The small town of Lari is situated where three ridges of the highest Pisan hills meet and has been inhabited since Etruscan times. The massive Castle is built in the center of the town; it was recorded in the early Middle Ages although the building we see today dates to the first half of the 17th century.
Due to its dominant position of the entire valley of the River Arno (from the Castle walls the view stretches from the Pisan hills to the steep hills of Volterra, from the coast of Leghorn to Peccioli and beyond) the Castle was an important military stronghold of the Pisan Republic until it was conquered by Florence in October 1406.
The Castle is defended by an exterior surrounding wall with three gates: ‘Porta Fiorentina’, ‘Pisana’ and ‘Volterrana’. The latter was the main road leading into the town and had a drawbridge, later removed in 1798.
Mention must be made of the provost church of `S. Leonardo e S. Maria Assunta’ (St. Leonard and St. Mary of the Assumption) which dates back to the 15th century, with paintings by Melani and two marble statues attributed to Andrea Pisano, as well as the market arcade whose original plans date to the end of the 16th century while its present appearance dates to the mid 19th century when an earthquake caused serious damage to the building.
Lari merits a leisurely stroll to gradually discover the myriad of charms hidden in its streets that meander away from the town across the surrounding countryside.
“I came to Lari and from its castle saw the countryside spreading out before me, the jewel of Tuscany”, as the Great Duke of Tuscany Leopold II said when he visited this small town.
The Art and History of the Vicari Castle of Lari
Nestling amongst the Pisan hills, the little town of Lari can safely lay claim to having Etruscan origins. It was also inhabited during Roman times and during the early Middle Ages, and by the beginning of the second millennium the town had become very influential. Recorded in the11th century, the Castle as it is today controlled a vast area of land and this soon became the subject of battles between Pisa and Lucca.
From the 12th century the Castle was the property of the Archbishops of Pisa and in 1230 it became the home of the powerful Upezzinghi family of Pisa. From 1289 it became an important fortress of the border of the Republic of Pisa and was besieged many times by the troops of the Republic of Florence.
In 1406 Florence conquered Pisa together with Lari that became the most important town in the Pisan hills.
The Castle thus became the home of the “Vicari”, Florentine governors and members of the aristocratic families of Florence (Medici, Pitti, Peruzzi, Strozzi, Degl’Albizzi,…), that over the centuries transformed it into a luxury residence, suitable for entertaining the rulers of Tuscany (from Cosimo I of the Medici to Leopold II of the Hapsburgs).
The power of the “Vicario” of Lari extended over a vast area that went from the Tyrrhenian coast (from Vada, in the south, nearly to Leghorn in the north), to the tenures of the podestas of Palaia and Peccioli in the east, while towards the south it reached Riparbella and Pontedera in the north.
For the entire 15th century, every time Pisa rebelled against Florence, Lari took an active part in attempts to re-establish autonomy from Florence. This is why it was repeatedly besieged but to no avail: the Castle of Lari retained its fame as being invincible. With the 16th century the town finally passed into the hands of the Florentines, who took steps to fortify the Castle and decorate it.
Important work was done between the 15th and 16th centuries and can still be seen today: the fortifications were restored by Francesco da San Gallo in 1530 and David Fortini in 1559; the facades overlooking the inner courtyard were decorated with coats-of-arms by Andrea (1435-1525), Andrea il giovane (1475-1548) and Giovanni della Robbia (1469-1529/30), Benedetto (1461-1521) and Santi Buglione (1494-1576).
The coat-of-arms of the People of Florence and an Enthroned Madonna with Child.
Inside the Castle numerous frescos were painted (attributed to Andrea da Pisa, late 15th century and to Fra’ Bartolomeo della Porta O.P.), the architraves were richly decorated, and a Madonna with Child by Andrea della Robbia after a model by Luca della Robbia was made to decorate the bedroom of the “Vicario”, Alessandro Segni.
The “Vicari” lived in the spacious rooms in the Castle until 1848, when this post was abolished and replaced by that of the praetor.
The Castle was then transformed into the Palazzo Pretorio, and was used for this purpose until 1962.
The Vicari Castle today
Apart from being in the past the central hub of Tuscan government, Lari Castle is now becoming increasingly important in the life of the surrounding area. In 1991 it began to be re-evaluated as a historical building, thanks to the efforts of the voluntary workers of the cultural association ” Il Castello” supported by the Town Council, who opened it to public visits (entries are increasing all the time, showing the Castle is appreciated).
After only a few years, the first restoration work was started to restore the Castle to some of its ancient beauty. The architecture of the Castle remains almost unchanged since it was built as the seat of government. It was built on the top of the hill of Lari, from which vantage point it was possible to keep watch over the entire valley of the River Arno.
This is why it was so important, and, over the centuries, so disputed over. Inside there was a prison, Chancellery, the residence of the Vicario and the Magistrates’ Court.
The latter remained in use until 1962, and is now mainly used for conferences and civil weddings, to the enjoyment of bridal couples and speakers alike.
The Castle entrance courtyard is available for use either for weddings or conferences and is decorated with 92 coats-of-arms (these are also being restored) bequeathed by the many Vicari who lived in the Castle for over four centuries.
The Castle rooms also play host to various types of exhibitions, from art to poetry and even exhibitions of wartime relics.
And then there is ” Magical History”, a reconstruction of medieval battles acted by children in the courtyard and on the ramparts.
How to get there:
Lari is a small town situated near the Tuscan coast (about 40 km away), 30 km south of Pisa, and 80 km south-west of Florence (45 minutes by car). It is easy to reach from the `Florence-Pisa-Livorno Superstrada’ (the main Florence-Pisa-Leghorn clearway): to get here from Pisa or from Florence take the exit for Pontedera-Ponsacco. Lari is about 10 km from here and is signposted.
Getting there from the coast however (from Leghorn) take the Lavoria exit, continue for Cenaiaand then on to Quattro Strade-Perignano. Lari is 5 km from here and is well signposted.
Coming from the A12 motorway, leave the motorway at the Collesalvetti junction (about 15 km from Lari), pass through Cenaia and continue on towards Quattro Strade-Perignano.
Coming from the A11 motorway on the other hand you must leave it at Altopascio, continuing on to Pontedera, Ponsacco and then follow the signs.
Where to stay in Lari
There are numerous high quality hotels, villas, apartments and agriturismi (Farm stays) available in Lari, check them out and make a reservation here.