Impruneta, the sanctuary of Santa Maria and the production of terracotta
Impruneta is a delightful small town in the province of Florence located about 15 kilometers from the main city. The village stands in a beautiful position at the beginning of the Chianti hills, in a very green area full of woods, vines and olive groves.
Inhabited since the Etruscan-Roman era, the area experienced a strong development in the Middle Ages, especially after the miraculous discovery of the sacred image of the Madonna occurred in the 11th century. In fact, a parish church, dedicated to Santa Maria, was founded on the site where the town of Impruneta developed.
Once dominated by the Buondelmonti family, Impruneta entered the orbit of Florence from the twelfth century, after the destruction of the fortress of Montebuoni from which the Buondelmonti controlled the area. Since then a strong bond developed between Florence and Impruneta, which was placed at the head of one of the leagues of the Florentine countryside.
Home to an important market, in memory of which the Fiera di San Luca (a fair that takes place every year around the middle of October) remains, Impruneta developed from the 14th century onwards a thriving terracotta production activity that made it very famous.
Today Impruneta is a lively town, but in 1944 it suffered a heavy bombing, which caused many victims among the population and serious damage to many buildings such as the Basilica di Santa Maria which was destroyed in that circumstance.
What to see in Impruneta
The Second World War undoubtedly shocked the hamlet which today no longer has the characteristics that we usually find in medieval Tuscan villages. The town develops around a large central square overlooked by the town hall and the reconstructed Basilica di Santa Maria; it is here that the main events, as the Festa dell’Uva (Grape Festival) and the Fiera di San Luca, take place.
Santuario di Santa Maria a Impruneta
The history of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria in Impruneta is closely linked to the discovery of the image of the Virgin. According to popular tradition, the original image would have been painted by Luke the Evangelist even though in reality the first version of this image dates back to the 11th century. The current image of the Madonna, still preserved inside the Sanctuary, is instead more recent having been repainted in the eighteenth century by the painter Ignazio Hugford.
The first mention of the parish church of Santa Maria in Impruneta dates back to 1032, while a plaque placed on the facade informs us that its consecration took place in 1059. It seems that the parish church was founded where an Etruscan sanctuary dedicated to the worship of water once stood. Here there was in fact a source of water believed to be miraculous (obviously!) And it is therefore no coincidence that the Madonna di Impruneta has established itself as a protector of water since the second half of the fourteenth century. Even today the Madonna of Impruneta is the object of great veneration.
The parish gained several privileges during the Middle Ages and was modified in various circumstances, especially between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when it was enlarged, equipped with the cloister and with the porch that opens onto the facade.
Damaged by the 1895 earthquake and devastated by the bombings of 1944, the church was rebuilt in 1955 trying to preserve the architectural features of the building.
The interior, with one nave, is in Renaissance style and preserves many works of great value such as the polyptych of the high altar, the two temples by Michelozzo with decorations by Luca della Robbia, the Nativity of the Virgin of Passignano and the Vocation of Saint Peter by Jacopo da Empoli.
I recommend you to also visit the other rooms of the Sanctuary such as the small cloister, the large cloister and above all the Treasure Museum of Santa Maria.
Museo del Tesoro di Santa Maria
Inaugurated in 1987 in the spaces adjacent to the basilica, the Museum of the Treasure of Santa Maria is an interesting collection of sacred art composed by many works from the sanctuary. The museum preserves an important assortment of illuminated manuscripts, some earthenware between the 18th and 20th centuries, the goldsmiths representing the “treasure” of the basilica, paintings such as the polyptych Madonna and Child and angels between Saints Peter, Lawrence, John and Stephen and the funeral equipment of Bishop Antonio degli Agli who was also a parish priest at Impruneta.
The cotto dell’Impruneta
The millennial tradition of cotto dell’Impruneta (Impruneta terracotta) is still alive thanks to the presence of numerous furnaces that continue to produce these typical terracotta using traditional techniques. In fact, in Impruneta there are several laboratories where it is possible to admire the clay processing live as well as buy a wide range of products (vases, statues etc.).
What to see around Impruneta
In the surroundings of Impruneta there are some historic villas such as the Villa Corsini in Mezzomonte and Villa De Larderel in Pozzolatico and some medieval churches including that of San Miniato in Quintole, that of San Lorenzo alle Rose and San Pietro in Jerusalem in San Gersolè.
Finally, nearby there is the presence of a large American war museum, the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, where more than 4000 men who fought during the World War II are resting.
How to get to Impruneta
By bus: Impruneta is connected to Florence by some buses, such as the CAP 366 line.
By car: from Florence you have to go through Galluzzo and follow towards Tavarnuzze and then Impruneta. If you come from the A1 highway, you must take the Firenze-Impruneta exit and then follow the signs. Coming from Siena there is the Florence-Siena connection to the end and then follow in the direction of Tavarnuzze and then Impruneta.