Travellers´ Tales

Poppi

"Poppi lies on a steep hill which rises abruptly from the valley of the Arno, forming a vantage ground, as it were, in regard to the upper part of the Casentino.

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The castle, its most notable feature, occupies the highest part of this hill looking south. This is the ancient stronghold as it was rebuilt in the thirteenth century, curiously like the Palazzo Vecchio at Florence, but more commanding in appearance owing to the height on which it stands. Poppi already in the tenth century was a centre of influence of the Guidi, one of the most powerful families of Tuscany during the Middle Ages. The property they owned extended far north and south of the Apennines, and the Casentino bristled with their strongholds. Romena, Porciano, Battifolle, Soci, all recall episodes in their history. With the exception of Poppi, all these castles lie in ruins; their walls stand desolate and their towers are open to wind and rain. Alone at Poppi the palace with its soaring tower stands unbroken, a lasting monument to the power to which the Guidi attained." (Lina Eckenstein, "Through the Casentino", 1902)

My favourite town...

"Some of the small towns of the Casentino and the Tiber Valleys are visible from miles away, seated proudly upon their hills (...) My favourite town is Poppi. It seemed to me to be a living fragment of a remote past. It is a town of enchanters, knights, and maidens with long hair at castle windows. It is a town of stone arcades which lead up to a castle, clearly a relative of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (...) I don't think I have ever seen a more decorative and dramatic courtyard, with its picturesque staircase emblazoned with coat- of-arms and balustrade of nearly a hundred miniature stone columns. (...) The town library is kept in the castle. How incredible is it, and how typical of Italy, that a library o twenty thousand volumes, including nearly eight hundred incunabula and six hundred illuminated manuscripts, also town records that go back to 1330, should be seen incidentally as one rambles over a medieval castle. When we were on the ramparts, we looked to the north and saw in the valley beneath us the site of the battle of Campaldino, in which Dante fought, when the Ghibellines of Arezzo were beaten by the Florentine Guelphs on a summer's day in 1289. So began Arezzo's long history as a colony or subject city of Florence." "The Tuscan landscape is embroidered everywhere by human living, and there is scarcely a hill, a stream, a grove of trees, without its story of God, of love or death." (H. V. Morton, "A Traveller in Italy", 1932)

The Great Battle of Campaldino

..."The peaceful level of vineyards and fields which stretches round Certomondo, beneath the walls of Poppi, is one of graveyards of history. It is the famous field of Campaldino, where Guelfs and Ghibellines met in deadly combat on June 11th, the day of St. Barnabas, 1289. The story of this great day has been related at length by the Florentine chroniclers. A great host of Florentines and armed men from the allied cities of Tuscany, commanded by Messer Amerigo di Narbona, had descended into the Valley over the mountain of the Consuma, and had laid waste all the lands of Count Guido Novello, then Podestà of Arezzo. Hearing of their coming, the valiant Bishop of Arezzo, Guglielmino degli Ubertini, had gathered together his forces, and supported by the Guidi, and by Buonconte da Montefeltro and the flower of the Ghibelline chivalry of Italy, had come forth to meet them. On coming into sight of each other beneath Poppi both armies drew up in order of battle, with the feditori (those appointed to make the first attack) ranged in the front rank. These chosen warriors were led on the Florentine side by Messer Vieri de' Cerchi, who with his sons and kinsmen had elected to occupy this post of danger; and numbered among them was the......." (Lina Eckenstein, "Through the Casentino", 1902)

Dante at Poppi ?

"As one wandered about the palace and the streets of Poppi, the thought arose if and under what circumstances Dante stayed here. He is known to have come into Casentino during the early part of his exile-that is, about the year 1305; he was here again in March and April of 1311, as is proved by the letters he wrote and dated from here. One of these contains the fierce invective against Florence, the other expresses the fears which the poet apprehended from the Emperor's delay. They are dated "on the confines of Tuscany near the springs of the Arno", and on the strength of this expression the strongholds of Poppi, Romena and Porciano, besides Pratovecchio, claim to have harboured the poet." (Lina Eckenstein, "Through the Casentino", 1902)

"He was there when I was"

"A tradition is preserved, according to which the poet was kept prisoner at Porciano, possibly after the battle of Campaldino (near Poppi). An anecdote intended to illustrate his ready wit is localised here. The poet, we are told, had left the castle and was walking down the hill when he met some men from Florence, were were sent to take him into custody. They did not recognise him, and asked if Dante were at Porciano, and he replied, "He was there while I was!" (Lina Eckenstein, "Through the Casentino", 1902)

