Camaldoli Monastery

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If you want to take a break from hectic life, even just one day in Camaldoli can really make a difference. Peace, silence and recollection will be sensations that you will easily experience among the cloisters of the monastery or visiting the cell of San Romualdo. And if you want to take a little longer break from stress, at Camaldoli guest house you will stay in unpretentious rooms where the simple and essential environment will contribute in making you feel relaxed. You can take advantage of this accommodation for a spiritual retreat, but also to go Camaldoli trekking and mountain biking in the Casentino Forest or to visit the surroundings. In short, you will not be woken up by friars at five in the morning for a morning prayer, you can do what you want, respecting the environment and the context you are in. Although the monastery and the hermitage are a few kilometres apart, they are part of a single monastic complex each with its own peculiarities: the hermitage is dedicated to personal recollection of religious people - reclusion - while the monastery is dedicated to community life. Right from the beginning it has always had a greater vocation to communicate with the outer world, with the sick, the pilgrims, the needy. Today, this availability is also given to anyone who wants or needs a deeper dive into their own spirituality.

HOW TO GET TO EREMO DI CAMALDOLI AND ITS MONASTERY. Camaldoli Monastery is located in the a at approximately 820 m above sea level. From Florence you reach it by taking Passo della Consuma, after Poppi you follow the directions for Soci and the signs for the Monastery. From Florence it takes a couple of hours whereas from Arezzo you will arrive, of course, in half the time following Strada Regionale 371 Umbro Casentinese Romagnola, always in the direction of Poppi, after which the journey continues for Soci. By public transport from Florence you can take the bus that arrives in Bibbiena and from there take another one to the Monastero di Camaldoli. You can take the same bus from Bibbiena even after getting there by train from Arezzo. Further on from the Monastery, at a distance of about 3 km, lies the Hermitage of Camaldoli, 1100 m above sea level. It can be reached on foot or by mountain bike following a beautiful path through the woods that, of course, includes some steep parts. Alternatively you can reach it by car, although, said between us, you will miss the charm of a journey immersed in the greenery and the wonderful nature of Casentino. Around the Camaldoli Hermitage, paths are fantastic in the spring, fascinating with the warm colours of autumn and evocative covered by the glimmer of snow. Camaldoli, as the monastic complex that includes the Monastery and the Hermitage is more simply defined, is located practically in the middle of the Camaldoli Italy Forests, which owe their name not so much to their proximity to the Camaldoli religious centre, but rather because they were created from monks to preserve the flora and fauna of the area. The Biogenetic Reserve of Camaldoli is currently run by the State Forestry Corps but the Camaldoli monks have always treated it with passion and dedication. Here silver firs grow, and among the animals you can see, with some luck, deer, wild boar and wolves. Quiet, there is no need to be afraid, they are such shy animals that you hardly ever see them!

MONASTERY OF CAMALDOLI. The Monastery complex includes the Forestiera, the Church and the Monastery itself. The original nucleus consisted of a small church and a hospice, and was erected by the Camaldoli Benedictine monks of the Prataglione Abbey in the area of Fontebuona, so called because of the spring that gushed nearby.

In 1046, the structure passed into the hands of the Camaldolese monks who lived in the hermitage and at this point the ‘spedale’, the structure that welcomed pilgrims, became even more efficient. The Church was rebuilt and restored several times before acquiring its present shape. The construction of the Monastery began in the 16th century and ended in the first decades of the 1600s.

The fulcrum of the complex is certainly represented by the internal cloisters and in particular by the central one dedicated to Count Maldolo, who donated the first part of land where the first compound of the building was built. This cloister has the peculiarity of having one side made of porches always exposed to the sun, while the other, always in the shade, is 'closed' and faces some windows with the same arched structure of the porches.

The Church, which has undergone several transformations over the centuries, is definitely worth a visit. The most important works are the canvases by Giorgio Vasari: to understand the importance of this artist, bear in mind that the Uffizi are his work. And to think that at the beginning when Vasari’s paintings were suggested to the monks, given the young age of the painter (not yet thirty), they were not convinced and made him first do some 'test jobs'! After eliminating the doubts of the Camaldoli friars, he devoted himself to the most demanding work: a polyptych consisting of a central altarpiece depicting the deposition of the cross, two side tables depicting the saints, and thirteen smaller plates called the 'predelle'. Following the work of 1775, the pictorial complex was dismembered and the various parts placed in different places in the Church: the ‘Deposition’ stood in its place above the main altar and two predellas were placed alongside the same altar; the two altarpieces with the saints, San Ilariano and San Donato, were placed on the side walls of the Church. Eight predellas are in the choir and are visible only upon request and for study purposes.

In Camaldoli (Tuscany), the Foresteria is the other heart of the Monastery: here, travellers and young people who intended to engage in monastic life were welcomed. For this purpose, the second cloister called 'dei Fanciulli' was constructed. The guest house in Camaldoli has hosted illustrious people such as Lorenzo the Magnificent with all his court of literate and men of culture. In 1934 Monsignor Montini, the future Paul VI, was one of the faculty professors of the ‘settimane teologiche’ which are still held every year. The Camaldoli guest rooms have single or multiple bed rooms and can accommodate up to 200 people!

