Vicopisano, one of the most beautiful villages in the province of Pisa
Vicopisano is one of the most beautiful villages in the entire Province of Pisa. Located about 20 kilometers away from Pisa, the historic center of Vicopisano rises on a hill on the slopes of Monte Pisano, not far from the course of the river Arno. Its more than millennial history has given Vicopisano an artistic and architectural heritage of the first order. In addition to the beauties of its historic center, Vicopisano also boasts an excellent cuisine that has a real flagship in the production of olive oil, an excellent position not far from the main roads of Tuscany and a very good accommodation capacity. All these characteristics make Vicopisano one of the most interesting places to visit in the whole Pisan province. As proof of what has been said, there is the Orange Flag awarded by the Italian Touring Club.
History of Vicopisano
The first settlements in the area can be traced back to the Etruscans and Romans. Some documents of the tenth century inform us that here there were some castles that perhaps dated back to the period of the Lombard domination. In medieval times, this area became very important both from a strategic-military point of view and from an economic point of view. Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, Vicopisano experienced a period of great expansion and established itself as one of the main cities among those that gravitated around Pisa.
The fourteenth century was a century marked by wars, looting and plagues. It was a century of progressive decline for the city of Pisa which finally capitulated against Florence in 1406. In the same year, Vico Pisano also became part of the Florentine possessions. At first the Florentines took advantage of the great strategic importance of Vico and the village was even reinforced with a new fortress designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
With the birth of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the end of the centuries-old wars that also involved Vicopisano, the center lost its historical military importance. Starting from the sixteenth century, following the displacement of the course of the Arno and subsequently of the main communication routes, Vicopsano lost much of its importance while maintaining its role as the administrative center of the area.
What to see in Vicopisano
A city so rich in history can only have a lot to offer visitors. Among the things to see are the Rocca del Brunelleschi, various medieval towers such as the Torre del Soccorso and the Torre dell’Orologio, the Palazzo Pretorio and the Pieve di Santa Maria.
Rocca del Brunelleschi
The Rocca di Vicopisano is also called Rocca del Brunelleschi because between 1435 and 1440 it was renovated by the great architect Filippo Brunelleschi. The Vicopisano castle is documented since 975 but it is quite probable that its origin is even more ancient. From a strategic point of view, this fortress has always had a role of considerable importance and in fact the Florentines besieged it for 8 months and its fall was the prelude to the subsequent fall of Pisa.
The fortification consists of a solid keep with a guarded base which is located in the center of the complex and the high Torre del Soccorso (31 meters) which is connected to the keep by a walkway. The Vicopisano fortification system is very complex and well studied. In addition to the fortress, there are solid walls and numerous defensive towers.
The Palazzo Pretorio of Vicopisano is a complex made up of several medieval buildings dating back to a period between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. It is considered one of the most representative buildings of medieval civil architecture in this area.
Starting from the conquest of Florence, the Palazzo Pretorio was the seat of the Florentine vicar and was also used as a prison. If the vicars have left traces of themselves with the coats of arms that can be admired on the facade of the building, the prisoners have left the sign of their passage with writings and graffiti that are still today on the walls of the rooms once used as a prison.
Pieve di Santa Maria
The extraordinary Pieve di Santa Maria in Vicopisano is an exceptional example of Pisan Romanesque architecture. Built between the 11th and 11th centuries, the parish was built with stone from Monte Verruca. The beautiful facade is divided into three parts separated by two pilasters; in the upper part you can appreciate six small blind arches that embrace as many lozenges. On the left side of the façade there is also an interesting bas-relief depicting the Beheading of St. John, dated between the 8th and 10th centuries, which probably comes from a church prior to the current one.
The interior is spread over three naves divided by a series of round arches supported by columns and pillars. On the walls are the remains of an imposing 13th century fresco cycle that was created by two different artists. At the back of the church, between the altar and the apse, there is an extraordinary wooden group from the early 13th century, representing the Deposition from the Cross. Another wooden sculpture of great interest is the St. John Baptist by Nino Pisano. In the church there are also a couple of holy water stoups, one of which was obtained directly from an Etruscan stone, a fifteenth-century baptismal font and some baroque altars.
When we talk about a city with medieval towers, our thoughts inevitably go to San Gimignano. In reality, the magnificent San Gimignano is not the only city to have preserved a certain number of towers. Vicopisano, for example, has kept 13 of them. The medieval towers of Vicopisano are scattered throughout the village and could be a good guide for a nice walk. Nine of these towers date back to a period between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, some had military functions while others were designed as tower-houses, therefore as homes (of prestige). To the nine medieval towers are added four cylindrical towers that are distributed along the walls. In addition to the aforementioned Torre del Soccorso, there are the Clock tower, the Twin Towers, the Serretti tower, the Malanima tower, the Quattro Porte tower, the Rocca tower and the Via Pietraia tower.
The territory of the municipality of Vicopisano really has a lot to offer to tourism. Monte Pisano is an excellent choice for those who want to immerse themselves in nature and take walks on the paths in the woods. If you are passionate about art and architecture, you must absolutely visit the Romanesque churches such as San Jacopo in Lupeta and Santa Giulia in Caprona. To these are added the remains of the church and monastery of San Michele alla Verruca. Even the small villages, fractions of the municipality of Vicopisano, can surprise you with some monuments such as the Church of Santi Quirico and Giulitta in Lugnano. If you want to relax, you can take advantage of the thermal springs of Uliveto Terme which is located a few kilometers from Vicopisano.
Chiesa di San Jacopo in Lupeta
The Church of San Jacopo is located in Lupeta, a small town located less than two kilometers from the historic center of Vicopisano. This church has remote origins and is documented since 757. The current building, in Romanesque style, dates back to a period between the 11th and 12th centuries. The church has a single room that ends in a short transept, which gives it a plan in the shape of a commissary cross (tau). Among the various elements present on the facade, one can appreciate an early medieval bas-relief which is located on the right of the mullioned window in the upper part. Inside there are traces of some fourteenth-century frescoes.
Pieve di Santa Giulia in Caprona
We conclude this short tour in Romanesque architecture with the Pieve di Santa Giulia in Caprona. Built during the 11th century, the parish church has a Latin cross plan with a single apsed nave. The church has simple and clean shapes with few decorative elements well arranged in a very harmonious whole. The interior is characterized by a series of buffered arches on the left side. Their presence is explained by the fact that once the church had a small aisle.
Thermal baths near Vicopisano
In order not to miss anything, in the municipality of Vicopisano we also find spas. The thermal springs of Uliveto Terme have been known since the Middle Ages. Their fame is linked to their renowned properties used to treat liver, kidney and gastrointestinal disorders. The thermal baths of Uliveto benefit from a bicarbonate-alkaline-ferrous water that flows from the subsoil at a variable temperature between 22 and 34 degrees. In the area there are also numerous caves and caverns that go into the southern slope of Monte Pisano.
How to get to Vicopisano
The municipality of Vicopisano is located a short distance from the FI-PI-LI highway and the A11 motorway. There isn’t a train station in Vicopisano; the closest railway stations are those of Cascina and Pontedera. If you want to reach Vicopisano by public transport, it is probably better to get to Pontedera by train and then take a bus.
By car from Pisa you have to take the FI-PI-LI highway to the Cascina exit and then follow the signs. From Florence always FI-PI-LI but with exit at Pontedera or A11 motorway with exit at Altopascio.