Empoli, near Florence

Empoli is a town and comune in the Metropolitan City of Florence, about 19 miles southwest of Florence, to the south of the Arno in a plain formed by the river. The plain has been used for agriculture since Roman times.

Archaeological finds have revealed that Empoli was already settled in the early Roman Empire times, and continued to exist until the 4th century AD. The Arno river acted as a communication way for the trade of agricultural products, together with the local amphorae. In the Tabula Peutingeriana of the 4th century Empoli is called in portu (“in the port”) as a river port on the Roman road Via Quinctia, which led from Fiesole and Florence to Pisa. Empoli was also on the Via Salaiola, connecting to Volterra’s salt ponds.

From the 8th century, Empoli consolidated as a town around the castle, known as Emporium or Empolis. In 1119 it was absorbed into the Guidi counts’ possessions. In 1182 it fell under Florentine rule. In 1260, after the Battle of Montaperti, Empoli was the seat of a famous council in which Farinata degli Uberti opposed the destruction of Florence.

Later Empoli became an important fortress, and was therefore repeatedly sacked and attacked. In 1530 its fall marked the end of the independence of the Florentine Republic.

Pietà by Masolino da Panciale

Below are 4 photos I took of a lovely bronze sculpture depicting the goddess, Victory, in Piazza della Vittoria, Empoli. It was created by Dario Manetti and Carlo Rivalta in 1925.

If you are tired of the usual tourist destinations and you are looking for something different to visit, we suggest you to spend an afternoon in Empoli: a place that will surely amaze you with its rich cultural offering.

Empoli is located about 30 Km from Florence and is easily reached both by car, driving along the FI-PI-LI motorway, and by public transportation, catching one of the frequent trains that connect Florence with Pisa and Siena. It is exactly because of its central position among these important Tuscan cities that Empoli has long been a crossroads for trade and commerce.

Empoli’s old town, just a fews steps away from the train station, developed during the Middle Ages around Farinata degli Uberti square, also called ‘dei Leoni’ because of the lions that stand on the corners of the Naiadi fountain that was made in 1828 right in the middle of the square. Here lie some of the city’s oldest buildings, such as the wonderful Collegiata di Sant’Andrea dating back to the 11th century. The elegant facade decorated with white and green marble, is the only example of Florentine Romanesque style to be seen outside the Florence walls. The inside of the church has undergone several transformations over the centuries: among the most recent works is the one by the Empoli painters Sineo Gemignani and Virgilio Carmignani who, after the First World War, restored the frescoes of the central nave that were destroyed by the collapse of the bell tower.

Many of the art works that used to be housed in this and in other churches in Empoli, are now displayed in the neighbouring Museo della Collegiata di Sant’Andrea. Founded in 1859, the museum collects masterpieces made between the 13th and 17th century: displayed in the first two rooms are the sculptures, such as the 15th century baptismal font attributed to Bernardo Rossellino, and the detached frescoes, such as the extraordinary Cristo in Pietà by Masolino, while on the upper floor lies the picture gallery where the panels by Lorenzo Monaco and Filippo Lippi and the monumental tabernacles made by the Botticini stand out. The visit ends with the refined glazed terracottas of the Della Robbia workshop, on display in the loggia overlooking the cloister.

Coming out of the museum, on the other side of the square, you find the Museo Civico di Paleontologia which displays hundreds of fossils, rocks and relics, complete with information boards and dioramas telling the history of our planet over the last two billions of years. A perfect place to visit with kids!

Walking through the streets of the centre, among elegant shops and traditional businesses, you reach the Magazzino del Sale that used to store the priceless salt coming from Volterra’s salt mines, later to be distributed through the nearby fluvial port on the Arno river. Today the building hosts the MUVE Museo del Vetro di Empoli, where by wandering among artefacts and everyday objects, you trace the history of Empoli’s glass production, an economically crucial industry for the small city, at least until the 1980s.

Finally, a little known fact is that Empoli was the birthplace of two great artists: Jacopo Carucci, called Pontormo (1494-1557), a very great and tortured artist who was an exponent of the ‘modern manner’, whose panels portraying Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Michael the Archangel can be admired in the San Michele a Pontorme church in Empoli, and Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), a sublime pianist and composer, whose fame has gone beyond national borders. Their houses are now museums where you can discover their works, their lives and the most intimate world of these great persons.

to see:

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