History of Castel San Niccolo

See Castel San Niccolo guide for highlights and historic monuments

The castle of San Niccolò is located in the Valdarno, Casentino, at a height of about 400 meters on the right bank of the river Arno and torrent Solano.

History of Castel San Niccolo since medieval times

Castel San Niccolò was ruled by the Guidi Counts from Bagno [16] who also controlled Castel Leone and Castel Sant'Angelo, after a family transaction of 1253. It seems that Guglielmo Novello, son of the Count Guido Novello of Modigliana, was the first lord of Castel San Niccolò, and he was succeeded by his son Galeotto against whom the inhabitants of the Castle of San Niccolò rebelled.

Towards the middle of the 14th century, Castel San Niccolò therefore came in the sphere of influence of Florence, and this resulted in a remarkable economic development. In fact, it became a Podesteria [Office of the Podesta] and one of the most important "Mercatali" [market] of the Casentino, a place of exchange where the village peddled its local products.

After the Florentine conquest of Poppi there was a new arrangement of the whole of the Casentino within the Florentine domain and the seat of the Podestà was in Castel San Niccolò, so the Podesta of the so-called "Montagna Fiorentina" could also be called ‘Podesteria of Castel San Niccolò” [17].

In 1440 Castel San Niccolò was also involved in the wars with the duchy of Milan, and it underwent a long siege by Niccolò Piccinino (1386-1444). N. Machiavelli (1469-1527) related that the siege of Castel San Niccolò by Niccolò Piccinino decided his final defeat:

"So Niccolò Piccinino took this castle after thirty-two days of siege, but the long (time) lost for so little gain was largely the main cause of the ruin of his performance" [18].

In the following centuries Castel San Niccolò was ruled by the Medici and the Lorena, who started major land reclamation and gave self-government to the village, which finally entered the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Early origins - Glanzole, Vado and Castel San Niccolo

The ancient name of the castle, later to be called Castel San Niccolò, was Glanzole, as we see in the diploma of Henry VI (1165-1197):

"Glanzole is the ancient name of the castle then called Castel San Niccolò, and the next diploma of Henry VI presents this series of place names: "[...] Stiam, Lonanum, Battifollem, Cieticam, Glanzolum, Poplium [...]" [1].

The name Glanzolum (or Glanzole, Ghianzolo, Ghianzuolo) derives from the De Glanzolo family, strongly united by bonds of loyalty to the Guidi Counts. The De Glanzolo served for two generations as officials linked to the family of Guido Guerra III. The family came from the castle of Glanzolum, now Castel San Niccolò in Casentino.

Tybalt, who died around 1253, was the first member of the family. He had the title of vicecomes in 1242, and had four sons, Tybalt, Gozzello, Vinci and Boninsegna. Tybalt was related by marriage with the Guidi Counts. This branch of the Guidi Counts had rights to Glanzolum, as attested by a diploma of Frederick II (1194-1250) of 1247 in favor of the Counts Guido Novello and Simon, sons of Guido:

“the castle of Poppi with all its curia and the district, and by name the following villas, that is Corsignano and Buchena with their district and appurtenances, the castle of Glanzolo, with all its appurtenances and the Curia, the church and the castle of Garliano, the castle of Monte Acuto with all their appurtenances and the district" [2].

Tybalt, who was already linked to the Guidi Counts in 1239, probably as an operator in their entourage, was called dominus in 1253-1254 and in 1280 and he was connected in a similar manner to Guido Novello. Gozzello appears as dominus in some documents of 1276 and 1280, while in 1276, he was vicecomes of Guido Novello in Bagno di Romagna under the Apennines; Evidently he, like his brother Tybalt, was closely linked to Guido Novello around 1299.

In any case, in the diplomas of Frederick II of 1247 and 1250, Castel San Niccolò was still called "Castrum de Glanzolo" or "Glauçolo":

"Castle of Glanzolo with all his curia and appliances ... These acts were written in 1250 after the Incarnation of Christ, in the month of September" [3].

The transition of the name from "Glanzolum" to "Castel San Niccolò" occurred in a later period. As we can see, in documents up to 1250 and beyond, the “true” place name of Castel San Niccolo was "Castrum Glanzolo." The new place name of Castel San Niccolò is merely a conventional name, linked to the name of the local patron saint, as for the names of other castles founded by the Guidi Counts:

"All these castles have a conventional name which does not refer to the pre-existing toponomastic and it contains an explicit reference to the fortifications" [4].

So, for example, the castle of Cetica is called Castel Sant'Angelo, from the church of San Michele. Also Castel San Niccolò refers to a saint, that is to San Niccolo, Saint Bishop of Mira [5].

With regard to the transition from "Castrum Glanzolo" to "Castel San Niccolò", it was quite late, even though we must note that it was earlier called "populi Sancti Nicholai" [Community of San Niccolò], because, as we shall see, the castle was built later. However, the term "Sancti Nicholai" clearly appears in the registers of Florence, in some books from the year 1259 and 1260; for example (among many):

"the book XIX of 1259 contains orders and statutes made for the good army government (…) in which are explicitly transcribed twelve captains of the army (LXVI (...) Among these is Accoltus Balistarius de populi Sancti Nicholai "[Accoltus Balistarius of the Community of Saint Nicholas"] [6].

