My daughter’s teacher in her first year at middle school first attracted the children’s attention by looking like a professor from Hogwarts. He dressed only in black and white, had slightly longer than average black Renaissance curls (and carried a wonderful leather satchel). It was obvious this man was going to inspire these pre-teens as they sat in their cold but beautiful 500-year-old classroom. The first thing he did was open their minds and than he began to share his passion for history and his restoration project of the extraordinary Brunelleschi’s fortress at Vicopisano.
On arriving at this sleeping Tuscan hill town tucked between Lucca and Pisa on the lower slopes of Mont Pisano, it is hard to image while this imposing piece of military engineering was built here by one of the greatest Renaissance architects and engineers. The castle is open to the public and Giovanni Ranieri Fascetti, our daughter’s teacher greeted us and her friend’s family on a cold but startlingly bright Sunday morning in November to explain the history and bring to life those classroom discussions for the girls.
If we had been standing on this hill before 1560 we would have noted a very different landscape. The great Tuscan river the Arno formed a lake and met the Serchio in the valley below. These rivers were the transport routes for carrying goods particularly Marble to the port of Pisa. However by the mid 16th century not only had Pisa lost its power to Florence but also the change in the course of the Arno meant that Vicopisano was no longer strategically placed for the protection of Pisa from Florence and Lucca. The strong feelings between these three ancient rivals still exists but today thank goodness are only fought out on the football pitch.
Vicopisano therefore was a rich and important power long before the Florentines strengthened the fortification. The settlement goes back to Etruscan times but most of the towers and palazzi date back to the early 1100 when the Pisan Maritime Republic was at its height. It was after the Florentines finally won power that Brunelleschi in 1434 started to remodel the castle or Rocca, creating a system using walls and towers, which meant that a few men could defend the fort. We visited the central guard tower where Giovanni described how the soldiers and prisoners lived.
Noticeably the torture room was empty because as our Tuscan schoolgirls had learnt in 1786 under Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, Tuscany became the first state in the world to outlaw capital punishment. Every year Giovanni leads a small group to lay a reeve on his statue in Pisa to remember this forward thinking man.
The climb onto the battlements was up a wooden ladder but the view was incredible and the moment in the bright sunshine brought to life by Giovanni sounding his trumpet over the ancient Pisan Republic.
The castle doesn’t have wheelchair access
43.6869 - 10.5825
050 796117 (Comune di Vicopisano); 050 796276 (Ufficio Turismo)
From April to July and from September to November, Saturday: 3.30 p.m.-7.30 p.m.; Sunday: 10.00 a.m.-12.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m.-7.30 p.m.
Full price (including guided visit): € 4,60; half price: € 2,60
Medieval Festival September
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