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The ancient monastery at Vallombrosa was founded, according to religious tradition, by the nobleman Giovanni Gualberto. He was born in Florence at the beginning of the 11th century.
The tradition tells us that after his monastic experience at San Miniato in Florence he withdrew to nearby Vallombrosa, joining two hermits residences there, which developed before the community of Vallombrosa and which by 1090, almost twenty years after the death of Giovanni Gualberto, had fifteen monasteries.
The first evidence of the holy founder of Vallombrosa was composed almost twenty years after the death of Giovanni Gualberto (1073) by Andrea da Strumi (11th century). This text was followed by the "Life of Giovanni" written by Atto, Bishop of Pistoia around 1130 and has narrations by an anonymous author.
Origins of the name Vallombrosa
Regarding the etymology of Vallombrosa [=shadowy valley], the place name would derive from the dense thickets of oak and beech trees. Vallombrosa was more anciently called “Acqua Bella” (=Beautiful Water).
N. Puccioni wrote that:
"about the origin of this place name the opinion of Abbot De Franchi is that with this name the monks intend to meditate on the Josaphat valley and the symbolic meaning of the dark, which denotes pain and perseverance.” .
Other scholars have suggested that the name derives from the Latin term “Imber”, meaning rain.
Early history of Vallombrosa
At the end of the 12th century the monastery became the first major landowner of the area and extended its territory across the upper Valdarno, the district of Florence and some districts of the city. The areas covered the whole valley of the Arno penetrating even into Valdisieve and the plain of Ripoli.
The religious structure passed through several difficult moments, among which we mention the sack by Charles V in 1529; the suppression of the monastery during the Napoleonic age; and the formation of the new Kingdom of Italy.
150 years after the suppression of the monastery, the monks return to live in the abbey at vallombrosa in 1949. The abbey houses many works of religious art.
See also the Vallombrosa visitor and travel guide.
1. See N. Puccioni, “La Vallombrosa e la val di Sieve inferiore”, 1916, p. 22