Colle Val d’Elsa, the Italian capital of crystal
Colle di val d’Elsa is a valuable medieval town located along the road between Florence and Siena, from which it is respectively about 50 and 25 km away.
The documents begin to talk about Colle val d’Elsa since the tenth century. The city grew in importance in the following centuries and, above all because of its strategic position near the Via Francigena and the border between the territories of Florence and Siena, it often found itself involved in disputes and wars also with the other towns in the area.
Having become a free municipality at the beginning of the thirteenth century, Colle was Ghibelline for a short period but then swore allegiance to the Guelph side. This stance attracted the ire of Siena, thus creating a situation of growing tension which culminated in the famous Battle of Colle Val d’Elsa in 1269. The battle saw the Guelph army of Colle and Florence, and the Ghibelline army of Siena, oppose each other. The Guelphs achieved a very important victory which had a major impact on the political balance of the region, especially considering that a few years earlier, in 1260, the important Battle of Montaperti was won by Siena.
In the following centuries Colle was still involved in all those disputes that animated medieval Tuscany until, with the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, a long period of peace also began for Colle.
With the unification of Italy the city found itself merged with the province of Siena and in 1862 its name was changed to Colle di Val d’Elsa. During the same period, the first crystal factory was opened, followed by others which helped make Colle Val d’Elsa the most important Italian center of crystal production.
Which are the things to do in Colle di val d’Elsa?
Colle di val d’Elsa s a charming medieval village situated along the road between Florence and Siena. The urban area of Colle di Val d’Elsa was organized in three parts: the Piano (today Colle Bassa), the Castello and the Borgo that today make up Colle Alta.
The visit starts from Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio, the eminent architect and sculptor born in Colle val d’Elsa. This beautiful and wide square, venue of the weekly market of Colle di Val d’Elsa, was created in the nineteenth century in the middle of Colle Bassa.
- Museo del Cristallo
- Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
Museo del Cristallo
From Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio take via dei Fossi until you reach the Museo del Cristallo. Set up in the spaces once occupied by the Schmidt glass and crystal factory, the museum reconstructs the history of the Colle di Val d’Elsa glass industry. This industry is particularly important and developed, just think that 95% of Italian crystal is produced here and almost 15% globally.
The museum reconstructs the history of glass and crystal production starting from the medieval era, up to the present day. Inside there are numerous examples of this production, tools, filming documents and a very special “crystal forest”. The museum also has an experimental area where visitors can get in direct contact with the materials and tools for glass processing.
On the official website of the crystal museum you will find all the information on and tickets.
Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
Continuing on via dei Fossi you arrive in Piazza Sant’Agostino where the homonymous Chiesa di Sant’Agostino overlooks. Built starting from 1300, the church has a simple façade which has remained unfinished. The interior, which was transformed in the 16th century according to a project by Sangallo il Vecchio, is in Renaissance style. Among the works preserved in the church there are a Madonna and Child by Taddeo di Bartolo, the fifteenth-century fresco enthroned Madonna, which is located inside a marble shrine of Baccio da Montelupo and a Deposition and saints by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio.
From Sant’Agostino wolk to Castello passing the Porta Guelfa, which was once part of the walls of the Piano.
The Castello and the Borgo (Castle and hamlet) make up the most interesting quartier of the town. Here, in a context that has preserved its medieval traits, we find the Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum named after the famous archaeologist Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli and the Complesso museale di San Pietro.
- Complesso museale di San Pietro
- Porta Nuova
The Cathedral of Colle val d’Elsa, or the Concattedrale dei Santi Alberto e Marziale, was built in the early 17th century in place of a previous Romanesque church. The church has a linear neoclassical facade built in the nineteenth century by Agostino Fantastici. The interior, with three naves, preserves an interesting collection of works of art. Among the most valuable elements are the baptismal font of 1465, the cappella del Sacro Chiodo inside which there is a tabernacle by Mino da Fiesole which preserves one of the nails of the crucifixion, a Nativity by Poppi and a bronze crucifix made by Pietro Tacca.
