Certaldo, Boccaccio's Hometown
Certaldo is located halfway between Florence and Siena and is mainly known for being the hometown of Giovanni Boccaccio, the author of the Decameron; its population center is made up of two distinctive nuclei: the medieval Certaldo Alto (the upper town) and the “modern one” (situated further down the hill). Inhabited since the Etruscan Age, the name “Certaldo” comes from the Latin phrase “cerrus altus” meaning “a rise covered in turkey oaks”; innumerable archaeological findings suggest that it was populated in Roman times too, although its recorded history only began in 1164, when the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa conceded the area where Palazzo Pretorio now stands to the Alberti Counts. The castle maintained its independence until 1184, when it was occupied by the Florentine troops because of the war between Florence and Semifonte – a neighbouring town under the control of the Alberti Counts; when Semifonte was destroyed in 1202, Certaldo increased in population and the century after saw the construction of the main road, which was (and is) also the town square. In 1415, Certaldo became the seat of a Vicariate of the Florentine Republic and despite the frequent plunders it underwent a period of significant economic and cultural development which continued throughout the 17th Century; the construction of the “modern town” began when the Vicariate was abolished (1784-1787) and little by little Certaldo Alto started losing its importance.
Certaldo is the perfect base for visiting many other interesting towns and cities such as Siena, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Florence, Pisa and Volterra; it is also a great place to relax, especially during the Summer, when the sun shines and the breeze blows.
Are you planning a visit? If yes, here is our “must-see” list:
The most interesting part of Certaldo is surely Certaldo Alto which can be reached by foot or via funicular railway, departing from Piazza Boccaccio. The old town has remained basically unchanged, except for the fact that it fell victim to heavy bombing during World War II and had to be rebuilt in 1947.
Enjoy wandering along the narrow medieval streets, the little squares, the 14th century walls... then look for the three main gates to the “castle” - Porta al Sole, Porta Alberti and Porta al Rivellino – and get some wonderful pictures!
Visit the Church of SS Jacopo and Filippo built in the 13th century, here lie the remains of Giovanni Boccaccio and a famous female Saint: Beata Giulia Della Rena. Other interesting churches are: the Church of SS Tommaso and Prospero (the most ancient one) and the Parish Church of San Lazzaro a Lucardo (the best example of Romanesque architecture in the area).
As far as civil architecture is concerned, Certaldo's worthwhile buildings are: Palazzo Stiozzi Ridolfi (14th century), Palazzo Giannozzi (an odd manor house dating back to the 14th century), Palazzo Machiavelli (with its impressive medieval tower) and Palazzo Pretorio of course (the ancient residence of the Alberti Counts and seat of the Vicariate).
Boccaccio' s House overlooks Certaldo's main road (Via Boccaccio) and has been converted into a Museum dedicated to the famous writer. The building where Giovanni Boccaccio died in 1375 was heavily damaged during the Second World War, but promptly rebuilt in 1947.
The Museum of Sacred Art displays amazing paintings, sculptures and gold objects that were found in churches in and around Certaldo.
About 10 km off the town stands the Chapel of St. Michael that was built in 1597 to commemorate the destruction of Semifonte; its dome is a one-eighth scale replica of Brunelleschi's Cupola in Florence! Unfortunately very little remains of the city: a truncated tower, a spellbinding spring and various buried ruins.
The best month to visit Certaldo is undoubtedly July, when the town hosts Mercantia, one of the best street festivals in Europe. Mercantia lasts almost one week and brings together talented singers, dancers, actors, artisans, artists and performers from across the globe.