San Miniato

San Miniato – Photo © fiumeazzurro
San Miniato – Photo © fiumeazzurro

– HISTORY –

The origins of San Miniato go back to Etruscans and Roman times as can be seen by the remains of those civilizations: the ruins of the necropolis of Fontevivo, tables, marble statues and bronze works found in the Montenecalenne and Montappio excavations. Colonized by the Augustan legionaries San Miniato later was a military post with the name of “Quarto”, but only as a consequence of the Longobards’ invasion it became a village. In 783 the Longobards built a church here and consecrated it to the martyr Saint Miniato, whence the present name of the town. The castle was built in 962 by the Emperor Ottone I who founded there the seat of the Imperial Vicars with jurisdiction the all of Tuscany. It was also the residence of those marquis among which there was Boniface, marquis and vicar of the Emperor, father of the Countess Matilde of Canossa, born in San Miniato, it seems, in 1046.

Many German Emperors visited San Miniato and remained here stayed in the Imperial Palace (today the Bishop’s Palace): Frederic “Barbarossa” was there in 1167 and in 1178; Henry IV in 1184, 1186 and in 1194; Ottone IV in 1209. A part from Emperors, San Miniato also had the honor of welcoming three Supreme Pontiffs, that is Gregory V in 996, Eugene IV in 1434 and Clement VII in 1553. On his way home from Pisa, Saint Francis of Assisi traveled to the top of the San Miniato hill and founded the historic Convent on the year 1211.

In the municipal period, the village, of Ghibelline faction, received many privileges from Emperor Frederic II who had also built, around 1236 a complex of fortifications, the Rocca, where, according to historians, Pier delle Vigne, Frederic’s chancellor, was imprisoned and died. From the XII century San Miniato began to be ruled by its own authorities and was involved in the fights which broke out among the surrounding towns. Having broken down the power of Ghibelline Pisa (1284), to which the town was subjected, the people of San Miniato were afterwards subdued by Charles of Anjou. They rebelled against his rule to set up a free commune, belonging to the Guelph League (1291) until they were absorbed by the Florentine Republic.

However the habitants of San Miniato also rebelled against Florence in 1370 and 1396. The town was attacked twice by the Florentines and once, in 1530, by the Spanish troops of Charles V, lead by the Duke of Amalfi. They occupied the town on February 1st, 1530, but they were defeated November 1st of the same year by Francesco Ferrucci who once again flowed over the tower the lily, emblem of the Florentine Republic. When the town of the lily fell under Charles V’s rule, San Miniato was subdued by Duke Alexander of Medici and it later came to be part of the Grand-ducal rule. Under the grand-duke’s rule, with the powerful family of Grifoni, San Miniato became one of the most important towns of Medicean Tuscany.

In 1620 Mary Magdalene of Austria, Cosimo II’s wife, obtained her husband’s agreement to call San Miniato “Town” and Pope Gregory XV’s authorization so that the town became a Diocesan center. On June 28th 1797, Napoleon I came to visit his canonical uncle Philip and in the house of him Napoleon held a council of war. in 1860 San Miniato came to be part of the kingdom of Sardinia after giving its contribution to the 1st war of Independence.

Repetti called San Miniato “The seedbed of illustrious men and famous talents of all time and types”. In fact, many brilliant people are bound to it. Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, the Baron dei Mangiadori who commanded the Florentine cavalry at the battle of Campaldino, the naturalist Michele Mercati junior, the painter Ludovico Cardi, called “Cigoli”, the chemist Gioacchino Taddei, the philosopher Augusto Conti, the poet Pietro Bagnoli and professor Pietro Rondoni, scientist and genius. Also the Borromeo family of Milan and the Buonaparte of Corsica are descendents of San Miniato noble blood.

SAN MINIATO – THE CITY OF FLAVORS –

Culture and the quality of life intertwine in San Minato: both in the urban context of the city center and the uncontaminated rural hinterland. A meeting point for the city and the countryside is the material culture of food that, in San Miniato, has deep roots in their ancient agricultural economy. San MIniato is a truffle-rich area that is one of the most ample and fruitful in Europe.

