About Panzano in Chianti
Panzano in Chianti is a delightful fortified small village that rises on a picturesque hill, at 498 meters above the sea level, in the Greve Valley, located in the middle of Florence province, at the beginning of the Chianti area, specifically in the “Conca d’Oro” (Golden Valley lined with vines). It is one of the main wine areas in Chianti’s territory. The great location of the village, being situated in the proximity of Florence and Siena, makes it easily accessible for the tourists willing to discover the area. Also, the town enjoys excellent views on the Tuscan countryside from the highest point where it stands, exactly midway along the beautiful Via Chiantigiana road between Greve in Chianti and Castellina in Chianti, along the road linking Fierenze and Siena and it is surrounded by prize-winning plantations of vineyards, like il Molino di Grace, and olive groves. Panzano looks modern in appearance yet ancient in foundation, with Roman remains scattered around the place. This little town has had a tormented history caused by the bloody struggles between Florence and Siena. Among the greatest achievements of the town were that it was assigned Firidolfi's seigniory and it became one the most populated centres of the Val di Greve's League for centuries. Originally a medieval castle, one of the most fortified villages in the area in medieval times, the town still preserves parts of it as well as its old walls and towers -the parts of the castle were partly included in the church, the tower is used as a private dwelling, while the semi-rectangular city walls are almost totally intact. Panzano in Chianti is a serene holiday place renowned for several popular food and wine festivals; besides, there can be found several great restaurants in the village, an enoteca, as well as a butcher's shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, which became famous lately and draws numerous tourists, together with numerous holiday farmhouses in the surrounding countryside. A very unique and popular restaurant here is Solociccia, founded by the person who also owns the butcher’s shop, Dario Cecchini; in this restaurant the diners are set at long comunal tables, and only two seatings per evening are made. Sheltered by the Chianti mountains and set at the ideal altitude, Panzano in Chianti is a beautiful little town worth visiting and exploring.
History of Panzano in Chianti
The name of the village of Panzano in Chianti is of Roman origin, yet the settlement is more ancient than that, as archaeologists found Etruscan remains in the area. Panzano in Chianti was mentioned for the first time in a historical document dating from the 11th century, attesting the development of the village, “borgo”, around a central core represented by the Castle of Panzano. This has started with the members of Chianti`s main feudal families building castles, or fortifications during the 10th century in order to be able to defend their properties. Most of these fortifications were built between the middle of the 11th century and the first half of the 12th century, among which the Castle of Panzano. The castle was built on a hillside facing San Leolino Church assumingly by the members of the Firidolfi family, the respective location offering excellent defence possibilities. Within a short period, the castle became the central point for population growth in the area and the village started expanding around it. At that time the development of the ancient hamlet increased considerably due to the politic and economic influence of the Castle which dominated its area. During the early decades of the 14th century, the Castle of Panzano was included in the “League of the Greve valley” playing a major role here, as a result of the territorial reorganization of the city of Florence into autonomous jurisdictions named “Leagues”. Standing on a hill that separates the Val di Greve from the Val di Pesa and located exactly midway between Florence and Sienna, the castle has always been a source of struggle for these two major rival powers throughout centuries.
During the 15th century, Chianti was invaded and devastated for two times by the Aragonese troops and in these battles Panzano served as the last bastion of the Florentine defence. During the struggles, the castle itself had not suffered great damages, yet the surrounding countryside had been mostly destroyed. Following the collapse of the Sienese Republic in 1555, the defence was not a priority anymore and most of the fortifications in the area were steadily dismantled and transformed into farmhouses. The walls of the castle still stand today together with two of the original corner towers. Among these, one tower serves as the bell tower for the church in town while the second one has been renovated and it is a private property now. Although it is a private dwelling, the visitors have access to the courtyard and the surroundings. Equipped with modern facilities and services, Panzano in Chianti has never lost its ancient features and traditions too. Along the downhill road, the houses that stand here boast a medieval character. In the town there are also some remaining parts left by the old Roman paved roads, the Senice, which are still used today. In the 19th century, it has been the most populated village in Greve’s Valley. The economic development of Panzano in Chianti occurred mainly due to its agricultural and cattle raising activities along with its huge wine production famous all over Italy and abroad.
Major attractions to visit in Panzano in Chianti
Nowadays, a part of the area of the castle was incorporated in the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo. A main street in the town leads to it. This church annexed to the castle was completely rebuilt in the 19th century on the site of a former, late-medieval church building. The new church features several art works that have been saved from the former convent. A splendid bronze portal attributed to Umberto Bartoli representing the eight sacred events, including some more recent ones, can be admired. The interior contains some precious art works among which “The Madonna and Child” attributed to Francesco Botticini dating from the 15th century; two wooden Crucifixes, of which one of them is attributed to the 15th century’s Florentine school and the other one was made by Jacopo Sansovino dating from the 16th century.
