Castelfranco di Sopra, a florentine “terra nuova” and one of the most beautiful hamlets in Italy
Castelfranco di Sopra is a beautiful hamlet in province of Arezzo located along the Strada dei Setteponti, about 40 kilometres both from Arezzo and Florence. Behind Castelfranco extend forests of Pratomagno which divide the Valdarno Superiore to the Casentino, whill around the hamlet we can admire the Balze of the Valdarno, the spectacular geological structures composed of sand, clay and gravel layered up to 100 metres, result of the erosion of ancient lake sediments by weathering and the waterways.
We are talking about one of the “terre nuove” (new towns) created by Florence between the end of the 13th and the 14th centuries, Castelfranco di Sopra was the second one, after San Giovanni Valdarno, founded in 1299 in place of the ancient Castle of Soffena. As all its “sisters”, Castelfranco follows that urban design, traditionally attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, laying down a very regular plant.
The name “Castelfranco” that we can traslate “free castle” results from the fact that the first inhabitants who had moved in the neonate village gained exemption from taxes for ten years; “di Sopra” (“up”) because it’s located upstream compared to Florence.
Today Castelfranco di Sopra is considered one of the borghi più belli d’Italia (most beautiful hamlets in Italy), let’s see why.
Things to visit in Castelfranco di Sopra
- Badia di San Salvatore a Soffena
- Casa Campa
- Chiesa di San Tommaso
- Palazzo Comunale
- Chiesa di San Filippo Neri
- Torre d’Arnolfo
Badia a Soffena
Coming from the Strada dei Setteponti, just outside the city centre, we meet the Badia di San Salvatore a Soffena. This is a beautiful monastic complex composed by church, convent and cloister founded by the Vallombrosa’s monks. The church was built in the 14th century in place of a previous one. The interior is characterized by many remarkable frescoes as the Stories from the life of Saint John Gualbert by Bicci di Lorenzo; Madonna with Child with Saints Peter and Francis by Paolo Schiavo; Annunciation by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni known as “lo Scheggia”; Madonna in throne with Child with Saints Lazarus and Saint Michael the Archangel attributed to Mariotto di Cristofano and a Massacre of the Innocents by Liberato da Rieti.
Address: via Soffena 2
Opening hours: monday, wednesday, friday 13.00-19.00; tuesday, thursday, saturday 8.00-14.00; open the 2nd and the 4th sunday of the month
closed the 2nd and the 4th monday of the month, 1st and 3rd sunday, 1st january and 25 december
Ticket: free access
Guide to the hamlet of Castelfranco di Sopra
Entering the hamlet we cross one of the two remaining city gates, Porta al Pino (or Porta Aretina), and proceed towards the central square; along the street we pass in front of the Casa Campa, an old staging post where were dropped off the horses, identifiable due to the horse and the lily on the facade; and in front of the chiesa di San Tommaso, built during the 11th century and extended 7 centuries later, characterized by a small loggia located before the entrance.
Arrived in the central square, you can see what remains of the original Palazzo Comunale; today this palace palazzo does not stand out particularly from the others but a keen eye will notice a series of coat of arms on one facade: those are the coats of arms of Podesta who ruled in Castelfranco on behalf of Florence and that is just the Palazzo Comunale. Inside, into the council chamber, there is an interesting fresco: Nursing Madonna (late 14th century).
Chiesa di San Filippo Neri
From the square it’s easy to see on the background a high embattled tower standing at the end of via Cavour, that is the Torre di Arnolfo the last stage of our tour. But, before we get to the tower, we meet the Chiesa di San Filippo Neri built in 1632 only ten years after the canonization of the Saint. Inside are preserved a Madonna withc Child and Saint John from the school of Andrea del Sarto and the Ecstasy of San Philip Neri by Matteo Rosselli.
We finally get to the Torre di Arnolfo, probably the most important monument of Castelfranco di Sopra. The tower stands at the second city gate, Porta Campana, and is part of the original defensive structures of the florentine castle. On the facade can be seen the lily of Florence and the date 1330, the year when the construction began. Unfortunately no one from the Other defensive towers is still standing but in via Arnolfo is possible to see a small section of the defensive walls.