If after the prayer and some time to meditate you want to move to something a bit more earthly, a visit to the Antica Farmacia of Camaldoli Monks is a must. It was part of the old hospital and medicines and herbal preparations were made here. Even today you can find a lot of Camaldoli products made carefully following the Camaldoli Monks’ ancient recipes. ‘Laurus 48’, the best laurel-based digestive liqueur and the 'Lacrima d'Abeto' obtained from mountain herbs are perhaps among the best-known products of Camaldoli chemistry. In addition to these two classics of the Old Camaldoli chemistry you will find a wide range of creams and other strictly herbal body products such as aftershave and sweets... even with dried porcini mushrooms! You will be spoilt for choice, the Camaldoli monks’ products on offer are so many! And if you are hungry, nearby you can find a bar with comfortable wooden tables and chairs where you can eat a meal or sip a liqueur whilst reading a good book.

SACRO EREMO DI CAMALDOLI. The foundation of the Hermitage can be dated to the 11th century, more or less around the year 1023, when San Romualdo abate, who had already founded other Benedictine hermetic communities, decided to found one in this wonderful area between Monte Falterona and Pratomagno. He chose a land that was given to him by Count Maldolo, hence the passage from 'Campo di Maldolo' to Camaldoli is short: such is the source of the name. The first nucleus consisted of five cells and a small oratory dedicated to San Salvatore Trasfigurato. Today, the eremo di Camaldoli, which is the mother house of the Camaldoli Benedictine Monks, has expanded its size and includes twenty cells, the guest house, the church with the monastic choir and the dining room in the ancient refectory. Many of these spaces, being part of the cloistered convent, are not accessible but fortunately the cell of St Romualdo and the Church can be accessed from the courtyard. As you enter through the gate you will immediately be enraptured by the silence and peace of the place; you will immediately notice that simple buildings are surrounded, like in a hug, by silver fir trees. They can be seen at the end of the paved stone street from which you access the cells. From the square of the Church you can enter the San Romualdo Cell, now incorporated in the Library, which has the same 'spiral' structure of all the other Camaldoli hermitage cells: in the centre there is the room, protected by the cold stormy winters of these mountains, around it there are a number of corridors and venues necessary for the activities of hermitic life that consisted predominantly in working, studying and praying. Each cell has a porch overlooking the vegetable garden which provided the monks with food, a vestibule that allows you to stretch and walk when the weather does not allow for a walk outside and where monks can set up their laboratory. The structure of each cell also includes the oratory, the woodshed and a bathroom. Once you visit the cell, enter the Church and you will immediately be surprised to see the wonderful ceiling of the aisle: a triumph of vividly coloured frescoes and golden stuccoes. It rises on the oratory that San Romualdo erected, though it underwent restoration work several times throughout the ages: it was rebuilt in 1220, renovated in 1256, 1295 and 1373 and adopted its current aspect in line with the baroque taste in the period between 1575 and 1669. The facade, with its two heavy campaniles and stone niches, dates back to 1714. Inside, take a look at the beautiful high relief depicting the ‘Virgin and Child with Saints’, a terracotta work by Andrea della Robbia, covered with typical glasswork windows. Another noteworthy work is certainly the altarpiece of the greater altar by Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano called 'Bronzino' depicting the Crucifixion and the saints Romualdo, Pietro Paolo and Francesco.

CAMALDOLI SURROUNDINGS. The Camaldoli hermitage and Monastery are placed in a naturalistic setting that would be worth a visit by itself. The fact that within the Casentine forests there are two monasteries, Camaldoli and La Verna, makes this area an unmissable destination in all seasons. Are you wondering whether they can be visited in winter snow? Well, it can be argued that the silence of snow and its glittering candour increase the charm of the place. Participating in one of the ‘ciaspolate’ organized by local cooperatives is a unique experience! In all seasons there are numerous more or less challenging hiking trails within the park. There are also simple and didactic ones: suitable for children or anyone who wants to learn and discover! Leaving aside the classic route from La Verna to the Monastery of Camaldoli, which takes more than seven hours on foot and therefore suitable only for few, there are other more feasible paths: Prataglia Abbey, for example, can be reached in two and a half hours walk. Even easier and shorter is the excursion to the huge Castagno Miraglio, a majestic tree that is only 2 km away and will give you the chance to cross the Casentino woods. We also recommend a visit to Poppi (Italy), the beautifully preserved medieval centre where the {{link_cross::HIDDENTREASURES§HT§243§Castle of Counts Guidi§_blank}} stands out. Once you have 'nourished the spirit' here, it is time to feed your belly with excellent Casentino dishes such as DOC ham, potato tortelli, ricotta ravioli, polenta and ribollita. Do not exaggerate, gluttony is still a sin! History, art, nature and mysticism: all in one place. I could go on telling you lots more, but some places simply have to be seen in person. Get ready to experience strong emotions that you will treasure in your hearts forever. Whether you are believers or not. The atmosphere is simply in the air...

 

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