Romanesque churches in the Valdarno
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The millenary parishes along the Setteponti road in Valdarno

In the hills of the Upper Valdarno, between the Pratomagno massif and the Chianti mountains, there are numerous Romanesque churches full of charm and history. In medieval times the pieve (parish) was a particularly important country church because it had exclusive functions, such as being able to perform baptisms, which the other churches in the area did not have. In a sense, they fulfilled the role that basilicas had in cities. It is historically proven that in Tuscany many of these parish churches were built in the early Middle Ages (although almost all were rebuilt later) along the ancient roads of the Roman or even Etruscan period.

One of these roads was the Cassia Vetus, the road that connected Arezzo and Fiesole crossing the entire Upper Valdarno. The Cassia Vetus continued to be an important communication route even in medieval times both because it was used by pilgrims heading towards Rome as an alternative to the Via Francigena, and because it guaranteed connections between Florence and the main centers of the area. Over time the Cassia Vetus was renamed Via dei Sette Ponti (seven bridges road) because, with its bridges, it crossed over seven rivers and streams.

Itinerary between Arezzo and Florence to discover the churches of the Valdarno

The itinerary along the Setteponti allows you to reach many points of interest including the beautiful medieval churches that we will see in this article. It starts from the Pieve di San Giustino in the province of Arezzo and ends after about 40 kilometers with the Pieve di San Pietro a Pitiana in the municipality of Reggello in the province of Florence.

Pieve di San Giustino

The Pieve di San Giustino is located in San Giustino Valdarno, in the municipality of Loro Ciuffenna. The church has a simple plastered facade, the result of a restoration in the 60s of the twentieth century aimed at eliminating all the stylistic changes suffered by the church over the centuries. The parish church is documented since the 11th century and has a three-nave plan divided by pillars. Some traces of its Romanesque forms remain in the typical semicircular apse and in the interior.

Pieve di San Pietro a Gropina

The Pieve di San Pietro a Gropina is one of the most fascinating Romanesque churches in all of Tuscany. Made of gray-blue serena stone, it dates back to the second half of the 12th century. Some archaeological excavations uncovered two pre-existing churches from the 8th century and an even older one, as well as the remains of a Roman settlement in the immediate vicinity. The interior is characterized by a series of historiated capitals all different from each other and by a truly remarkable carved pulpit.

Pieve di Gropina near Loro Ciuffenna
Pieve di Gropina (Photo by Vignaccia76 / CC BY)

Abbazia di San Salvatore a Soffena

San Salvatore a Soffena is an ancient complex consisting of a church, cloister and convent, built in the 11th century. The church, rebuilt between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, preserves fifteenth-century frescoes, including a Madonna enthroned with the Child between Saints Peter and Francis by Paolo Schiavo, an Annunciation by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, brother of Masaccio, the Life of San Giovanni Gualberto by Neri di Bicci and a Massacre of the Innocents by Liberato da Rieti.

Pieve di Santa Maria a Scò

Once we reach the middle of our itinerary, a real wonder awaits us: the Pieve di Santa Maria a Scò. Probably built before the year one thousand, the current church has two evident construction phases, an older one concerning the facade and the front where you can appreciate a more regular masonry, and a later one with a less accurate arrangement of the stones in the back . The interior has three naves divided by columns with capitals that have anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and phytomorphic decorations reminiscent of those of the Pieve di Gropina (on the other hand the cultural context is the same).

Pieve di Santa Maria a Scò
Pieve di Santa Maria a Scò (Photo by SailkoCC BY)

Pieve di San Pietro a Cascia

The Pieve di San Pietro a Cascia is a majestic building that catches the traveler’s gaze from afar. Consecrated in 1073, according to popular tradition the parish was built by the Countess Matilde di Canossa. The church has a clear Romanesque structure and inside it houses various works of art of great value while others have been placed in the adjacent Museo Masaccio. Among these are the Annunciation by Mariotto di Cristofano, the Crocifisso della Casellina and a Crucifixion by Domenico Soldini.

Pieve di San Pietro a Cascia
Pieve di San Pietro a Cascia (Photo by SailkoCC BY)

Pieve di Sant’Agata in Arfoli

The small Pieve di Sant’Agata in Arfoli is part of a complex that also includes the cloister and the rectory. This too is part of those churches that according to tradition were built by Matilda di Canossa, but some researchers believe that its foundation dates back to the Goths. Inside, some detached frescoes with the Stories of Sant’Agata have been placed.

Pieve San Pietro a Pitiana

We close our itinerary with the last of the “matildine” churches, the Pieve di San Pietro a Pitiana in the municipality of Reggello. In all likelihood, the parish dates back to before the year one thousand but over time it has undergone several changes and even from its phase almost nothing remains except the bell tower. Inside, however, there are two fantastic works by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, the Madonna and Child with Saints John and Ignatius of Antioch and the Annunciation.
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