San Piero a Sieve

Medici Fortresses and Villas

San Piero a Sieve in 1744

Twenty km north of Florence, San Piero a Sieve is a modern yet somnolescent little town in the shadow of a mighty Medici citadel, the Fortezza di San Martino, designed by Bernardo Buontalenti in 1571. Its Romanesque Piève, with a façade from 1776, contains an octagonal baptismal font in polychrome terracotta by Luca della Robbia.

Just west is the Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo.

San Francesco at Bosco ai Frati

To the east, a minor road leads up to the wooded Bosco ai Frati, with a simple porticoed church of San Francesco by Michelozzo, his first commission from Cosimo il Vecchio around 1427. It's a delight; this most urban and urbane of architects, tasked with building a simple country church, gave the Medici something that was strikingly sharp and modern for its day, yet true to the rustic Tuscan traditions. Inside there’s a fine crucifix by Donatello, and another attributed to Desiderio da Settignano.

Beyond Cafaggiolo is the huge artificial Lago di Bilancino. The lake, behind a dam that controls the water of the Sieve river, occupies nearly five square kilometres; oddly it occupies the site of a lost prehistoric lake that was several times bigger. There are water sports available: sailing, windsurfing, fishing and canoeing, as well as a nature reserve, the Oasi del Gabbinello, home to cranes, storks and the occasional lost flamingo.

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