It’s a village called Poppi, in the Tuscany province of Arezzo, and it’s listed among the most beautiful villages of Italy.
The place name Poppi appears to be traceable to a period of linguistic history before the 8th century BC, called the Tyrrhenian or common Mediterranean stage. According to this hypothesis, one of the most accredited today, the name comes from poplo, i.e. mound, hill, relief. Poppi is located at the center of the Casentino, one of the most beautiful valleys in Tuscany. The medieval village is a rare walled town, with the Castello dei Conti Guidi at its highest point, dominating over all. The village history is closely linked to the history of the family Guidi who ruled the territory from 1191 until 1440 when it became the seat of the Vicar of the Republic of Florence. The family Guidi was responsible for the structure of the medieval village; it was in fact the Count Simone da Battifolle who in 1200 began the transformation of the castle into a stately home in the city and in 1261 he built the current walls with five gates that gave access to the village (now reduced to four).
The municipality of Poppi is part of the National Park of Casentino Forests within which lie the villages of Badia Prataglia and Camaldoli, with the nearby hermitage founded by St. Romuald, a place of solitude and contemplation. The scenic road that connects this center with the Hermitage of Camaldoli is especially impressive and allows to cross the ridge and benefit of stunning views. Camaldoli is one of the most famous spiritual centers of Tuscany and Central Italy, where San Romualdo built the Hermitage around 1012 and founded the Congregation of Camaldolese ‘Order of St. Benedict’.
(below, the War Memorial)
It is worth mentioning that in the area north of Poppi, on the left bank of the Arno river, there’s the plain of Campaldino, a name famous for the battle that was fought on June 11, 1289 between 8,000 Ghibellines of Arezzo and 12,000 Guelph of Florence. Leading the Florentine army, reinforced by units from many Guelph Tuscan cities, was the Provencal Amerigo of Narbonne joined on the field by the knight Guillaume de Durfort, while the ranks of Arezzo were deployed under the banner of Guglielmino Ubertini, bishop of Arezzo, along with those of Bonconte da Montefeltro and other Ghibellines of Tuscany. The goal of the Florentines was to reach Arezzo through the Casentino, instead of the Valdarno, in order to take by surprise the Ghibellines forces. The fate of the battle was decided by the desertion of the Podesta of Arezzo Guido Novello, Count of Poppi, that instead of intervening, when Arezzo was succumbing, fled with his knights in the near Poppi Castle allowing the Florentines to win.
(below, a marble plate commemorating the battle against the Austria-Hungary domination)
Rising up the hill, walking around the old walls, you enter the historic village from the main gate, on the square Amerighi.
Here is the Church of Our Lady of the Disease (below – Madonna del Morbo). The temple was built between 1657 and 1659 on the project of the local doctor Francesco Folli , opened for worship in 1657 but entirely finished in 1705 . The building plan is hexagonal with roof covered by a small dome and surrounded on three sides by a portico . Inside, on three opposite sides, there are three arches, of which the central one presents the high altar with a table with Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist attributed to the school of Filippino Lippi .
On the opposite direction from the church, the road leads to the upper side of the hill….
….where the Castle stands in all its imposing presence.
The Castle of the Counts of the Guidi family is one of Tuscany’s most significant works of mediaeval architecture and tourist attractions. The Castle stands in a dominant position atop the little mediaeval town and it can be visisted, from the ancient prisons to the belltower.
Access to the castle passes through its walls topped with Guelph crenellations by way of the Lion Gate, built in 1477. The evocative inner courtyard is dominated by a large fifteenth-century staircase, wooden balconies with remains of priceless original ceilings and an imposing off-centre column supporting the roof, while numerous coats of arms decorate the walls.
The courtyard leads into the spaces that used to serve as the castle’s prison and to the Museum of the battle of Campaldino, with a model showing how the two armies of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines were arrayed on the field.
Upstairs are the Great Hall, with a vaulted roof and decorated ceiling, where Francesco, the last Count Guidi, signed his capitulation to the Republic of Florence in 1440, as well as the Chapel of the Guidi Counts, which is of immense significance to art history for its fourteenth-century cycle of frescos of Gospel Stories, attributed to Giotto’s leading pupil Taddeo Gaddi. Visitors can also climb the castle’s bell tower to enjoy the breathtaking view it offers over the mediaeval town of Poppi and the entire area of the Casentino Apennines.
Although the earliest documents to mention the castle’s presence only date back to 1191, there are good grounds for believing that it was built between the ninth and tenth centuries, in the disturbed times following the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire. In the second half of the thirteenth century, Arnolfo Di Cambio, the architect who designed Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, was charged with extending the residence.
The Castle houses the Rilliana Library, a collection of extraordinary historical value. The main group consists of a collection of manuscripts, incunabola (printed editions from the fifteenth Century) and other publications from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries, which the Count Fabrizio Rilli Orsini donated to Poppi in 1825. The Library collection grew in 1866 when, in the light of the new laws on the suppression of religious guilds, the collections of the Holy Hermitage of Camaldoli and those of the Poppi Capuchins were donated. The Rilliana Library holds 25,000 ancient books, 800 Medieval manuscripts and over 700 incunabula.
Marking a significant watershed in contemporary politics in Tuscany, the battle of Campaldino in 1289 provided Italy’s national poet laureate Dante Alighieri, who fought in it himself, with the inspiration for several of the cantos in his Divine Comedy, apparently the canto XXXIII of Inferno was written here.
Down the hill, just wandering around is a pleasure….
Below, one of the many ceramic works you can see in Tuscany from the Della Robbia family….
At the other side of the village there’s another place you can’t miss….
Badia San Fedele is one of the most interesting church of the Casentino, from a historical point of view, the architectural and pictorial works here preserved. The church has a particular devotional value for the inhabitants of the area because it is linked to the figure of Beato Torello, for he’s the patron saint of the village, whose remains are preserved in the Romanesque crypt. The original nucleus of the Abbey was the Benedictine Abbey of Strumi, about 3 km from Poppi, founded in the late tenth century “pro remedio animae” of Count Tegrimo Guidi. In the eleventh century, the Abbey was under the rule of Vallombrosa, at the end of the twelfth century, at the behest of the Guidi, it was moved inside the walls of Poppi. Construction of the building lasted for several decades of the thirteenth century, at the same time of the building of the castle, which would become the main residence of the Guidi in the Casentino. The Abbey of San Fedele, already rich of a large fortune at the time of Strumi, was the recipient in time of several donations from Guidi and it was their burial place until 1568, when, by order of the Abbot Andrea III of Gaiole in Chianti, was ordered the dismantle of the sumptuous tomb that was found in the sanctuary.The abbot applied so the decree of Pope Pius V which forbade burials in churches. The bones of the Counts were buried next to the sacristy, where a plaque commemorates the fact. In 1810 the abbey was suppressed by the Napoleonic administration.
The Abbey of San Fedele stands on the north end of the village of Poppi, adhering to the walls (from one of the towers where the bell was probably made posthumously to the construction of the church) and at the homonymous gate of San Fedele . The facade is facing west and overlooking a small square, however the entrance normally used is that side and it consists of a portal opened in 1564.
The interior of the Abbey has the characteristics of a typical building of Vallombrosa, a Latin cross with a transept divided into three large rectangular chapels. The triumphal arch of the apse and the two side chapels are marked with black and white pattern that recurs in the three windows of the apse, round windows in the walls and in the arches of the crypt below. The altar is the work of a local sculptor upon drawings of Castellucci.
We’ve found there a nice and cozy hotel, with a view on the castle, we stay there every time and we can’t wait to be back one more time…..