History of Casentino region including Montemignaio


See Casentino guide for highlights and historic monuments

The human presence in the Casentino area is very old, and it was once inhabited by the Etruscans - remains of settlements, shrines and burial kits, are all materials which, together with place names that were found in different places here, attest to the widespread presence of Etruscan settlements.

The remains of the Etruscan period are visible in Pieve a Socana (a toponym of Etruscan origin), where two antefixes (2nd century BC) and some fragments of pottery vessels and a small temple were accidentally discovered in 1929.

Lake Shrine of Idols

In the archaeological museum of Partina there are exhibited, in particular, the finds of the Lake Shrine of Idols, located approximately 1400 meters high on Mount Falterona, close to the source of the River Arno [from "Sarnus" = holy]. At this site one of the largest Etruscan votive offerings in the world (I-VI century BC) was discovered.

Numerous votive statues, weapons, coins and other objects were offered to the deities in the lake.

At the time of the Etruscans, the Casentino included the territories of the modern small towns of Castel S. Niccolò, Pratovecchio and Montemignaio.

History of Montemignaio

Dwelling in particular on the ancient village of Montemignaio , we can say that the origin of Montemignaio is uncertain - in the 12th century were lordships of the Counts Guidi, and in 1212 the patronage of the church was donated to the monks of Vallombrosa. Montemignaio is located about 700 meters high, close to the mountain pass of Consuma and Vallombrosa. The village is situated at the foot of the castle of the Counts Guidi.

In fact, in the centuries which preceded and followed the 10th century, and especially in the 13th century, the whole Casentino was completely within the province under the feudal rule of the Counts Guidi, who acquired an extraordinary power.

Montemignaio was connected to Reggello through a mountain road, where there was located a milepost. From this milepost derives the etymology of "Montemignaio", called in Latin "Mons miliarius":

“Montemignajo contains perhaps in its name ('Mons miliarius') the memory of a Roman milepost” [1].

This is certainly the most widely accepted etymology, while in the past, some scholars have suggested that the name derived from the presence of vineyards [ Italian “vigna”] from which "Montevignaio" or perhaps of mills [Italian “mulini”], from which "Montemolinaio".

It is easy to imagine that the story of the village was confused with that of the fortress of the Counts Guidi, called "Castel Leone" and the church of Romanesque style, dedicated to “Santa Maria Assunta”, dating back to the late 11th or early 12th century. The first documented mention of this church, however, dates back to the 13th century [1212-1213].

The castle belonged to the Counts Guidi, until a popular uprising delegated the community to Florence. From that moment Montemignaio followed the changing fortunes of Florence, and later it belonged to the Grand Duchy, until the arrival of Napoleon.

The French government of the region (under Napoleon) had considerable consequences for the small old village, which was involved in the rebellion, called "Viva Maria",  against the French. Because of this involvement the French tried to destroy the bronze bell of the castle, for its symbolic value, prompting the freedom of the city.

Since the bronze bell was of giant proportions and because it was very difficult to destroy, the French carried off the clapper, so people could no longer make it sound. However, the clapper was saved from destruction, because then it was found in the surrounding countryside.

Finally, the old village  entered into the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 [2].

See also the travel guide for Casentino villages and places to visit.

References

1. See  M. Bracco, “Architettura e scultura romanica nel Casentino”, 1971, p. 9

2. For a quick historical overview of Montemignaio, See E. Nistri-E. Tondini, “Montemignaio”, in “Di castello in castello”,  1991,   pp. 146-148