The date of 1259 seems therefore crucial with regard to the modern place name. However, it seems that the documents can be backdated to 1253, as evidenced by Santini:

"It seems that the “Costituto del Capitano del popolo” was compiled, the first time, in 1253, because the surviving manuscripts of the Statutes contain laws dating back to this date" [7].

As we said, the construction of the castle dates back to the mid-14th century:

"The fortifications of this area by Guidi rank ... in the third and fourth phase of the fortifications of the Casentino [that is in the 14th century] ... with the construction of the castle of Battifolle and Castel San Niccolò (in the 'Glanzole Curtis') (...)" [8].

The seigneurial families were losing their grip almost everywhere in the Casentino, which was most visible in the 14th century. Pratovecchio surrended to Florence in 1343, while the Guidi family lost Castel San Niccolo five years later [9].

The place names "Glanzolum" and "populi Sancti Nicholai" [Community of San Niccolò] alternate in the documents; so, for example, in 1321 Castel San Niccolo was simply called "Glanzolum":

“in the year 1321, Saturday, April 4, Count Hubert of Glanzolo hanged Bartolini Formignano with his son" [10].

Since 1349 the registers of Florence again mention the "populi Sancti Niccholay de Gianzuolo":

"The mayors of Vado, Garliano, Sancti Pancratii, Sancte Marie of Cietica and Sancti Angeli of Cietica, before the Priors of the Arts [say that] those municipalities and the cities of Sancti Niccholay de Gianzuolo, Garliano and Guardacroce have full freedom and are not to be submitted to the government of any person" [11].

Finally, in 1357, 17 April 18, the Priors:

"decide that the annual wage of Donati Basini, the current castellan of the [castrum] ' Sancti Niccholay', was paid with the money of Florence" [12].

In conclusion, we can say that the modern place name, "Castel San Niccolò" refers to the name of the ancient parish church dedicated to St. Nicholas; in fact, it was almost a "private chapel" of the Guidi Counts, very close to the castle, now located at the entrance to the village.

The local population was very devoted to Saint Nicholas, whose precious relic was brought to the church of the "Curtis de Glanzolo." [13].

The conquest of the village of Castel San Niccolò gave rise to a village called Vado, a name derived from the term "ford” [=Italian “guado”], and the word "Vad" is always in relation to a river, "Vad is an evolution of 'g-atar' which goes back to proto-Indoeuropean language" [14]. Vado was then called "Strada" from the street along the Solano torrent:

"Strada is situated at the foot of the hill where stands the ancient and ruined castle of San Niccolò, from the decay of which originated the village of Vado” [15].

See also the travel guide for Castel San Niccolò.


1. See Marco Bicchierai, “La signoria dei conti Guidi in Valdarno. Osservazioni ed ipotesi”, in “Lontano dalle città. Il Valdarno di Sopra nei secoli XII-XIII. Atti del Convegno (Figline Valdarno -Montevarchi 9-11 novembre 2001), a cura di Giuliano Pinto e Paolo Pirillo, Roma, 2005, p. 87 nota 16

2. Historia diplomatica Friderici Secundi ", ed. Huillard-Bréholles, vol. 6, Part 1, 518-24 (April 1247)

3. See F. Schneider, "Toscanische Studien" in "Quellen Forschungen und aus und italienischen Archiven Bibliotheken", Rom, 1908, Band XL, p. 314 ff. See also "Historia diplomatic Friderici Secundi", edited by A. Huillard-Bréholles, Parisiis, MDCCCLX, Tome VI, p. 519

4. See C. Molducci, “I castelli dei Guidi fra Romagna e Toscana: i casi di Modigliana e Romena. Un progetto di archeologia territoriale”, in F. Canaccini, “La lunga storia di una stirpe comitale: i conti Guidi tra Romagna e Toscana”, Olschki, 2009, p. 237

5. Molducci, p. 237

6. C. Paoli, “Il libro di Montaperti”, Firenze, 1889, p. LXVI e 77

7. See P. Santini, “Antiche riforme superstiti dei Costituti fiorentini”, in “Archivio storico italiano”, 1921, p. 228

8. Molducci, p. 236

9. See D. Curtis, “Settlement development in the Casentino Valley, Tuscany, 1000-1580. A new perspective on late medieval commercialisation and the relationship between city and countryside”, 2011, p. 23

10. See Ludovicus Antonius Muratorius" Rerum Italicarum Scriptores ", Mediolani, MDCCXXIX, Tomus Decimus Quartus, p. 1139

11. See “Documenti degli Archivi Toscani”, edited by G. Natoli, “ I capitoli del comune di Firenze”, MDCCCLVI, Tomo Primo, p. 312

12. G. Natoli, “Documenti degli Archivi Toscani”, p. 315

13. See Molducci, p. 237, footnote 65

14. See C. Beretta," The Names of Rivers, Mounts, Sites, "Hoepli, 2003, p. 38 and 123

15. See “Pubblicazioni dell'Istituto di geografia dell'Universita di Roma”, 1961, p. 142

16. See Molducci, p. 237

17. M. Bicchierai, “La lunga durata dei beni comuni ...”, in “Comunità e beni comuni dal Medioevo ad oggi. Atti della giornata di studio (Capugnano, 10 settembre 2005), a cura di Renzo Zagnoni, Porretta Terme - Pistoia, , p. 47 and note

18. See N. Machiavelli, “Delle istorie di Niccolò Macchiavelli”, 1769, p. 77