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Visita il Mugello, culla dei Medici, a due passi da Firenze e le bellezze toscane

Visiting Tuscany




The Casentino is situated in north-east Tuscany on the border with Romagna, its boundaries marked out by mountain ridges that give it the appearance of a amphitheatre, through the centre of which runs the river Arno (close to its source on Monte Falterona). The Casentino is in the province of Arezzo and includes the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, which can boast the most extensive and best-preserved woods in Italy and the greatest variety of fauna in the whole of the northern Apennines.
The history of this region goes back to the Etruscans, who grasped the economic importance of the area as a route across the Apennine mountain chain. After the Roman era there were the barbarian invasions which resulted in a period of decline and neglect. The medieval period was the area's greatest moment of splendour and the Casentino became an area of large properties and not just of transit. One of the most powerful families in the area were the Conti Guidi, who ruled a large chunk of the territory. There were also the Tarlati and Ubertini families from Arezzo, who owned the lands on the Arezzo side, where they built a number of castles, for the most part destroyed during the conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. And at the crucial Battle of Campaldino, which marked the victory of the Guelphs, there was also a young Florentine poet named Dante Alighieri.

Following the defeat of the Conti Guidi in the Battle of Anghiari (1440), the Casentino became part of the Florentine Republic; subsequently it passed under the control of the Medici, before finally being incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The hermitage of Camaldoli

Its marginal geographical position combined with its great natural beauty attracted religious groups as a conducive location for prayer and meditation, and they chose a number of beautiful, isolated sites to build monasteries, hermitages, sanctuaries and country parish churches. One of the most important of these is a sanctuary called La Verna, which was given by Conte Cattani to St Francis, who lived there and received the stigmata there in 1224. This place is almost supernaturally beautiful and lies on a mountain that is protected and watched over by the monks, who have managed to preserve its natural heritage intact to the present day. Pilgrims and visitors still come to La Verna from all over the world.
The hermitage of Camaldoli was founded in 1023 by San Romualdo, who was captivated by the beauty of the forest. Camaldoli is still an internationally-significant religious point of reference and thousands of pilgrims and visitors come here every year.
The earliest historical evidence of the Pieve di Romena at Pratovecchio dates back to 1054. This country parish church is the most important in the Alto Casentino and its artistic and architectural beauty give it an aura of elegance and refinement.

There are still lots of castles in the Casentino, the most well-known and best-preserved of which is at Poppi. The residence of the Conti Guidi from 1100 to 1400, its imposing walls tower over the village and dominate the plain of Campaldino.
The Castello di Porciano, which lies on a low hill together with a medieval settlement, was also the property of the Conti Guidi, and is a fine palace-tower that dominates Stia. It was here that Dante wrote his famous letter to the Florentines in 1331. It has recently been restored and now houses a small museum containing various ceramic finds and tools and instruments that were part of the local peasant farming culture.
Only the solid walls of the imposing fortress of Chiusi della Verna now remain.
The Castello di Romena was built in the year 1000 and was the most heavily fortified castle of the Conti Guidi, having three sets of walls and fourteen towers. It dominated the whole Casentino valley, and it's still possible to admire the layout of the castle and its well-preserved main towers and keep. There is reference to it in Canto XXX of Dante's Divine Comedy.

One of the most important towns in the Casentino is Stia, which lies at the foot of Monte Falterona where the river Staggia flows into the Arno. It developed in the medieval period as a market for the Castello di Porciano, which overlooks it. It has a very distinctive central piazza which lies on a slope and is surrounded by covered arches. The town is famous for production of a very particular and brightly-coloured form of wool called 'casentino', which is known throughout the world. Another important town is Bibbiena, which is the most economically significant settlement in the area due to its textile and electromechanical factories. Despite a certain amount of building and development over the last two centuries, Bibbiena has managed to preserve its original historic town centre.
The isolated town of Poppi lies on a hill dominating the Arno valley and is one of the most important towns in the Casentino. It has Roman origins but its main development took place when the Conti Guidi elevated it to the status of feudal residence in the 12th century by building a castle there. This can still be seen today. Not far from Poppi is the plain of Campaldino, where a famous battle was fought between Firenze and Arezzo on 11 June 1289, which ended with the defeat of Arezzo.

The Casentino is also well known for its cuisine and has a number of characteristic dishes: tortelli alla Casentinese, which are potato-filled ravioli served with a delicious meat sauce; scottiglia, an extremely ancient and very tasty dish made from a variety of meats cooked very slowly with the gradual addition of both, tomato and red wine; lumache, snails cooked for a couple of hours in a rich sauce; and finally panina, an original form of bread flavoured with herbs and sultanas. And of course one absolutely must not forget the porcini mushrooms from the forests of the area, the best in Tuscany.

Translated by Jeremy Carden
Picture by Sandro Santioli

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