Castelfranco Pian di Sco is a municipality in Valdarno located in a stunning area at the foothills of Pratomagno. It is surrounded by the typical Tuscan landscape with terraced hills covered with olive trees, expanses of vineyards, forests of beech and in the spring, by a blue ‘sea’ of irises. But nature also offers another unforgettable sight: the Castelfranco Calanche area. If we also consider that the Castelfranco Piandisco Municipality was formed in 2014 from the merger of two municipalities, respectively Castelfranco di Sopra and Pian di Sco, you will be visiting two towns in one! Art, culture, history will all be multiplied. Not to forget the surroundings: like a Chinese box, each of the two centres offer interesting itineraries and fun events. Plus, as the saying goes, you are at a stone's throw from Florence (40 km) and Arezzo (40 km). And if you do get hungry, as you know ... this is never a problem in Tuscany! If worst comes to worst, you will always find 'fett'unta': and if it is also topped with zolfini beans, that is even better!
CASTELFRANCO DI SOPRA ITALY: THE CAYMAN OF THE 1300s. Let's start with the name that tells an interesting story. At the end of the 1300s Florence ordered the building of the village that became one of the 'New Lands', areas in which new settlements were encouraged in return for the guarantee of tax exemption for ten years. As we say in Tuscany ...that is ganzo! This mechanism would work today too. But back to the 1300s: since the village stood at the top and was in fact tax-free, it was called 'Franco castle above Florence'.
CASTELFRANCO DI SOPRA: HISTORY. The area was originally inhabited by the Etruscans and then by the Romans. With the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, the area passed into the hands of the Lombards. The first written evidences date back to 220 A.D. and they are the work of the monks of Vallombrosa. The village was founded in 1299 and, after the vast colonization, the former 'New Land' underwent, in the seventeenth century, a period of considerable economic and social renewal up to the annexation to the province of Arezzo in the nineteenth century.
WHAT TO SEE IN CASTELFRANCO DI SOPRA. The first thing you will see upon arriving here is the town’s symbol, the so-called Arnolfo Tower. Arnolfo di Cambio and Castelfranco di Sopra form an indissoluble union: it was the urban planner who, in the early 1300s, designed the village. He essentially followed the typical layout of the Roman 'castrum': a square layout with crossing roads and a square in the middle. The four straight and parallel streets are now called Via Veneto, Via Roma, Via Piave and Via Cavour. These join up with Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in Castelfranco, which contains all the major attractions. At the time of its construction, the village was surrounded by walls and eight towers, four on the sides and four central ones which were open and also served as doors. Unfortunately only one remains standing, all the others have been destroyed. The Arnolfo Tower underwent many changes: in 1500 a clock was added, followed by a kind of canopy cover in 1600 which, fortunately, has been removed. Climbing up the tower you can admire the bell and, most of all, the view that extends below you. Further along you arrive in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in Castelfranco, the beating heart and parlour of the village, as in every other town! On the left is the Town Hall, covered with coats of arms and decorations that testify its historical importance. A little further on, continuing along Via Roma, you come to the Wanda Capodaglio Theatre, dedicated to the actress who spent the last years of her life here. Opened in 1930 having just gone through a period of great decline, the building was renovated, modernized and enhanced from the early 70's onwards. Since 1989 it has housed a rich theatre season, a music school and also a program of performances for kids.
From the civic buildings, let’s now turn to the religious ones... and I assure you that you’ll be spoiled for choice in Castelfranco di Sopra in Italy. Let’s start with the Saint Filippo Neri Church located in Via Cavour. It was built in 1631 and dedicated to a priest of Florentine origins, Filippo Neri, who spent most of his life in Rome. Appalled by the corruption and dangerousness of the capital, he devoted himself to street children, grouping and spending time with them in the playful and enjoyable approach he is famous for. Father Filippo Neri was, in practice, the founder of the oratory intended as a parish youth centre. Since he was born in Castelfranco Pian di Sco and as a young boy he often visited the village to spend his summer holidays here, it was a natural choice to dedicate a church to him and even name him the patron saint of the Lands of Castelfranco in Tuscany. The St Philip Neri Catholic Church initially only had one nave but two more were added later on. The sandstone Baroque façade is characterized by panels in white plaster and by portal gables and windows. Inside, on the high altar, you can admire Saint Filip Ecstasy by Matteo Roselli.
Located in one of the four central streets, Via Piave, the Saint Thomas Church in Castelfranco is another religious building that should not to be missed. It already existed in 1200 but, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was restored. The front, for example, dates back to 1755 whilst the portal is from 1700. Other furnishings such as the crucifix, the choir and the organ date back to the same period. The bell tower was added on in 1882 and the Blessed Sacrament chapel in 1892. Almost opposite the San Tommaso Church in Castelfranco is the oratory of the Blessed Sacrament, which, as reported by the date carved on the portal, was built in 1556. It has a rectangular plan, the nave is characterized by colourful wooden trusses and the presbytery is dominated by a vault: the gilded wooden altar is typically baroque.
