Poppi old town, situated on the flat ridge of a hill, is small but its arcaded main street and the Castle of Poppi which overlooks the town mean that it merits a visit when you are exploring the Casentino.
The village of Poppi sits on a small hill overlooking the pretty Casentino countryside. As you approach you can spot its tall castle dominating the skyline.
On entering the village you will drive past a rather striking rotunda which was built as a war memorial. It is worth stopping and admiring the views from here. Plus this is a useful area to park and then walk up to the village.
Walking into the centre of the village the main square has an unusual hexagonal shaped oratory at the centre. The domed church was built in the 17th century as an act of worship which it was hoped would ward off the plague. It has a suprisingly ornate interior and a painting of the Virgin attributed to Filippino Lippi. Around the square and elsewhere in the village are attractive arcaded buildings. These also offer some relief from the hot Tuscan sun.
Visits to Poppi will invariably focus on the Castle, located on the top of the hill and undoubtedly the most famous monument in Poppi and the highlight of your visit. It is also a very attractive castle with its pretty arched windows.
Construction of the 'current' castle began around 1260 and was finished, according to Vasari (1511-1574), by Arnolfo di Cambio (1240-1310), the architect of the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence. See also history of Poppi. The castle has undergone many changes over the centuries.
The earliest documents about the original castle on the site date from 1191 but its architecture dates back to the period of the Lombard invasions in this area. The original construction of the castle can be seen in the base of the square tower which dominates the building and which owes its present appearance to the restoration carried out in the 19th century.
After the tower the fortified city walls were built. The complex is entered through two gates in these walls, a larger one in the direction of 'Ponte a Poppi' with a steep access, and one on the opposite side.
After extensive renovations in 1470 the castle was expanded with the construction of the donjon to the right of the tower, now a private house, warehousing and a prison, which was originally connected to the tower with the drawbridge on the upper floors.
Next came the construction of the other wing of the castle and the courtyard, the most attractive part of the castle with galleries and staircases. It is in the courtyard that you can admire the arms of various Florentine families. Most of these works are attributed to Count Simone Guidi, who, during the renovation in 1274, converted the fort into a gentleman’s residence by opening the double lancet windows on the facade of the castle.
The Chapel of the Counts Guidi is one of the most beautiful rooms of the castle of Poppi and specialists draw comparisons between the Castle of Poppi and the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
Frescoes in Popppi castle
On the second floor, the chapel is covered with a ribbed vault of stone and the walls are decorated with an important fresco cycle attributed to Taddeo Gaddi [1300-1366], a pupil of Giotto [1267-1337]. The paintings were created after 1330, and concluded by the middle of the 14th century.
The painting cycle represents the Stories of the Gospel. Each scene is bordered by a frame that connects the polychrome painting to the architecture. The pictures relate two episodes of the stories of Mary, two dedicated to St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, and two related to St. John the Evangelist.
Lunette 1: Above the entrance, the first lunette depicts the Presentation in the Temple, and on the right hand is the Dormition where the Virgin Mary is dying, surrounded by the Apostles. Unfortunately, the painting lacks many details. On the north wall, there are two episodes of the life of St. John the Baptist. The first is the meeting of Jesus with St. John in the wilderness.
Lunette 2: On the lunette to the left we see the dance of Salomé. Among the guests King Herod stands out, dressed in red and being offered the head of John the Baptist by a soldier.
Lunette 3: The third lunette depicts two scenes from the life of the apostle John.
Outside of the castle you will notice a familiar statue of Dante. Many of the towns in the area seem to have one!
At the opposite end of the village to the castle is the church of Saint Fedele whose tower is the other tower you see on the skyline as well as the castle. This church tower was once one of the keeps and part of the town's defensive structure.
Other attractions in and near Poppi
Near Poppi castle you can visit the Abbey of San Fedele which is rich in works of art in the Romanesque style. The interior has a single nave with a painting by the Master of Magdalene of the Madonna with child.
See also the Church of San Marco with its 14th century crucifix, and the Church of the Augustinians (1657) with an Oratory of Our Lady dating back to 1659.
Leave Poppi through the Capuchin gate (one of five of the gates into the town) to find the former Capuchin monastery. A little further are the ruins of the Castle of Fronzola (the castle was shot down by the Florentines).
Near Fronzola, at the Palace of Poppi, there is a striking view of the Arno and the castle.
Near here you can also visit the Plan of Campaldino and the Monastery of Certomondo (Ponte a Poppi is the starting point to go up to Camaldoli and Badia Prataglia.)
Another tourist attraction here is the large and very scenic Park of European Fauna, with pines, oaks and chestnut trees.
Finally don't forget that the Casentino region is famous for its traditional menus. You can still enjoy the typical local dishes such as soups, pasta dishes, roasts and hams, and simple dishes such as the "acquacotta stiana", made with onions, broth, slices of toasted bread, chicken livers, salt and pepper.
Another simple but delicious dish in the Poppi region is ravioli, which for centuries was a source of livelihood for the Casentino.
In autumn it is easy to find fairs where chestnuts called "ballotte" (boiled) or "burned" (roast) are prepared. The Casentino is also famous for the pecorino cheese, but there are other cheeses to discover such as those made from goat's milk and used to produce the so-called "raviggiolo".