Montecatini Val di Cecina in the province of Pisa
The pretty village of Montecatini rises on the hills of the Val di Cecina, right in front of the magnificent city of Volterra which is just 13 kilometers away. From an administrative point of view, the municipality of Montecatini Val di Cecina is part of the province of Pisa. It is a beautiful medieval town full of history and with several monuments to see. Montecatini also enjoys a truly enviable position, as it is located in a beautiful area and is close to several other interesting villages. Furthermore, the distance of Montecatini Val di Cecina from the sea is quite small since only 30 kilometers separate the town from the beaches of the Etruscan Coast.
Once known as Monte Leone (or Castrum Montis Leonis), the Montecatini castle was built by the Belforti of Volterra around the year 960. The first mention of this village dates back to 1099, when it is mentioned in a edict of Peter, Bishop of Volterra.
Throughout the Middle Ages it was disputed between Pisa and Volterra both for its strategic position and for the presence of mines. Known since the Etruscan era, the copper mines accompanied the history of Montecatini until the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 1316, Montecatini was the scene of a battle between Pisa and Volterra which ended with the victory of the Pisans. Later, however, it returned to be part of the Volterra possessions until, in 1472, it passed under the control of Florence. In the Grand Ducal era, Montecatini was not the protagonist of episodes of particular interest.
The nineteenth century was characterized by considerable economic development linked above all to the exploitation of the copper mines which in that period became the largest in Europe. When the copper mines closed in the early 1900s, the village experienced a decidedly less prosperous period even though the exploitation of the rock salt deposits used in the chemical production of Rosignano Solvay began in the area.
- What to do in Montecatini Val di Cecina
- What to see in the surroundings
- How to get to Montecatini Val di Cecina
What to do in Montecatini Val di Cecina
Walking through the narrow streets of the village you can admire the Church of San Biagio, the Palazzo Pretorio and the Torre dei Belforti. Also not to be missed is a visit to the Mining Museum which is located just outside the historic center of Montecatini Val di Cecina.
Chiesa di San Biagio
The historic center of Montecatini Val di Cecina is gathered around its central square. Here we find the historic Chiesa di San Biagio which dates back to 1356. Originally the church had the facade facing north then, during the sixteenth century, the rectory was built which covered that side, so today the entrance portal of the church lies on its side.
The interior, with three naves, is beautiful and preserves several works of art of great value. Among these we find the Martyrdom of San Sebastiano between the saints Biagio and Antonio abbot by Neri di Bicci, The Glory of the Eucharist with the saints Biagio and Sebastiano by Pomarancio, the two candle holder angels called “i ciechini“, attributed to Mino da Fiesole and two terracotta statues, San Biagio and San Sebastiano, attributed to Luca Della Robbia.
Remaining in the same square we also find the Palazzo Pretorio of Montecatini Val di Cecina. It is a beautiful medieval building built during the fourteenth century. Its façade, partly in stone and partly in brick, is embellished by a beautiful portico with cross vaults and round arches supported by Ionic columns. Inside the portico there are some tombstones including the one placed in memory of the annexation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to the Kingdom of Italy.
Until 1956 the Palazzo Pretorio was the seat of the Municipality of Montecatini while today it houses the documentation center of the Mining Museum. Here are preserved documents relating to mining activities between 1827 and 1907 when the Caporciano mine experienced its period of maximum activity becoming the largest copper mine in all of Europe.
Torre dei Belforti
With its 28 meters high, the Torre dei Belforti stands out over the rooftops of Montecatini. The tower dates back to the 11th century although it was later rebuilt in 1354 when it belonged to the powerful Belforti family. Over the centuries it has been owned by various Volterra families and was also the seat of the Captains of Volterra. Today it is privately owned and used as a hotel. The Torre dei Belforti is characterized by a solid shoe base and an unusual two-tone color given by the alternation of rows with light stones alternating with rows with darker stones.
This tower is the most important element left of the defensive system of the village of which other smaller and round towers remain.
The Montecatini copper mine is located just one kilometer away from the historic center of the village. Exploited since the Etruscan era, this mine was active until the early twentieth century. Today this area has been recovered and enhanced with a tour that winds through the various areas of the mine. Going to the Mining Museum you can visit all the various structures where all the mining activities took place, the laundry, the management offices and even part of the galleries that are still accessible on foot.
For all the information on tickets and museum timetables, I leave you the link to the official website.
What to see in the surroundings of Montecatini Val di Cecina
Within the municipal area of Montecatini Val di Cecina there are some historic villages of considerable interest. One of these is Querceto which with its magnificent castle dominates the Val di Cecina from the top of a hill. Linked for a long time to the bishop and to the municipality of Volterra, the Querceto Castle was conquered by the Duke of Milan in 1431 and in 1447 by the King of Naples. A few years later, Querceto took an oath in Florence and in the sixteenth century the Lisci family settled there and was succeeded by the Ginori. Even today the castle is owned by the Ginori Lisci who made it the headquarters of a winery, as well as a hotel and restaurant.
In addition to the castle, in Querceto there is also the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista to visit. Documented since 1231, the parish has a simple gabled façade in which a twentieth-century majolica made by the Ginori factories stands out.
During the Middle Ages, a large number of castles arose in this area. Among these there was also Casaglia which was located on the border between Pisa and Volterra. Today Casaglia still has some prestigious buildings such as the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista, documented since the thirteenth century but rebuilt in the twentieth century, the villa and a crenellated and turreted building reminiscent of a medieval castle.
The micro village of Miemo is documented as a castle since 1108 even if its origin is probably even older. The Miemo castle had a certain strategic importance and for this reason it was long disputed between Pisa and Volterra. In 1316 the two powers decided that its fortifications should be destroyed. In any case, there are still some beautiful things to see in the village, such as a massive tower that was once part of the castle and the church of Sant’Andrea Apostolo.
Sassa, or La Sassa, is a delightful medieval village located about 25 kilometers south of Montecatini. This village is perched on a spur of rock from which it enjoys a wide and remarkable view of the entire surrounding area. In its long history Sassa has been documented since the 12th century. In 1158 its castle was among the possessions of the bishop of Massa Marittima while a century later it entered the orbit of the city of Volterra.
Sassa is a village that really deserves to be visited: between stone houses and medieval towers, here time has really stopped in another era. The main monuments are the Church of San Martino and the Oratory of the Redentore.
Other hamlets to visit in the surrounding area
In the Pisan Val di Cecina there are many villages rich in history and full of interesting things to see. I can only begin by mentioning Volterra which is a truly extraordinary city; however, Pomarance, Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, Montescudaio, Guardistallo and Casale Marittimo are also not to be underestimated.
How to get to Montecatini Val di Cecina
Montecatini Val di Cecina is located about 60 km away from Pisa, Siena and Livorno, 90 km from Florence and 70 km from Lucca. There is no train station near the historic center; the closest one is in the hamlet of Ponteginori about 12 kilometers away. This station is connected with that of Cecina, but if you also take the bus that you need to get to Montecatini, the journey by public transport runs the risk of being a real odyssey.
By car, coming from Pisa or Florence, it is advisable to take the freeway FI-PI-Li up to the Pontedera exit and then continue on the provincial road south towards Volterra, Peccioli and then Montecatini. Those coming from Rome must take the A91 motorway to the north and continue on the SS1 Aurelia until the Cecina exit; from there follow towards Montescudaio, Volterra and then Montecatini Val di Cecina.