Just outside the town, you will find another precious jewel: the San Salvatore Abbey in Soffena. It is only a ten minutes’ walk away from the centre but if you do not want to walk, you can reach it by car or by one of the running buses. It is in a great location surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, which is characteristic of the nearby scenic road of the Seven Bridges. It is the typical Romanesque church of Valdarno with a quadrilateral shape and an impressive stone bell tower. Although the first document in which it is mentioned dates back to 1014, it seems as if it was built 200 years before; the current structure, with a Latin cross, dates back to 1300. The frescoes that decorate the interior have a rough history: in 1600 they were chipped to allow plastering to stick to them. Once they were discovered they were removed, restored, put on special panels and relocated to their original position. Among them it is worth mentioning the 'Madonna and Child' and the 'Saints Peter and Francis' by Paolo Schiavo as well as the ‘Annunciation' by Giovanni nicknamed 'lo scheggia', the younger brother of Masaccio. 'The Madonna Enthroned with the child' and 'Saints Lazarus Michael and Archangel' have instead been attributed to Masaccio’s brother in law. It seems there was also a work of Robbia origins but it was stolen when the church was used as a farm and agricultural storage. Fortunately, it was bought back by the city in 1963 and, thanks to the architect Guido Morozzo, it was restored to its former splendour.
PIAN DI SCO ITALY: HISTORY. It is located about 7 km from Castelfranco di Sopra and extends for almost 18 Km. At least until 1800, its history has been closely linked to the Romanesque Church of Santa Maria a Scò, built during the eleventh century. During the period of the Florence Lordship, the Pievania of Santa Maria, an institution similar to the modern diocese, included 13 churches and two monasteries. To counter the hegemony of the Pazzi and Umbertini families, Pian di Sco became part of the League of Castelfranco. In 1774, when the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo suppressed the local Leagues, Pian di Sco was annexed to the town of Castelfranco. With the ensuing transformation that followed the Napoleonic occupation, Pian di Sco once again became an independent community with its own ruler and council. In 1963, the construction of the 'Castagneta' road and Arezzo -Incisa railroad greatly increased the connection of the town to the valley bottom.
WHAT TO SEE IN PIAN DI SCO'. The church is located at the top of the town and, coming from the street, you will see it from behind with the three apses and the slender bell. The front is the most ancient one, made of sandstone with five arches and beautifully carved capitals, while the back is built with stones of smaller size and placed in a less orderly way. Contrary to what one might think, it is the most recent one. The interior immediately conveys a sense of peace and quiet due to the simplicity of the style but also thanks to the warm enveloping light shining through the two side windows. Of particular interest are the two files of capitals with the first three on each side decorated with motifs of eagles and knotted scrolls. Inside, on the left side, there is also a fresco, unfortunately damaged, the 'Madonna Enthroned', some bas-reliefs of Marian theme and a baptismal font made of sandstone.
Continuing along the road of the Seven Bridges after the parish church of Santa Maria, at the junction follow the direction to Menzano and soon you will find yourself in the enchanting 'Casabiondo Village’ with the characteristic Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Baroque style. The facade is characterized by the unmistakable jagged profile and is surmounted by a double-vaulted tympanum topped by two pinnacles and a lantern. If you wish you can move on to the archaeological site of Poggio alla Regina: the remains of a fortified settlement that has been turned into an experimental archaeological laboratory, a learning centre and, in summer, a destination for interesting guided tours.
THE HAMLET OF FAELLA. This is an area of Pian di Scò where one of the most interesting geological phenomena of the whole Tuscany can be observed: Castelfranco's calanches a succession of cliffs and gullies, made of sand, clay and stratified gravel a hundred meters high. An unforgettable sight: you will feel like you are in the Grand Canyon!
CASTELFRANCO EVENTS. You may be wondering which is the best time to visit the area, perhaps in conjunction with an interesting event? All seasons are good, because, around here, there is always a good motive, whether sacred or secular, to organize a village fete! Let’s start with the sacred: on December 26th the Pian di Sco Living Crib will truly enchant you. In addition to the nativity, you can admire the shops and crafts of the olden days. Still in Pian di Sco, November is the month of The Feast of the Cento Ceppi', which celebrates the tradition of the local wood loggers who used to light fires in tree stumps in order to keep warm and illuminate their villages. A festival with a curious name is held in May in Castelfranco: 'The hail festival': a procession following the relics of St. Philip Neri to thank him for his protection from diseases and calamities, such as hail. Do not miss the Castelfranco Infiorate, held for the Corpus Domini. Last but not least, 'the feast of forgiveness', typical in many villages of the Valdarno. It is celebrated in memory of a kind of peace activists of the past who used to walk through the villages to combat violence, wearing white robes and whipping themselves. You will not have to serve penance, though! After eating traditional local produce and especially after drinking good wine, you will definitely reach a peace of mind and harmony with others. A few examples of treats: thin skin zolfini beans served with Reggello oil, Pratomagno ham and 'tarese', bacon that can be found in only four local butchers. Would you like to know who they are? I will not tell you! We at Toscanainside want to make sure you have plenty of fun: enjoy the treasure hunt!
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