Palaia in the province of Pisa

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Guide to visiting Palaia and its surroundings

Palaia is a town in the Valdera in the province of Pisa. This center is located in a pleasant hilly area, located in the heart of Tuscany. The etymological origin of the name of this village is to be found in Latin, where the word Palaia has the meaning of “place of collection and processing of wooden poles”.

The origin of Palaia is truly ancient: tombs and archaeological finds tell us of a notable Etruscan presence. The first certain documents, however, date back to the year 986 when his castle was controlled by the bishops of Lucca. During the Middle Ages, Palaia was long disputed between Lucca and Pisa because both cities had understood the strategic importance of its castle. Between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the village experienced a period of considerable prosperity also certified by the construction of important monuments, including the Pieve di San Martino. During the fifteenth century, the castle of Palaia found itself passing from being under the control of Pisa to being under that of Florence and vice versa.

What to see and what to do in Palaia

Palaia is a land of truffles; but not only that, it is also a land of history, art and culture, traditions and nature. In its surroundings there are more than 65 kilometers of nature trails that can be done on foot, by mountain bike or on horseback. The village, as well as the other towns in the area, preserves notable buildings and monuments. The local cuisine is excellent and the tourist offer is also of great value. The main things to see in Palaia are the Pieve di San Martino, the Church of Sant’Andrea, the Clock Tower, the Town Hall and the Church of Santa Maria.

Pieve di San Martino

The large Pieve di San Martino is located outside, but not far from the historic center of Palaia. Built starting in 1280, the church is in Romanesque style but also features number elements in the Gothic style, which is why it is assumed that it was built in two successive phases. One of the characteristics of the parish church of San Martino is the massive use of brick. The facade is in stone with the use of terracotta only for decorative purposes (to highlight the access portals, the oculus and the hanging arches), but the rest of the structure is in red brick. There are not many Tuscan parish churches from the Romanesque period to be built in bricks. The interior, with three naves, preserves a remarkable hexagonal baptismal font that comes from the ancient church of Santa Maria in Ripezzano, and a 12th-century marble stoup.

Pieve di San Martino in Palaia
Pieve di San Martino (Photo by Mongolo1984 / CC BY)

Chiesa di Sant’Andrea

The historic center of Palaia develops along a single main road, Via del Popolo, and it is on this road that the Church of Sant’Andrea overlooks. Like the parish church of San Martino, this church was also built entirely of brick. It seems that in the place where the church stands in ancient times there was a time dedicated to Saturn, the god who according to the myth taught men the technique of agriculture. The church of Sant’Andrea was built in 1201; one of the most interesting elements is the bell tower which rests only on two external walls of the church and on a column.

Inside there are several works of art of great interest starting from the two fourteenth-century crucifixes, one of which, the one on the main altar, attributed to Andrea Pisano. The church also preserves a wooden sculpture, Madonna with Child by Francesco di Valdambrino and other works made by the masters of the della Robbia family.

Surroundings of Palaia

The territory of Palaia is very tied to its traditions and its peasant culture. A reflection of this strong link with the past can be found in the museums of San Gervasio and Montefoscoli, two small villages, fractions of the municipality of Palaia. In San Gervasio there is the Museum of work and rural civilization, while in Montefoscoli you can visit the Museum of Rural Life. Also in Montefoscoli the Temple of Minerva and the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta are worth seeing. In these parts there are also two ghost villages: Villa Saletta and Toiano.

Museo del lavoro e della civiltà rurale

The Museo del lavoro e della civiltà rurale of San Gervasio is housed in a large farmhouse where the typical peasant house has been reproduced with all the various rooms such as the cellar and the stable. In addition to the house, there is also a library and an exhibition of objects related to worship such as devotional books and sacred furnishings. The museum can be visited by appointment and it is also possible to participate in educational workshops.

Museo della Civiltà Contadina

The second museum to see in the area is the Museo della Civiltà Contadina in Montefoscoli. This museum is located in the Vaccà-Berlinghieri building, where the Casa Museo Vaccà-Berlinghieri is also located. The Museum of Peasant Civilization collects and exhibits a large collection of objects and equipment related to the rural world of the past, with the aim of enhancing local traditions.

Tempio di Minerva Medica

The Temple of Minerva Medica inMontefoscoli is a beautiful neoclassical style building built between 1821 and 1823. Built in bricks, the temple is characterized by a portico with eight columns and a wall facing that replicates the opus reticolatum technique in use at the time of ancient Rome.

Villa Saletta

The small abandoned hamlet of Villa Saletta is a notable example of a hamlet-farm. The uniqueness of this place is the excellent preservation of numerous buildings linked to the peasant world of the past, such as the granaries, cellars, the oven and the wash houses. In the village there are also the Church of Saints Peter and Michael and the Church of the Company of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Divine Sacrament. This place has a very long history and experienced its period of greatest splendor between the 16th and 17th centuries when it was a property of the Ricciardi family of Florence who had a magnificent manor house here. The villa itself was the set of some films such as Napoleon and I by Paolo Virzì, La Notte di San Lorenzo, Good Morning Babilonia and Fiorile by the Taviani brothers.

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