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In the heart of the Chianti, you will find the lovely village of San Casciano in val di pesa, nestled in the hills between vineyards and olive groves. Among the major monuments worth visiting are the Museum of Sacred Art and and the Church of Mercy (or Santa Maria al Prato), which has a rich collection of art, including a Crucifix by Simone Martini.
The city is separated in two parts by Via Cassia. It is located some 15 km from Florence, and 45 km from Siena, bordering on the municipalities of Greve in Chinati and Tavernelle Val di Pesa.It is located in a subzone of the Chianti Classico area, thus it is famous for its wine and extra virgin olive oil, and its agricultural products in general.The territory of San Casciano was already inhabited in Etruscan times, as demonstrated by archeological finds, like the Montefiridolfi (the Arciere tombs) and Valigondoli (the digs of Poggio La Croce). A plaque with the writing “Decimo” can still be read at the Pieve di San Cecilia, near San Casciano, affirming that this was an important thoroughfare that connected the Florence and Siena colonies. Archeological finds and layered toponomastics attest to the city center’s ancient origins.
San Casciano was a feudal city run by the bishops in Florence, who, in 1241, conceded the first civil statues. In 1278, the town came under the rule of the Florence Republic. Shortly thereafter, it became the home of a League and Podesteria that included the Lega di Campoli, for a total of 40 ‘peoples’. San Casciano was purposefully located along an important transportation route, the Via Cassia, which connected Florence to Siena. Another important factor in the development of San Casciano was the growth in agricultural production thanks to the increase in sharecropping that facilitated the spread of trading posts in nearby cities, like Mercatale and the castle of San Casciano ‘a Decimo’.
In the early 1300s, in fact, with no defense walls or fortresses, San Casciano was often targeted by mercenary groups. It was occupied first by Emperor Arrigo VII from November 1312 to January 1313, then by Castruccio Castracani, who sacked it in February 1326, and finally by Fra’ Moriale in 1343. Following these events, the Florence Republic decided to fortify the city in 1354. The fortified walls that were a slightly polygonal in shape were completed in 1355, and in 1356, a quarterdeck (which partially exists today) was added to increase the city’s defenses.
Previous to this, the Duke of Athens had planned to transform the village into a castle and rename it “Castle Ducale” but this idea soon disappeared, just like the Duke. In 1420, San Casciano welcomed Pope Martino V. In 1494, Charles of France set up camp near the village, but he never visited it. Before he left the area, however, he gave a significant donation to the local Franciscan convent. In 1512, near L’Albergaccio (in Sant’Andrea in Percussina) Niccolo’ Machiavelli began his exile, and it was in that same period that he wrote some of his most renowned works, like the Prince and the Mandragola. With the birth of the Grand Duchy, San Casciano ceased being a military stronghold and its history followed that of the region.
In 1880, after the Tuscan Grand Duchy was replaced by a unified Italy, the voters of San Casciano elected Sidney Sonnino as a municipal deputy. Sonnino would go on to become prime minister from February 8 to May 29, 1906, and from December 11, 1909 to March 31, 1910. Some years earlier, in 1891, San Casciano was connected to Florence by way of a steam train line that was aimed at linking Florence with the Chianti area, which was previously left out of the regional train line.
On July 26, 1944, San Casciano was heavily bombarded by the Allied forces, and together with the land mines left by the Nazis, the town was almost reduced to a rubble. The city’s reconstruction was slow.
Museum of Sacred Art – Church of Santa Maria del Gesù
In this museum were collected some works that were in the churches throughout the area. You can see two pillars of Florentine and Sienese painting of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: the reredos by Coppo di Marcovaldo and the Madonna enthroned by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, showing that San Casciano was a meeting point for artists from Florence and Siena. The museum also houses paintings by Blacks of Bicci, Jacopo del Casentino, the Master of the Triptych Horne, the Master of San Lucchese.
New Museum: Opened in September 2009, the museum houses all the works and collections of art found in the area. The Archaeology section collects some of the oldest documents in the history of San Casciano, from the Etruscan stele of the archer, one of the most important evidence in northern Etruria, to the Roman world with its everyday objects. The section of Sacred Art exhibits sculptures, furnishings and vestments from the twelfth century. the nineteenth century. coming from places of worship of the entire municipality. The third section covers the primitive dwellings. There are scale models, explanatory texts and photographs of the era, with the aim to raise awareness of the great variety of buildings and traditional habitats.
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