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Certaldo is a small Tuscany town of medieval origin, which developed in the Val d'Elsa in a location that has been settled since ancient times. Today Certaldo is a popular tourist destination both for its historical buildings, perfectly preserved in the upper part of the city, and for the landscapes around the town.
The name comes from the Latin "Cerrus Altus", a reminder that at the time the town was founded the area was surounded by woodland.
A brief history of Certaldo - fiefdoms and a railway
In ancient times the site of Certaldo was inhabited by the Etruscans, and archaeological excavations have unearthed several tombs, remains of temples, inscriptions and ancient coins. Later the area was almost certainly a Roman colony, but from this time until the early Middle Ages the history of the town is almost completely unknown.
From the 12th century it is known that Certaldo was a fief of the powerful Counts Alberti from Prato, and the setting for many struggles between the local ruling familes.
By the end of the 12th century the Counts Alberti were forced to accept the rule of Florence, and from that moment the history of Certaldo is more or less the same as all the region that was under the control of Florence.
Under Florentine rule the city experienced great prosperity which was largely due to the towns proximity to the important Via Francìgena, the trade route between Italy and France.
With increasing prosperity Certaldo grew larger and additional settlements developed down the hillsides below the original village, along the Via Francìgena. Certaldo was held in high esteem by Florence, and at the beginning of the 15th century it became the seat of a 'Vicariate' (an important centre for local administration).
From the end of the first Florentine Republic and the Medici dynasty Certaldo full under the control of Lorraine in the first half of the 18th century. It saw further economic development in the 19th century, coinciding with the construction of the railroad that gave a considerable boost to local manufacturing and trade.
Certaldo: tourism and highlights in Giovanni Boccaccio’s city
Certaldo can be seen as falling into two distinct parts with the larger, more recent town below and the historic centre, sometimes called Castello, further up the hill along Via del Castello. It is the upper town, which is really quite small and follows one main street, where your visit will focus.
Your visit to Certaldo can start with the house of Giovanni Boccaccio, its most illustrious and famous citizen who was born here in 1313 (d. 1375), and well known both as the author of 'Decameron' and various other works (he is one of the most famous Middle Age writers) and for being a great humanist.
You can reach the house along Via Boccaccio. Boccaccio's house was seriously damaged during World War II but was meticulously restored after the end of the war. The façade, with a tower and balcony, is in brickwork.
Information about the life and work of Boccaccio is presented in the house using audiovisual displays in a room on the ground floor, then in the Poet's room you can admire a fresco by Pietro Benvenuti (1820) that survived the bombing, and other common objects used in the Middle Ages.
Today the house is also home to the 'Centro Nazionale di Studi sul Boccaccio' (National Centre of studies on Boccaccio), which includes a library with a large number of foreign translations of the Decameron.
Other sights in Certaldo
Next to the House of Boccaccio is the 13th century Church of Saint Michael and Jacob, in Romanesque style and with a single nave, which houses a remarkable 14th century fresco by a Sienese artist ('Madonna Enthroned with Saints'). In the same church you can see the tomb of the great writer of Certaldo.
Also in the upper city, which is well preserved and features many medieval buildings, you can admire the Palazzo del Vicario (the Praetorian Palace), which is the former residence of the Counts Alberti and constructed on the existing structure of the castle.
This important building has arched windows and a decorative facade with merlons and a tower.
Inside the palace you can visit the Knights Room (with paintings by Francesco Fiorentino (1445-1497), the 'Madonna and Child' and 'Dead Christ') and the Audience Hall (with paintings again by Francesco Fiorentino, the 'Pietà' and 'Doubting Thomas').
Another building of some importance is the Church and Cloister of Saint Thomas where some frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli can be seen.
The Certaldo 'Museo d'Arte Sacra' (Museum of Sacred Art) is also very interesting and contains many ancient sacred vessels, among them a wooden crucifix of the 13th century, the so-called "Christ Triumphant".
Certaldo is not only the city of Boccaccio, and its medieval traditions have also been preserved in the local cuisine which is often based around the famous purple Certaldo onion, used in a wide variety of local products. At Certaldo you can also enjoy the famous wine of Chianti.
Where is Certaldo?
The hill town of Certaldo is in the Chianti region of central Tuscany, about 35 kilometres south-west of Florence. It is also close to the exceptional medieval village of San Gimignano and the historic town of Colle di Val d'Elsa.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.