A guide to what to expect when visiting the little Medieval town of VICOPISANO.
Vicopisano is a small Medieval town situated just 25 minutes East of the City of Pisa and just 20 minutes from Pisa’s International Airport. Surrounded by a beautiful landscape of pine-covered hills and olive groves, Vicopisano is one of the most charming towns situated on a small range of hills known as the Monte Pisano which rises like an island between the planes of Pisa and Lucca. Yet to be discovered by the masses, Vicopisano certainly rewards those travellers searching for a more genuine Tuscan experience.
This is a place which was known by Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance master architect Filippo Brunelleschi whose impressive Medieval fortress still dominates the town today.
LOOKING TO EXPERIENCE THE CHARMS OF A SMALL TUSCAN TOWN?
Vicopisano is strictly for those who are looking to start the day with a ‘buongiorno’ and the chance to ‘live like a local’. This is certainly a place where you can still sip a cappuccino with a local and watch the world go by.
In the central piazza, you’ll find a charming village fountain, a handful of bars, an artisan ice-cream shop, and a small grocery store ideal for stocking up on seasonal basic fayre. Take out a pizza from one of the local pizzerias, dine al fresco at a hilltop hideaway and enjoy a glass of regional wine at a village enotecca (wine bar). There is a farmers’ market every Wednesday and a general market on Saturday. In fact, there is everything you need in this little Tuscan town including a butcher, a baker, and a fresh fishmonger every Thursday!
Apart from a genuine ambiance and friendly locals, visitors to Vicopisano will enjoy discovering her Medieval historic centre. It’s here where you will discover hidden lanes, ancient piazzas and Medieval tower houses which stand like soldiers along the narrow winding streets.
There were once more than a 100 towers in Vicopisano’s affluent past when it sat on the convergence of two important rivers. This was a time when nobles and merchants built impressive tower houses in order to show off their wealth and prestige. Unfortunately, Medieval, Renaissance and modern day interventions including the redirection of the River Arno in the 16th Century resulted in the town’s decline.
In 1406 Vicopisano was conquered by the Florentine army and in 1435 the Renaissance master engineer Brunelleschi under the instructions of the powerful Medici family destroyed as much as 70 percent of the buildings in order to fortify the village.
Despite this terrible intervention today’s visitors can still witness nine remaining Medieval towers including the beautiful Torre dell’Orologio clock tower which reaches a height of 25 metres and dates back to the first half of the 12th Century. Later this year the clock tower will be open to visitors for the first time.
WONDER AT THE MEDIEVAL TOWER HOUSES
Vicopisano is still a very real town, you could almost call it raw, it hasn’t had the resources to invest in prettying up the village for tourism and this is part of its appeal.
As you walk along the narrow streets you will probably wonder what hides behind the ancient crumbly façades of the Medieval tower houses. However what you see today is not how the Tower houses would have appeared in their Medieval heyday and this is partly due to the intervention of the famous Renaissance architect Brunelleschi who ordered that the lofty towers be cut down to size! This was in order to provide a clear view from the fortress should any enemy dare to approach from land or water.
Today many of these houses dating back to the 12th Century have been converted into comfortable modern-day homes with original features and stylish interiors. History buffs and romantics will delight at the chance to stay in these ancient historic buildings – the majority of which are owned by local residents who are slowly warming up to the idea of tourism.
For a romantic stay in a beautiful converted tower house apartment or studio you can expect to pay anything from 60 – 130 euros per night.
FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
Despite its slow take upon tourism, Vicopisano is gradually gaining the reputation of becoming a town of many festivals.
The biggest event of the year is the annual Medieval Festival which takes place during the 1st weekend of September. In 2015 this festival reached record numbers and received more than 15,000 visitors during the two-day event. Medieval jousters, men in tights, and locals dressed as serving wenches and crusaders add to the already captivating atmosphere of a town transformed back to the 11th Century.
RAMBLERS AND WALKING FESTIVAL
The first major event of the year is that of the Festa del Camminanti (Walkers’ festival) where participants of all ages and abilities get the chance to discover the tracks and trails of the Monte Pisano with expert guides. Itineraries include trekking through picturesque olive groves and discovering the traditions and culture of this historical land.
The festival takes place over the Easter weekend this year (2016) and usually takes place during the 3rd or 4th weekend of March.
A CASTLE IN BLOOM
The month of May hosts the annual ‘Castello in Fiore’ festival which translates to a ‘Castle in bloom’ and during the two-day event, the town is transformed into a blanket of colour and perfume. Visitors to the event may purchase anything from a tiny cactus to a 300-year-old olive tree. Street food and live music usually accompany this event and other festivals.
During the summer there is live music throughout the streets and piazzas and numerous Sagras which are outdoor festivals themed around food and dancing under the stars.
In addition to the seasonal festivals, Vicopisano runs a regular antique and collectors’ market every second Sunday of the month.
BRUNELLESCHI’S MEDIEVAL FORTRESS
La Rocca as it is known is the impressive feat of engineering designed by the Renaissance master Filippo Brunelleschi.
No trip to Vicopisano would be complete without a visit to the fortress which offers a unique insight into times gone by. Taking a guided tour when the fortress is open at the weekends will help you understand the genius of this master architect.
Adults and children alike will enjoy a memorable experience ‘without bounds’! The tour of the fortress includes climbing a 34-metre high watch tower by a series of wooden steps and ladders. A visit to the room once used as the armoury offers a great opportunity to try on Medieval helmets and handle the burnished weapons.
In addition to its characteristic historic centre and the many events and festivals, Vicopisano is still an authentic Tuscan working town.
At the edge of the village, you can visit an organic olive farm that produces quality extra virgin olive oil. The farm has a working press which can be seen in action from October through to January and during the rest of the year the farm offers tastings of extra virgin olive oil as well as other products produced at the farm.
To conclude – if you are looking to enjoy the hospitality of a small characteristic Tuscan town still unaffected by mass tourism Vicopisano is the perfect place to stay. https://authentic-tuscany.com/discovering-the-olive-oil-route-of-the-monte-pisano-in-tuscany/
Vicopisano has had a long and varied history with ceramic production right back to the 16th Century. Sadly these days there are only a handful of ceramic artisans producing beautiful handcrafted pieces which make the most wonderful souvenirs. If you would like to know more about ceramic production in Vicopisano click here to read our blog. https://authentic-tuscany.com/authentic-tuscan-ceramics-from-vicopisano/