Also, in Panzano you should not miss visiting Pieve of St. Leolino, which is considered one of the most important Romanesque churches of the whole Chianti region as well as one of the most remarkable religious sights here. The Pieve di San Leolino was built in the 11th century and it is located in the proximity of the Castle of Panzano. However, historical records reveal that the original church of San Leolino was seemingly built sometimes during the 8th or 9th century when the population of Chianti began to organize into small villages or communities, and it got rebuilt in Romaneque style later in the 11th century, as mentioned above. The Pieve di San Leolino suffered a series of architectural transformations during the 16th century, including the decoration of the façade with a coat of plaster and a portal framed in stone. In the rear part, a delightful campanile was built. Also, an elegant portico was built here, which is still today in front of the church. The interior features three naves supported by sober columns from the 12th century. The ceiling of the central nave is crossed by beams. The church is almost entirely free of decorative elements except for the simple, rounded cornice at the top of the pilasters. It contains an exceptional organ by Demetrio and Onofrio Bruschi from the 19th century together with a considerable collection of works of art among which a triptych illustrating “The Madonna and Saints” by the Maestro di Panzano dating from the 14th century, a second wonderful triptych depicting “The Madonna and Child and angels in Throne” by the Florentine Mariotto di Nardo dating from the early 15th century, two glazed tabernacles by Giovanni Della Robbia and a recently restored altar frontal by Meliore di Jacopo from the 13th century with “The Madonna with S. Peter and S. Paul and four stories”. The Baptistry which dates back from the 16th century hosts a rock fountain and a fresco by Raffaellino del Garbo from the same century illustrating “The Baptism of Jesus”. An Etruscan stele found in the proximity of the parish church of San Leolino counts as the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in the area of Chianti between the Valleys of the Pesa and the Greve Rivers. This find serves as evidence demonstrating the existence of an Etruscan settlement in the area in ancient times.
The Oratory of Saint Euphrosynus (Sant'Eufrosino) is another tourist attraction in Panzano in Chianti. Dedicated to a local saint, the oratory has been a pilgrimage destination during the Middle Ages due to its nearby curative spring waters. The water was considered miraculous by pilgrims for the great benefits it brought, especially in healing eye diseases. Originally a Romanesque structure, it boasts Renaissance elements from the 15th century. Actually, the main part of the structure dates from the 15th century. Throughout the next century, it suffered multiple changes. Again at the end of the 17th century, the church was decorated with a light portico along the front exterior, and an indoor Sienese canvas. The building also undergone recent restoration work. The structure of the Oratory is now represented by a simple, wide, rectangular space with a vaulted ceiling. It contains a beautiful Gothic cusp-shaped pulpit inside, made of rare stone originally built to display relics of the Saint and a chapel with a little Romanesque altar, which has survived from the previous oratory. The remnant parts of a fresco illustrating S. Caterina of Alessandria dating from the 14th century can be admired. Within a short distance from the Oratory, a small shrine dedicated to the Saint and his curative waters stands. According to a legend, it is said that this is the spring in which the Saint once bathed and that is the reason why the waters possess now therapeutic powers. Today the Oratory serves as a concert hall and an art gallery hosting contemporary exhibitions, being opened only for that. Nevertheless, the oratory should not be missed while visiting Panzano in Chianti, as it stands in an excellent location, with a beautiful panorama, in the middle of the area called "Conca d'Oro", the golden conch of Panzano.
Festivals in Panzano in Chianti
Panzano in Chianti holds several popular annual festivals, among which the Festa della Stagion Bona on 25 April (Liberation Day) and Vino al Vino, a Chianti wine festival. Festa della Stagion Bona is held early on the 25th April to celebrate the beginning of the “good season”. Local people dress up in Renaissance-style costumes and go on a parade through the village illustrating Medieval games. At this fest, a large variety of stands with locally cooked traditional dishes and its famous wines are available for the ones taking part in the festival. Vino al Vino is an important wine festival that is held on the third weekend of September and takes place in the main square of Panzano. People from the town and its surroundings come to enjoy the warm festive atmosphere with joyful music, delicious local specialties and tasting of Panzano’s great wines. The town also has a Sunday morning market, open until 1 pm where you can buy about anything, from flowers, fresh vegetables, cheese, fruit, to shoes and other items. Shops are also open during this time.
The great festivals and attractions of the place along with the great panorama that the surrounding Chianti hills offer, mild climate, easy access to Tuscany’s real gems such as Florence, Sienna and Lucca, make Panzano in Chianti a great holiday destination for tourists who want to escape the crowds yet willing to experience the authentic Italian lifestyle. Bed & Breakfast rooms, self-catering apartments and independent holiday farmhouses are among the options to be considered when visiting the little town.
By Maria Morari
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