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Camoldoli is a village close to Poppi in the Casentino region of eastern Tuscany, visited for the historic Holy Hermitage and Monastery of Camoldoli. To reach Camoldoli you have a very scenic drive through the Casentino forests.
The two highlights to be visited at Camoldoli are the Hermitage and the Monastery:
The Hermitage - a guided tour
The Holy Hermitage of Camaldoli is situated over 1000 meters above sea level, and it can be accessed from various locations, such as Badia Prataglia, Serravalle di Bibbiena, Poppi and Pratovecchio. It is in a very picturesque setting completely surrounded by fir trees which give the place a mystic and considerable charm, and contains a great deal of interesting highlights.
From the entrance door of the Holy Hermitage, you first cross a small square paved with slabs of stone to arrive at the church, consecrated in 1220 by Pope Gregory IX (1170-1241). The new facade of the church was erected in 1713-14 and is enclosed between two towers with statues of Christ, S. Benedict and St. Romuald.
On the door leading into the baroque style interior of the church there is a bas-relief by Thomas Fiamberti (a Lombard sculptor documented mainly in Cesena and Forlì but also in Ravenna in the early 16th century) depicting the "Madonna and Child".
The church transept houses the small chorus of the lay brothers. The narthex in the shape of carved wood covers the transept and the nave with gold leaf.
On the right there is an altarpiece by G. B. Naldini (1537-1591) and on the leftside the altar is adorned with a painting by Candido Sorbini from Montepulciano (1786-1875). On the wall above the door stands the fresco by Giovanni Drago (dating back to the 17th century), depicting the vision of Saint Romuald.
On the doors of the transept there are several paintings attributed to the workshop of Domenico Cresti* called Passignano, depicting the four Fathers of the Western Church, that is St. Gregory, S. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose“.
* Domenico Cresti was born at Florence about the middle of the 16th century. He was a pupil of Federigo Zucchero and lived some time in Venice where he acquired a preference for Venetian school of painting and especially the works of Paolo Veronese. He acquired a great reputation at Rome where he was supported by the popes Paul V and Urban VIII: he painted the Crucifixion of St Peter for the Capella Clementina in St Peters (in the Vatican) for which he was created Cavaliere”
On the side of the altar there is the chapel dedicated to St. Romuald while in the transept is a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, where some of the most representative monks of Camaldoli, such as Ambrogio Traversari (1386-1439) Prior General of the Order, Mariotto Allegri (died 1478) and Edward Baroncini (died 1741), author of the "Chronicon" of Camaldoli are buried.
The Refectory, dating back to 1679, was built by Guglielmo Magistreti of Arezzo and Baldassarre from Stia. The Library dates back to 1622 and has a coffered ceiling including paintings depicting the Evangelists, the Apostles Peter and Paul, SS. Fathers Benedict and Romuald, the Fathers and Doctors of the Eastern and Western Churches, and the thinkers of the Benedictine Order.
Before the Napoleonic suppression of 1810, the Library housed hundreds of codes, incunabula and printed books. In 1866 the valuable collection of books was incorporated in part by the National Library and the Laurentian Library in Florence.
The Monastery of Camaldoli - a guided tour
The Monastery of Camaldoli is situated about 800 meters above sea level, on the banks of one of the branches of the river Archiano. There are about 20 monks' cells enclosed within the monastery walls. The internal architecture of the cells is winding and it includes a bedroom, a small study (in which the monks shared a daily devotional time for Bible study and prayer) and a vegetable garden.
The architectural complex of the 16th century (the work was completed in 1611) consists of three complexes joined together: the Monastery, the Church and the Lodge. The Church, in the center of the two complexes, dates from the 14th - 18th century.
The monastery is built round a cloister with two rows of arches resting on columns with Ionic capitals. Two orders are oriented toward the sun, while the other two facing east and north have arched windows. Upstairs there are corridors that run along the perimeter of the cloister and in which there are the monks' cells.
The refectory of 1609 is characterized by the Tuscan mannerism movement [to which belonged some painters such as Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), Pontormo (1494-1557), Bronzino (1503-1572), Sodoma (1477-1549) and Beccafumi (1486-1551)] and it is furnished with walnut tables and stalls.
The back wall is occupied by a large canvas painted in 1611 by Cristoforo Roncalli (called Pomarancio). Above the door there is a pulpit carved in stone. Along the wall there are paintings of the 17th and 18th century and the coffered ceiling is dotted with winged heads.
The present church is the fourth of four churches that have been built on the same site. Excavations in 1979 revealed the plans of the other Churches and later revealed the first monastery, destroyed by fire in 1203.
In the church there are frescoes by Spinello Aretino (1350-1410), a Renaissance painter, seven paintings by Vasari (1511-1574) and also the small paintings by Vasari, who composed the predella of the "Deposition".
The old pharmacy is where the monks prepared medicinal herbs. The central hall of the Pharmacy is furnished with shelves of carved walnut dating from the 16th century. Today in the Pharmacy you can see old recipes, ceramics and objects depicting sacred images.
The Guest quarters were the first building of the monastery. In ancient times it was a transit station of which some Roman ruins still remain. Here you can see the sandstone Cloister of Maldolo and the Cloister of the Children, where in 1400 the Prior General Traversari organized the first school for students oriented to the monastic life. This cloister is in Renaissance style.
The Guest quarters suffered a change in the second half of the 15th century when Laurence the Magnificent (1449-1492), and other famous scholars such as Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), Cristoforo Landino (1424-1498), and others went to discuss philosophical arguments with the monks.
The Library of the Monastery has about 30,000 volumes. Originally this building was a simple “Hospitium” for monks and pilgrims who, along the “Via Flaminia Minor”, were going to Rome.
The region surrounding Camaldoli
Both complexes are immersed in the National Park of the Casentino Forests. The monks always showed great interest in the conservation of forests and we owe to them the formation of a forest of silver firs, because of the high commercial value attributed to the wood from these forests.
It is interesting to note that wood from these forests was used in the Florentine Opera del Duomo, as well as for the construction of the fleets of Pisa and Livorno.
Close to Camaldoli you also have the opportunity to participate in excursions in the National Park of the Casentino Forests and to discover the natural wonders of this area.
The discerning tourist also has the possibility to taste some typical products; for example, in winter we can easily taste dishes based on mushrooms, such as por mushrooms wrapped in tinfoil, grilled and roasted.