of the Casentino and the spring of Fonte Branda.

Start from the centre of Pratovecchio, cross the Arno on Ponte M. Grazia and then go immediately right (marked as footpath no. 26), walking up an asphalt road. Be on the lookout at the first sharp U-bend for an unpaved road on the right that climbs up into the wood. Following this you get onto the old road that once climbed in the direction of Scarpaccia via Case Palaia. When you come to a junction, go left and soon you reach the Case Palaia farm buildings; follow the red and white signs which take you back onto the asphalt road. Turn right, but you soon come off it again, going left and following the red and white signs taking you up a grassy hill. Make sure that on this stretch you follow the path running along by the barbed wire fence, which climbs up to a small copse of oak trees, where you meet a bigger path. Go right along this, cross the courtyard of a house and get back onto the asphalt road. Turn left along this but leave it again immediately, turning left on a slightly overgrown path that soon widens out and meets the unpaved road for the Castello di Romena. Go left along this, walking between cypress trees, and soon you are at the castle (for a guided tour, ring the keeper's doorbell). When you reach the castle entrance, go left, following the line of the walls, and descend along a mule-track till you reach a recently renovated arch-shaped construction where the waters of the Fonte Branda once emerged. Unfortunately, the spring has dried up. From here, continue downhill along the main mule-track and you soon come to a poorly-maintained asphalt road. Turn left along this and continue downhill till you hit the road which, if you turn right, goes to the Pieve di Romena. You have two options at this point: either go left along the asphalt road which quickly brings you back to the start point or go back the way you came.

Time required 2 hours
Vertical height 210 m
Maps   SELCA 1:50.000, "Casentino Trekking"
How to get there Pratovecchio can be reached from Arezzo and Cesena on the SS. 71 as far as Bibbiena, then along the SS. 370 to Campaldino. From there take SS. 310 for the Croce a Mori pass.


Text and picture: Cinzia Pezzani & Sergio Grillo
Translation: Jeremy Carden

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Press registration n. 5528 10/11/2006 - Editor Polimedia - P.IVA 05575950489