Valtiberina, Castles and churches
History and religion interweave on this tour of the region
There are six castles which are still standing, some are whole and still inhabited, others show the signs of the passage of time.
All the castles are found on the left bank of the Sovara river, near Anghiari. The majority lie between here and Caprese Michelangelo, often they are perched on a hill or on a mountain.
This castle was one of the most powerful castles in the area. Today it still belongs to the Counts Barbolani of Montauto and is a beautiful renaissance building. Before the castle, there may have been an old Roman -Byzantine watch tower. Documents prove its origins go back to 967 when the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
What remains of the building goes back to 1170, it may have had 3 castle walls and a powerful central body containing a keep. Saint Francis probably knew it like this when he visited during his pilgrimages from the Sanctuary of La Verna. It is said that the Saint left one of his tunics here which was then taken by the Florentines when they besieged the castle.
On the right of the Sovara river, from Longobard times, there was a system of fortresses which included the castles of Galbino, Pianettolle and Verrazzano, as well as the Castrum of Toppole, positioned few kilometres from each other.
In Pianettole you can still see the structure of the medieval fort with the tower with wooden floors and a fireplace on the ground floor. The Castrum in Toppole seems to have had a castle too because in 1142 the passage is noted for the Camoldoli monks who for many years influenced the culture, art and politics locally.
BADIA SAN VERIANO
Near Toppole, by following a rough road, you can reach the Badia of San Veriano, an important Romanic church which is just a short walk away and has a breathtaking view of the Tiber Valley.
The country church of Santa Maria alla Sovara (VIII-IXth century) is one of the most fascinating examples of these, a pre-Romanic building with three apses. It lies just outside Anghiari.
The influence of Camaldoli on the structure of the church (XI-XIIth century) is documented inside, by the tower which once protruded onto the central part of the façade, demonstrating a strong French influence. This can also be seen in the small church of Santa Maria a Corsano (San Leo di Anghiari), where a prestigious fresco of the Madonna of the milk from the 14th century can be admired.
The church of Santa Maria a Micciano is a baptismal church of the early Christian period. Inside the church you can see some fragments of early medieval sculptures, some remains of 14th century frescos, a canvas attributed to the painter from Arezzo, Niccolò Soggi (Madonna with baby between saint Peter and Saint Jerome) and a painting of the assumption attributed to Giovan Battista Naldini.
The structure of the church of San Cassiano (Caprese Michelangelo) is simpler and was definitely already standing in 1061 near the ancient Ariminensis road which connected Arezzo and Rimini.
The ancient church of San Pancrazio has an elegant crypt, showing a clear imprint of the Ravenna style, preserved inside the new church built in 1784 after a strong earthquake. Particular attention should be given to the roman funeral stone dedicated to Genius Curiae (374 A.D), fragments of early medieval sculptures and the two crosses of the school of art.
In the upper Marecchia Valley, in Badia Tedalda, a centre situated along the old Ariminensis road, you can see the abbey of san Michele Arcangelo, a building with a single nave and a bell tower which joins up with the apse: of importance here are the beautiful terracottas of the Della Robbia style by Benedetto and Santi Bugioli.
PIEVE SANTO STEFANO
Some highly spiritual places can be reached from here: the hermitage of the Madonna del Faggio (XVIth century) and the hermitage of Cerbaiolo, the latter of Benedictine origin, was later donated to Saint Francis. This small hermitage, a place of peace and silence built between the rocks to imitate the more famous sanctuary of La Verna, was destroyed by the Germans during the retreat in 1944 and was completely rebuilt by the one nun who still lives there today.
Seven kilometres from Sansepolcro, on an isolated hill, the Camaldoli monks built the hermitage of Montecasale in 1192 as a hospital and a hospice to be used by pilgrims and travellers. Thanks to an initiative of the Bishop of Città di Castello, the entire complex was donated to Saint Francis who stayed there in 1213 and 1224.
Another place of faith where architecture and works of art can be admired is the church of San Simeone in Monterchi, a building with ancient origins, but entirely rebuilt in two phases (XIX and XXth centuries). There are some bas-reliefs showing the pietà of the first part of the 15th century, a wooden crucifix of the Florentine school of the 16th century and an octagonal pulpit in stone with the 'mythical' image of Hercules killing the dragon (1532).
Still near Monterchi you can find the churches of Michele Arcangelo a Padonchia, with some ancient architectural elements.
The church of San Biagio which originates from 1350 circa contains a canvas depicting the Madonna with baby and Saint Biagio and Saint Sebastian which dates from 1640.
In Monterchi there is also the church of Santa Maria a Scandolaia, which stands at the bottom of the ruins of the castle of Montagutello at the foothills of Monte Felcino and dates back to at least the 12th century.
Source: La valle di Piero - Comunità Montana Valtiberina
(Source: La valle di Piero - Comunità Montana Valtiberina)