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The White Truffle grown in the San Miniato Hills is the most valuable type known. If the San Miniato Truffle is unique, there are numerous other agricultural products that create a matchless constellation of taste and flavors. Their story is intertwined with that of people of San Miniato, who, being of a jealous nature, have always preferred to cultivate their products for their own use more than selling them to others. The wines and olive oils are the fruit of a territory that is very suited for it, especially the production of Vin Santo ( sweet raisin wine), made from the white grapes of San Colombano.

The artichoke from San Miniato, one of the most abundant and flavorful of the varieties was woven in the Medicean times. The Kentucky variety of tobacco has been imported for two centuries from North America and from it the “Sigaro Toscano” or Tuscan Cigar is produced. The quasi Romanesque shape of the tobacco drying structures, similar to those found in Cuba where the tobacco is dried, punctuates the San Miniato landscape and maintains its artesian traditions. The culture of food and its flavors is also created by the intelligence and capability of the artisans who are able to recreate ancient and new flavors.

Modernity has not dimmed this centuries-old knowledge, but has instead revived it. For some time the treatment and preparation of pork and blood products has once again come to life in the Longobard and medieval center of San Miniato. The art of baking and Mediterranean treatment of flour also makes their pastries and baked goods excellent. San Miniato is a City of Flavors that still today come from the refectories of its ancient convents, its medieval tertiary’s and over thirty manorial farms that were already listed in a feudal deed dating back to the year 938 A.D.. Its territory is an open jewel-case. In the streets of the historical town center and in the many itineraries of its extensive countryside that lead to age-old parishes and villages, is the ancient culture of a simple and reserved hospitality that has known how to preserve those flavors.

truffle fiera All rights reserved by zombo78
truffle fiera All rights reserved by zombo78

SAN MINIATO – THE CITY OF TRUFFLE –

An old folk saying, still today taught to children living in San Miniato countryside, recounts that a little golden calf can be found between Doderi, Montoderi and Poggioderi (three sites mentioned in medieval documents kept in the Historical Archives 0f San Miniato). It may seem odd, but the heart of the San Miniato truffle ground can be found in that Valdegola triangle.

The White Truffle from the San Miniato hills, a geographical truffle-producing area that extends towards the inland countryside of Pisa, is known as the Tuber Magnatum Pico. This kind of underground fungi is the most valuable. Located a few centimeters deep, they can only be found in a limited number of areas favored by nature for the particular, almost mysterious combination of forest fauna and geological substratum.

San Miniato holds the most records in this select area. Here the largest truffle ever found, a very fragrant tuber weighing in at 2.520 grams, was presented to President of the United States Truman in 1954 with great fanfare.

But their truffle also hold a record of quality not only because of the fertility of the woods, but also to the care taken and the deep respect for the environment where they are gathered. Regulated by strict controls and a regional law that defines how they are gathered and marketed, the White Truffle of San Miniato is served in the best restaurants in the world.

Gathered with moderation and selectivity production is limited due to the brevity of their season (the three months of October, November and December). In fact, the value of the White Truffle of San Miniato lies in its rarity. Its roots date from the Middle Ages, but it has only been a little more than 100 years that their gathering has been organized by the area’s family groups, the so-called Tartufai delle Colline Sanminiatesi (Truffle-gatherers of the San Miniato Hills, created about twenty years ago), that groups together more than 400 gatherers in the Egola, Elsa and Era Valleys, all tributaries of the Arno River. More than just truffle finders, the families each have their own secrets handed down through generations, their truffle dogs and their hidden paths in oak, poplar and Holm Oak forests.

The truffle, though, does not just mean a unique taste: it also is local culture and business. For thirty years the Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco di San Miniato (The National White Truffle of San Miniato Show), transforms the city for the entire month of November into a huge open-air tasting workshop. Here the truffle takes the throne where it is displayed in the historical Piazza del Duomo at the foot of the Rocca. Other squares also have their own markets, with typical flavors of the San Miniato hills, offered together with specialties from other Italian culinary cities. The Truffle Show, however, is just the peak of what this extraordinary season has to offer. In the heart of the land of truffles, deep in the woods and countryside, smaller and hidden festivals take place in October in little villages that are home to the oldest truffle dynasties: The Corazzano Festival, at the foot of the Romanesque parish of San Giovanni Battista and the Balconevisi Festival, in the ancient village of the Florentine Strozzi family, when each quarter participates in a goose race. And in March the early Marzuolo truffle can be tasted in Cigoli, birthplace of Lodovico Cardi who rivaled Correggio as the leader of Mannerism.

