The parish churches of the Valdarno
An area with a long history
Human presence in this area dates back centuries and is well documented by archeological finds. Place names also indicate Etruscan and Roman origins for many of the settlements. The area is mentioned in Latin sources as the Etruscan Fields which were famous for their fertility but distant from the urban centres of Arezzo and Fiesole. Not long after Hannibal crossed the Upper Valdarno the Romans constructed the Cassia Vetus, uniting a number of older paths which had connected Fiesole and Arezzo. Today's Seven Bridges Road is more or less the same as the ancient Roman Cassia Vetus. Travelling this road the visitor sees the history of this area unfold around them, and the path offers a chain of Romanesque churches at the sites of ancient settlements. Many of the names in this area have ancient origins: Gropina e Soffena are both Etruscan names while Cascia refers to the spot where the Cassia Vetus passed Reggello.
The Parish Church of Saint Pietro at Gropina
The building maintains its splendid Romanesque structure. The unadorned facade reveals the history of the buidling in its characteristic architectonic irregularities and asymmetries. The structure visible today was constructed over an Ancient Roman farmhouse, the foundation of which can be seen under the church. On the Roman ruins are the remains of an early Christian church which was replaced by a small two-nave church dating to the 8th century. The present-day church originally had two naves. The left nave, the more recent of the two, dates to the 12th century. The interior has a beautiful pulpit decorated with reliefs and two splendid capitals in the right nave which were almost certainly created by the same artist who was responsible for the pulpit.
The Abbey of Saint Salvatore at Soffena
Along the Seven Bridge Road rise the ruins of the Abbey of Saint Salvatore.
This was originally the Ubertini Castle and it still has sections of the original wall at the base of the bell tower. The castle was left in ruins at the end of the 11th century and not long after a monastery dedicated to Saint Salvatore de Sophena was built on the ruins. The church still has its 14th century latin-cross floor plan, modelled on the original church of Vallombrosa. The monastery was closed in 1779 and used for agricultural purposes and the church has recently been restored and reconsecrated. The restauration recovered the important interior frescoes: the Annunciation by Giovanni lo Scheggia, the Massacre of the Innocents by the Master Liberato da Rieti, the Madonna and Child by Paolo Schiavo, and Bicci di Lorenzo's Saint Giovanni Gualberto and Stories from the Saint's Life.
The Parish Church of Santa Maria in Piandisco'
The bell tower and three apses of the church face towards the modern street which has replaced the ancient Cassia. The church, with three naves, was built in two phases which are clearly visible on the left side. The second phase occurred after the presbytery and apses collapsed and had to be rebuilt. The facade is part of the first phase. The relatively low central nave and the five blind arches (from a 1932 restoration) are particular to this church. The interior conserves an important Madonna and Child by Paolo Schiavo.
The Parish Church of Cascia
The church, with three naves, was built in two phases which are clearly visible on the left side. The second phase occurred after the presbytery and apses collapsed and had to be rebuilt.The portico preceding the facade is unusual and was completely rebuilt in a 1930 restoration. The solemn interior conserves, among the other works of art, the first known work by Masaccio, the Triptych of Saint Giovenale.
(Source: The City of San Giovanni Valdarno)