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The Medici in Mugello
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Epoch, date:
13th-16th century

The Medici, including in particular Cosimo il Vecchio (1389) and Cosimo I (1519-1574)

Mugello area, in the vicinity of San Piero a Sieve (Borgo San Lorenzo /FI), Province of Florence (to the north of Florence, along State Road no. 65): Villa di Cafaggiolo, Villa del Trebbio, Convent of Bosco ai Frari, San Piero a Sieve, Scarperia

Description and information:
The Medici are traditionally believed to have originated from Mugello, the area to the north-east of Florence that now comprises the municipal territories of Barberino di Mugello, San Piero a Sieve, Scarperia, Borgo San Lorenzo and Vicchio. The region extends along the upper valley of the river Sieve, the most important tributary of the Arno, and upstream of Vicchio. It is a large basin closed by the Apennines to the north, by the Calvana mountains to the west, and by Monte Morello and Monte Giovi to the south.
The etymology of the name "Mugello" is uncertain, although the theory that it derives from the ancient presence of the Ligurian Magelli tribes has considerable consensus. A legend recorded in a seventeenth-century manuscript refers to a giant by the name of Mugello who terrorised the area and was defeated by a certain Averardo de’ Medici, a commander in Charlemagne’s army (See related records: The origins of the Medici family).
Mugello is a borderland. From Roman times, and still in the Middle Ages, the most important road connection between Florence and Bologna passed through Mugello before crossing Romagna and entering northern Italy. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, to acquire better control over such a crucial communication route, the Florentine Comune founded the "new towns" of Scarperia (1306) and Firenzuola. Through these new settlements Florence was able to combat the feudal remnants and give new impetus to economic development. Mugello has in fact always been a fertile agricultural area in the rural hinterland of Florence, to the extent of being referred to as the "granary of the Florentine Republic". Over time, many of the wealthy families of the city, such as the Medici, invested their profits in the purchase of landed property in the area.

The first Medici in Mugello
Leaving the legendary stories aside, the presence of the Medici in Mugello is documented from the 13th century. As recorded in the Libro di memorie written by Filigno de’ Medici in 1374 (See: documents and manuscripts - bibliography), between 1260 and 1318 Averardo de’ Medici and his namesake son purchased, in a gradual but systematic manner, lands, farms and woods in Mugello, in the area of Cafaggiolo. In less than sixty years the Medici signed 59 contracts for the acquisition of landed property in Villanova, Campiano, San Piero a Sieve and San Giovanni in Petrolio. In 1320 Averardo di Averardo left it all to his six sons, dividing the property into equal parts. In his book Filigno also describes a "palagio with houses around, with courtyard and loggias, walls and a moat", which was later in the fifteenth century to become the Medici villa of Cafaggiolo (ASF, MAP, 152, f. 88r).
Between 1335 and 1375 the Medici descending from the branches of Chiarissimo and Averardo, in particular Giovanni and Filigno di Conte, the grandsons of Averardo, spent 9,000 gold florins for the purchase of 170 plots of land, mostly in Mugello.
In 1351 Giovanni di Conte, in his capacity as captain of the province of Mugello, engaged in the military defence of Scarperia besieged by the Visconti troops, at the same time saving the family properties in the area.
The presence of the Medici in Mugello in the fourteenth century is also recalled by contemporary literature. Franco Sacchetti (d. 1400) in his Trecentonovelle tells of a peasant of Dicomano whom the Medici attempted to divest of a vineyard (no. LXXXVIII). In fact the Medici prove to have been frequently accused of property offences.

Itinerary through the Medici sites of Mugello
From Florence, we proceed along the so-called Via Bolognese (State Road no. 65) in the direction of Mugello. We should recall that in the proximity of this first stretch of the road are two important Medici villas, significantly constructed in proximity with this important link with the Medici landed property in the surrounding countryside. Still within the area of the city, slightly to the west, is the Villa of Careggi (See related records), while on the hill, just outside Florence, is the Villa of Pratolino (or Villa Demidoff) (See related records).
24 km from Florence we come to a junction, leading on the right to San Piero a Sieve and on the left to Barberino di Mugello. Taking the latter direction, we arrive first at the Castle of Il Trebbio (See related records), on the hill, and then to the Castle of Cafaggiolo (See related records), in the plain. Both were built in the first half of the fifteenth century by Michelozzo for Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici by reconstructing pre-existing mediaeval buildings. Continuing a little way along the road to Galliano, following the directions we come to the Convent of Bosco ai Frari. Founded by the Ubaldini before the eleventh century, it was given over to the patronage of Cosimo il Vecchio in 1420 who entrusted the reconstruction to Michelozzo (See related records). The Franciscan complex houses a prestigious Collection of Sacred Art, including among other things a wooden Crucifix by Donatello.
Leaving the convent we arrive in San Piero a Sieve, dominated by the Fortress of San Martino, an impressive defensive structure built by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1569 to control the Apennine pass. Designed by Baldassarre Lanci, it was completed by Simone Genga and Bernardo Buontalenti. In the ancient parish church of San Pietro, founded in the eleventh century, is a baptismal font in glazed terracotta from the school of Giovanni della Robbia portraying Scenes from the Life of St. John the Baptist (after 1510) and bearing the Medici coats of arms.
The itinerary can be rounded off with a visit to Scarperia, founded in 1306 to oppose the overweening power of the Ubaldini, the most powerful feudal lords of Mugello, and to gain control of the road and the Transapennine mountain pass. In 1415 it was elected as the seat of the vicariate of Mugello; the vicars had their premises in the fourteenth century Palazzo Pubblico in the centre of the town. Struck by an earthquake in 1542, it was rebuilt and the walls strengthened. The urban layout is characteristic of the new towns founded by the Florentine Republic in the fourteenth century for the purpose of colonisation and military defence. It develops along a longitudinal axis, with the main square in the centre. It is broken up into lots with a homogenous building fabric due to prior planning.

Information on the web:


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  • Villa di Careggi
    Verso la metà del Quattrocento Cosimo il Vecchio commissionò a Michelozzo la villa al posto di un palazzetto che si ergeva nella tenuta di Careggi già di proprietà del padr...

  • Villa di Pratolino (o villa Demidoff)
    Dal 1569 Francesco I de’ Medici, figlio di Cosimo I e secndo granduca di Toscana, affidò a Bernardo Buonatenti la costruzione della villa e del suo parco e del suo parco, sulla dorsale ap...

  • Villa-castello del Trebbio
    Nel 1428 Michelozzo iniziò la ristrutturazione del castello del Trebbio su richiesta di Cosimo il Vecchio. Situato su un altura, mantiene l’aspetto di un fortilizio.

  • Villa-castello di Cafaggiolo
    Posta in pianura, la villa di Cafaggiolo ha un aspetto meno rustico del Trebbio. Il possedimento è stato di proprietà dei Medici sin dal 1359. Nel 1436-38, Michelozzo dette inizio alla r...

  • Convento di Bosco ai Frari
    Fondato dagli Ubaldini prima del Mille, posto sotto il patronato di Cosimo il Vecchio nel 1420 e da costui fatto ristrutturare a Michelozzo. Il complesso francescano custodisce una prestigiosa Raccolt...

  • San Piero a Sieve
    Il borgo è dominato dalla Fortezza di San Martino, imponente struttura difensiva voluta da Cosimo I de’ Medici nel 1569 per controllare il valico appenninico.Progettata da Baldassarre Lan...

  • Scarperia
    E’ stata fondata nel 1306, per contrastare lo strapotere degli Ubaldini, i più potenti feudatari del Mugello, e per assumere il controllo dell’asse viario transappenninico del giogo...

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