Halting for a glass of wine near Porciano

"Here a number of houses stood cuddled together against the slope of the hill. The word vino, roughly painted in red on a wall that faced tha road at an angle, attracted our attention, for we were thirsty, as one often is in a country where one feels suspicious of the water, and we entered. The hale, white-haired cobbler rose from his stool and motioned us to a seat with a certain formality. He then reached two glasses and a huge straw-covered flagon from the shelf, drew out the bit of tow that closed its mouth, and flicked on the floor the drops of oil that floated on the wine, and a little of the wine itself. Here was a reasonable basis for the offer of a libation! Then he filled our glasses, and resuming his work spoke of a son in America, and the love of change and the growing desire for travel in the younger generation. We too were travelling: whence had we come, whither were we bound? His caustic aptness of speech recalled the saying that the smell of leather sharpens a man's wits." (Lina Eckenstein, "Through the Casentino", 1902)

La Verna

"Upon the crest of a hill in the south east of the Valley rises the Rock of La Verna, with the Franciscan convent perched like a bird in a cleft of its long spiny back. Thither the eyes of the wanderer to-day turn as persistently as those of the contentious barons in the castle below long ago. The peculiar shape of the Sacred Mount and the dark garment of forest which clothes it mark it out amid the dry and sterile summits around. To those in the Valley it is the gateway to the East, whence the Wise Men came. The sun rises from behind it, and lingers on it last of all, when the ridges around are already grey. Every hour of the day brings it a changing glory, from that earliest moment before the dawn when you first descry it looming against the blanching sapphire of the sky." (Ella Noyes, "The Casentino and its Story", 1905) "La Verna (4160 feet) is a wonderful mountain to behold. Bare and barren at first, and rising very gradually, it suddely shoots up skywards in great perpendicular walls of rock. "The Ark of Noah petrified on Mount Ararat," is M.Sabatier's graphic description. To my imagination, as seen from the west, it seemed like some heraldic monster of the cockatrice order, and mentally I blazoned it against the heavens azure: combed vert and wattled tenné. The crest is covered with pines and huge beech-trees; all round the Convent, as if fallen from the skies, immense boulders of rock, piled one on the top of the other, show deep fissures, wide chasms, and dark caverns: a wilder spot it would be impossible to imagine." (Montgomery Carmichael, "In Tuscany" 1901)

Camaldoli

"Camaldoli is a pearl among the many pearls of the Casentino. I have seen it in spring-time only; the Italians tell you that it is even more beautiful in summer, when its shady chestnut groves and dark pine forest give a sense of restored energy and renewed vigour to those who come here from the arid plains of Tuscany and the blinding heat of the streets of Florence." (Lina Eckenstein, "Through the Casentino", 1902)

"The monastery is inhabited by the White Monks of St. Romualdo, known throughout the world as the Camaldolese Order. The Church, dividing hotel and monastery, is common ground to monks and visitors. High up above the hotel and monastery, a good hour's walk through dense pine forests, is situated, fronting a splendid amphitheatre of pine trees, the Sacro Eremo or Holy Hermitage (3680 feet), where live in separate cells the Camaldolese Hermits as distinguished from the Camaldolese Monks. (Montgomery Carmichael, "In Tuscany" 1901) "A delightful excursion, and which may be done in a day, is that to the summit of Poggio Scali. And mountaneering, if you wish it, is made very easy at Camaldoli. The halt, the maimed, the blind, need shrink from no ordinary excursion if they go in a treggia. A treggia is a species of rough sleigh, on which is placed a basket frame capable of seating two people, and comfortably arranged with slanting back and cushions. It is drawn by a pair of the magnificent white oxen of Tuscany. No matter how steep or how stony, how crooked or how narrow the path, these patient, sure-footed brutes go steadily and smoothly onwards and upwards until the very pinnacle of your destination is reached. And really a treggia glides along with wonderful smoothness, and the motion is far from unpleasant. Coming down is, of course, another matter from the point of view of comfort, but a descent of some 2000 feet in a treggia would assuredly cure the worst liver complaint from which evil liver ever suffered." (Montgomery Carmichael, "In Tuscany" 1901)



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