Brillat Savarin writes: “the truffle makes women more tender and men more amiable”. And, poor fellow, he’s only referring to the black truffle of Perigord (France). What influence would have the “food of the king”, the San Miniato white truffle?

San Miniato - by ezioman
San Miniato – by ezioman

SAN MINIATO – THE CITY OF THEATRE –

Theatre plays, and all types of performance have very old roots in San Miniato that are continually renewed. Many centuries ago the people of San Miniato chose as their Patron Saint Genesio, an actor, martyred because he portrayed the Passion of Christ on stage. Was this a fluke? A coincidence? A vocation?

When the Second World War came to San Miniato, its symbol were destroyed: Frederick II of Swabia’s Rocca, the castle doors, many monuments and homes and also the theatre that staged dramatic melodramatic plays.

But can these symbols really and truly be demolished? The theatre in San Miniato has been revived in its wonderfully scenic squares, and for over fifty years now, it is an extraordinary workshop of plays and performances. Performance and culture blend together in the squares and medieval sites of the ancient independent commune’s villas and castles during the summer months when a program of events attracting international attention takes place. Since 1947, the Italian première of open-air traditional plays with a religious subject have been staged. It is a unique event of its kind, founded in collaboration with the Accademia di Arte Drammatica (Academy of Dramatic Art) in Roma, and the most important international playwrights as well as the most famous directors and actors in Italian theatre participate.

LA LUNA E’ AZZURRA ( The moon is blue ) – The week-long Festa Internazionale del Teatro di Figure ( International Representation Theatre Festival), organized by the cultural association Terzostudio, has enlivened the nocturnal squares of San Miniato for almost twenty years now. Artists from every continent in the world perform the simple arts of puppetry and mime, where, followed by the spectators, they move from square for performances lasting past midnight.

SCUOLA EUROPEA PER L’ARTE DELLA RECITAZIONE ( European School for the Art of Acting ) – is conducted by the Theatre of Pisa and the Accademia di Arte Drammatica “Silvio D’Amico” (“Silvio D’Amico” Dramatic Art Academy) in collaboration with the European Association Training Centers for Young Opera Singers. The year 2000 marks its sixteenth season where the finest teachers and most promising young talents in Europe gather together during the months of June and July in San Miniato. Joseph Fiennes, the lead in Shakespeare in Love, attended this school.

UN CASTELLO DI SUONI ( A Castle of Sounds ) – In springtime and summertime, the parishes, castles and villages scattered throughout the countryside come alive with classical music concert. Here, entertainment is just limited to performances, but also incorporates the extraordinary scenery.

IL TEATRINO DEI FONDI ( Little Theatre of the Fondi ) – A European research center for experimental and children’s theatre, it is located ( together with its sister organization, the Titivillus publishing house) in the country town of Corazzano, where an ancient Roman village once stood. Here they put together and stage ideas, projects and shows with the collaboration of the most prestigious Italian theatrical Pergola and the Biblioteca Alfonso Spadoni.

IL CENTRO STUDI ” PAOLO E VITTORIO TAVIANI” ( Paolo and Vittorio Taviani center for Studies ) – Founded to further the appreciation of motion pictures in collaboration with the Departments of Performing Arts of Florence, Pisa and Siena Universities, it is dedicated to two famous men from San Miniato who repeatedly in their films have narrated the legends, stories and events of their native city, such as in their film ” The night of the shooting stars”, the epic story of the massacre at the San Miniato Cathedral and the terrible ferocity of war.

Where to stay in San Miniato

There are numerous high quality hotels, villas, apartments and agriturismi (Farm stays) available, check them out and make a reservation here.