Vallombrosa, in the countryside south of Florence at Reggelo (Tuscany) is best known for the ancient monastery that stands here - often referred to as Vallombrosa Abbey, which contains many intersting works of art. The abbey-monastery is on the edge of a beautiful forest that also takes the name of the of the abbey.
Vistors guide to Vallombrosa monastery
The monastery is almost entirely 15th century in origin, restored and enlarged in the 16th century by Gherardo Silvani. The building is dominated by the bell tower which is almost castle-like, preceded by a square surrounded by high wall. Inside, the monastery has an "Annunciation", a relief dating back to the 15th century (although badly damaged).
The interior of the abbey Church is constructed in the form of the Latin cross, with a nave. In the 15th century Abbot Biagio Milanesi from Florence adorned the church with the "Assumption" by Perugino [1450-1523] (now in the Uffizi Gallery).
In addition to works of Perugino the church was adorned by some paintings such as the "Four Saints" (1525) and "Two Angels" by Andrea del Sarto (1485-1531), and a terracotta work by Luca della Robbia (1400-1481) [Virgin and Child with Saints].
A brief history of Vallombrosa abbey
The present appearance of the abbey dates from the late 15th century, although in later centuries some small structures were added such as the east tower built in the first half of the 16th century and the large bath in front of the abbey dating from the late 18th century.
In 1530 Charles V's [1500-1559] troops plundered the monastery, destroying the library, which was repaired after six years and achieved great prosperity until the beginning of the 19th century.
In 1808 the possessions of the Monastery were confiscated and in 1810 the convent was suppressed. Reconstituted in 1817, it was finally suppressed in 1866 and the works of art brought to Florence, although the Italian government allowed four monks to remain to officiate the church.
From 1867-1913 the monastery was home to the Royal National Forestry Institute (later moved to Florence).
In a cloister you can see the facade of the Church, with a 17th century portico designed by Guglielmo Rasi. In the vault of the church you can see some frescoes by Giuseppe Antonio Fabbrini (1740-1795) - the "Assumption" and "Charity, Religion, Hope, and Faith". In the high left corner there is the "Trinity", by Lorenzo Lippi (1606-1665).
In front of this there is the Chapel of San Giovanni Gualberto, in the baroque style with marble and gilded stucco (1695-1700), and on the altar you can see "The Holy praying under the beech tree," a painting by Antonio Franchi [born 1638], and "The Holy by Mary to the throne of God", by Alberto Gherardini.
Behind the altar, there is a wonderful marble ciborium containing the Arm of the Saint by Paolo Sogliani Florentine, a goldsmith of the 16th century with six stories of the lives and figures of saints. In the apse, there is a wooden chancel, by Francesco da Poggibonsi (16th century).
Behind the main altar, there is a "Madonna and Child with Sts John Gualberto, Dominic and Catherine of Siena and the fifteen mysteries", by Donato Mascagni [1579-1637], and in the wall the "Assumption" by Daniele da Volterra [1509-1566]. In the sacristy or the chapel of San Bernardo, we can see "San Bernardo attacked by heretics," by Luca Sabatelli (born 1936).
Upstairs there is the Library in which there is also the "Donation of Matilda of Canossa to San Bernardo," a large painting by Donato Mascagni.
Outside and around Vallombrosa Monastery
Nearby, on a high rock 1037 meters northeast of Vallombrosa, is the Hermitage of the Paradisino. This is an 11th-century hermitage with a form of isolated cells where the monks retired to a life of penance.
To the west, from the large terrace, you can enjoy a beautiful view across the famous forest of Vallombrosa. In the forest there are numerous sources of fresh water, in addition to a large and varied fauna.
Finally, be sure to visit the old pharmacy where you can buy some local products of the Abbey. The local monks produce some well-known liquor, handing down the knowledge of ancient recipes mixing the virtues of some rare herbs, and also other speciality herbs, such as creams for body care, or natural foods such as jams, biscuits, chocolates, and honey.
See also Vallombrosa history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.