Named after the great great scholar Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli (if you have studied classical art and archaeology in Italy, you’ve probably read his manuals), the museum is hosted inside the Palazzo Pretorio of Colle di Val d’Elsa.
Inside are gathered and displayed exhibits that come exclusively from the territory of the Val d’Elsa. The exhibition traces the history of this area from Neolithic to medieval times.
Complesso di San Pietro
The Museum San Pietro, has its headquarters in the monastery complex of San Pietro. This museum was born from the fusion between the Museo Civico e Diocesano d’Arte sacra (civic and diocesan museum of sacred art) and three collections: Collezione del Conservatorio di San Pietro, Collezione Romano Bilenchi and Collezione di Walter Fusi. Here we find works from the Diocesan territory and Tuscan paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries, among these there are the works of Antonio Salvetti, Walter Fusi, Ottone Rosai, Moses Levy and Mino Maccari.
The Museo Archeologico “Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli” and the Complesso di San Pietro constitute the museum system called Colle Alta Musei.
All information on tickets and timetables for these two museums are available on the official Colle Alta Musei website and on the Fondazione Musei Senesi website.
Continuing to the end of via Gracco del Secco, just beyond the San Pietro complex, you reach the majestic Porta Nova. Built in 1479 according to a project attributed to Giuliano da San Gallo, this city gate is part of the imposing system of fortifications that served to defend the castle of Colle. Looking at it from the outside, the Porta Nuova, or Porta Volterrana, seems to be the entrance to a fortress and not to a city. The complex consists of two powerful cylindrical towers with a scarp base, a moat and all those architectural elements typical of fortresses such as battlements and corbels.
Colle di Val d’Elsa and Pinocchio
Everyone knows the novel The Adventures of Pinocchio written by Carlo Collodi, but not everyone knows that for a certain period of his life the writer lived in Colle di Val d’Elsa. In the city there was a medieval water source called Fonte di Pinocchio which evidently must have inspired the Collodi who chose this name for his puppet.
What to see around Colle di Val d’Elsa
Colle is a perfect starting point for visiting the entire Val d’Elsa and its many points of interest. Nearby there are several villages to see, natural areas, spas and many itineraries to go to discover the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie
The Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie is located along Via Volterrana, just outside the town of Colle. Built in the fifteenth century, the sanctuary preserves an interesting cycle of 16th century Florentine school frescoes as well as a series of paintings dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Thermal baths near Colle di Val d’Elsa
South of Colle, just beyond the village of Gracciano, there are natural spas known since the time of the Etruscans and Romans. Known as Le Caldane, these natural pools are fed by warm water springs that are appreciated for their ability to treat certain skin diseases.
Another spa resort of sure interest is that of Gambassi Terme which is located about 30 kilometers from Colle.
Parco fluviale dell’Alta Val d’Elsa
The Parco fluviale dell’Alta Val d’Elsa is a protected area that can be explored by following a 4 km route called Sentierelsa. In the Colle area the Elsa river develops surrounded by a forest, creating very beautiful and suggestive views. Along the river several waterfalls and pools of turquoise water are formed, ideal for swimming in the summer season, which can be reached thanks to the equipped path.
Hamlets to see in Val d’Elsa
Among the many historic villages in the area I recommend you visit the wonderful city of San Gimignano, the castle of Monteriggioni, Certaldo, the medieval center of Radicondoli and Poggibonsi with its large Medici fortress.
How to get to Colle di Val d’Elsa
By car: Colle di Val d’Elsa is not far from the route of the raccordo autostradale Firenze-Siena. Coming from Florence (48 Km) take the exit for Colle Val d’Elsa Nord, from Siena (27 Km) the southern exit.
By bus: Line 131 company Tiemme that links Siena, Colle di Val d’Elsa and Florence.