Discovering Casentino among forests, castles and sanctuaries
The Casentino is an area located in the northern area of the province of Arezzo, characterized by the presence of mountains covered with large forests that gradually degrade to the bottom of the valley where the first part of the river Arno flows. The great river that bathes Florence and Pisa, was born right in the mountains of the Parco nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, to be precise on Mount Falterona, one of the main reliefs of the Tuscan-Romagnolo Apennines. Apennines mark one of the natural boundaries of the Casentino, separating it from Romagna and Mugello, while the Pratomagno complex divides the valley from the Valdarno Superiore.
The history of man in Casentino has its roots in prehistory and Etruscan times as evidenced by the archaeological finds of the Lake of Idols. During the Middle Ages, the Casentino has seen a series of really remarkable castles and some important monastic complexes that still today are among the main points of interest of the whole area.
Things to do and things to see in Casentino
The Casentino is a valley characterized by a truly luxuriant nature: among majestic woods, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, there is certainly no shortage of things to do and places to visit! This is a land of castles (here are some of the most beautiful in Tuscany), centers of spirituality such as the Santuario della Verna and the Eremo di Camaldoli and medieval hamlets with many stories to tell like that of Dante who visited Casentino during his exile.
- Castello di Porciano
- Eremo di Camaldoli
- Castello di Romena
- Pieve di Romena
- Santuario di Santa Maria del Sasso
- Santuario della Verna
Developed in medieval times as a market place, Stia is one of the main centers of the Casentino valley bottom. The visit to the village can only start from the main square, seat of the medieval market, where the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta is located, which today shows an eighteenth-century appearance but is actually much more dated. Also not to be missed is the Palagio Fiorentino, a graceful neo-Gothic complex, built on the remains of a medieval residence of the Counts Guidi, which stands out in the center of a beautiful park with its crenellated tower. To conclude, I would like to point out the presence of some interesting museums; in particular the Museum of Contemporary Art which is located right in the Palagio, the Ski Museum and the Museum of the Woods and Mountains.
Castello di Porciano
Lovers of castles and fans of the Middle Ages in general cannot help but fall in love with the Casentino. In this guide we will see some of the castles of this area starting from the Porciano Castle. Porciano is a very small village, located in the municipality of Pratovecchio Stia, dominated by the imposing tower of the castle that once belonged to the Guidi counts. This powerful feudal family owned numerous castles in the area such as that of Poppi and that of Romena. Inside the castle there is a museum that allows you to visit some rooms of the castle and a collection of agricultural and domestic tools typical of the Casentino countryside as well as the artifacts found during the excavations of the complex and a particular collection of Native American objects from the North Dakota.
Eremo di Camaldoli
The Eremo di Camaldoli is located in the Parco delle Foreste Casentinesi, immersed in a magnificent forest of fir trees, far from any form of disturbance. It is a large monastic complex founded by St. Romuald shortly after the year 1000, one of the main places of spirituality in all of Tuscany as well as the mother house of the Benedictine order of the Camaldolese. Among the various rooms of the Hermitage are the chiesa del Salvatore, built at the time of its foundation but rebuilt in Baroque style between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, the cell of San Romualdo (the only one that can be visited in the complex), some chapels, the refectory and the library where once more than 7,000 volumes of great value were kept (today the book heritage of Camaldoli is preserved in other libraries such as the Nazionale and the Laurenziana in Florence).
Castello di Romena
The Castle of Romena is a suggestive military complex located in the municipal territory of Pratovecchio Stia at an altitude of 610 meters. Documented since the 11th century, this was one of the most important of the castles that the Counts Guidi had in this area. We are talking about a truly monumental work, just think that the castle was equipped with three circles of walls and 14 defensive towers! Today of the castle you can still admire some sections of the walls, three towers and the keep. That of Romena is a truly remarkable castle and was also restored not many years ago, so… a visit is a must!
Pieve di Romena
The pieve di San Pietro a Romena is a wonderful Romanesque building built around the mid-twelfth century. A parish full of charm which, according to legend, was founded by the “Great Countess” Matilde di Canossa. The church has a rather simple facade while the apse, with its two orders of arches, is a real architectural spectacle. Inside you can admire a series of capitals decorated with human and zoomorphic representations in addition to geometric and plant elements.
Poppi can boast of being listed among the most beautiful hamlets in Italy, a title that is fully deserved if we consider the quality of the historical and artistic heritage enjoyed by this center in Casentino. Among the various points of interest we can certainly mention the chiesa di San Fedele and the chiesa della Madonna del Morbo but the monument that more than any other stands out is the sensational Castello dei Conti Guidi. The castle, built starting from the XIII century, boasts an extraordinary state of conservation, several works of art and a very important library with over 25,000 volumes.
The main economic center of the Casentino, Bibbiena is famous for the production of Panno Casentino, a traditional woolen fabric usually produced in green or orange colors that is generally used in the production of winter coats. The most interesting places to visit are the Propositura dei Santi Ippolito e Donato and the Museo Archeologico del Casentino which exhibits finds from various sites, including the Lago degli Idoli, and various eras, from Prehistory to the late Roman age.
Santuario di Santa Maria del Sasso
The Santuario di Santa Maria del Sasso is just one kilometer from Bibbiena. According to tradition, in 1347 an apparition of the Virgin took place here following which it was decided to build a church. During the following century the present complex was built, which in addition to the church is composed of a cloister and a series of structures all around it. Inside the church you can admire some valuable works such as the fresco of the Madonna del Sasso by Bicci di Lorenzo, a glazed polychrome terracotta by Santi Buglioni and the Nativity of Mary between Saints Sebastian and Raimondo di Peñafort by Jacopo Ligozzi.
Like Poppi, Raggiolo is also part of the club of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The center is located on the slopes of Pratomagno, in a fascinating environmental context, among endless expanses of chestnut woods. And the chestnut represents one of the distinctive elements of this village as you can learn by visiting the EcoMuseo della Castagna where the various stages of harvesting and processing the chestnut are illustrated. In addition to the museum in the village, the church of San Michele is also worth a visit.
Santuario della Verna
We close this review of the 10 places to visit in Casentino with another symbol of spirituality: the Santuario della Verna. According to tradition, it is here that in 1224 St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata; and it is precisely to the patron saint of Italy that we owe the birth of the Sanctuary. It is a suggestive complex of considerable dimensions in which some buildings stand out, such as the Basilica Maggiore, the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the corridor of the Stimmate and the Chapel of the Stigmata.