History of Poggibonsi

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The story of Poggio Bonizzo and Poggibonsi





Val d'Elsa

The municipality of Poggibonsi has an area of 70 sq km and an altitude of 115 metres. It forms part of the Province of Siena and of the diocese of Colle di Val D'Elsa.

Evidence of human settlements date from prehistoric Neolithic times, but the most important ones come from the Roman-Etruscan Period. Even the toponymy conserves traces of human presence in the antique period. In fact, if Talciona takes us back to the Etruscan world, the names of Megognano, Gavignano, Cedda, Cinciano, Sornano and Gaggiano take us further back to Latin origins.

The street network is also of the same origin. However, the principal growth caused by the expansion of the populated centres occurred between the 10 C and the 11 C and in the 12 C when Poggibonsi, following a branching off of the Via Francigena, found itself directly situated on this important pilgrim route. It was really in the 10 C that Borgo di Marte developed, later named Marturi and again re-named Borgo Vecchio. Today we have the name Poggibonsi for the same town. Historian's opinions generally differ about the origins of Borgo Marturi. However, now it seems certain to be of Etruscan origin, even if there is a legend that insists that it was founded by some Roman soldiers, survivors of the battle of Catilina which took place at Piteccio in 62 B.C.

Around the year 1010, the origins of Borgo di Camaldo were established. It extended from Villa Pasquini to the Church of Santa Maria a Camaldo, thus incorporating the basilica of San Lucchese and perhaps several old farm houses that overlook Calcinaia. The population of these two suburbs, together with those of Talciona, Sant'Agnese, Gavignano, Papaiano, San Lorenzo in Pian dei Campi and Siena, and with the protection of Count Guido Guerra, began to build in 1155 (or 1156) the town of Poggiobonizio on an important hill. (The name Poggiobonizio derives from the combination of "poggio" which means "hill" in Italian, and the name of the landowner, Bonizzo Segni).

Mediaeval Poggibonsi

This superb Ghibelline city, that in Villani's opinion, was among the most beautiful in Italy, survived for only 115 years. In fact, being an obstacle to the expansion of Florence, after several turbulent years, Poggiobonizio was conquered and destroyed in November, 1270 by Neapolitan and Florentine armies, aided by French soldiers which were all lead by Bertoldo Compagnoni and by the Guy de Montfort. While the rich merchants succeeded in escaping during the night, the less rich ones and the town's inhabitants didn't abandon their city. However, the invading forces left no choice to the defeated citizens: they forced them to move down from the Poggio and to unite with the people of Borgo Marturi. In fact, after 1270, this zone ceased to be known as Marturi and Borgo Vecchio, and inheriting the name from "Noble Castle" (Nobile Castello), it adopted that of Poggibonsi which it still retains today.

Renaissance Poggibonsi

The 14th century city, born from the expansion of Borgo Marturi, had a surrounding wall which was a little longer than a kilometre, four gates and twenty-six towers. Its urban structure is still traceable today, at least in the outlay of its foundations.

With Fucecchio's Peace Treaty of the 12th of July, 1293, Poggibonsi was annexed to the Florentine territory, even if, in the meantime, there had been many opportunities of revolt. In 1313, with the arrival in Italy of Emperor Henry Vll of Luxembourg, an attempt was made to reconstruct Poggibonizzio, (from then on also called Poggio Imperiale). This was interrupted due to the death of the emperor which occurred in Buonconvento on the 24th of August, 1313. From this date until the Napoleanic invasions, Poggibonsi remained under the influence of Florence, experiencing, of course, similar historical events.

Nonetheless, ever since 1300, the Commune had given itself a statute, thus maintaining a certain autonomy that included a Guelph captain, six governors and a general advisory council of administrators. The imposing military fortification of Poggiobonizio was constructed in 1488 according to the wishes of Lorenzo the Magnificent, from the plans of Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo.

The countryside, at this point of transition between the high and the low Valdelsa, is particularly beautiful and its beauty is enhanced still more by the works of man. The Mediterranean climate with its mild winters and hot dry summers has, since ancient times, permitted the agricultural exploitation of vast hillside areas, where, of course, vineyards and olive groves are sovereign, and where cypresses line the roadsides leading to rustic farm houses or beautiful Renaissance villas which gracefully clot the rolling hills.

Now in place of the farms that functioned on a sharecropping system, larger properties of specialized produce have developed, especially vineyards which use controlled methods of propagation and which yield excellent wines of various types.

Modern Poggibonsi

Poggibonsi of today is an important industrial town. In the last decade of the 19th century, the economic hinterland of the Chianti region provided it with the material conditions necessary for the construction of a consistent industrial structure. Wine processing plants, glass works, factories for the production of casks and vats blossomed a bit everywhere. The central railway, inaugurated on the 14th of October, 1849, provided the opportunity to eclipse the local market and to distribute the town's products to other areas of Italy, to many European states, and using the port of Livorno, to other countries and principally to the United States (even Enrico Fermi drank to the discovery of the atomic battery with a bottle of Chianti wine).

During the Second World War, Poggibonsi was battered by 56 air raids. One, which occurred on the twenty-ninth of December, 1943, led to the mass exodus of her inhabitants. "Poggibonsi has been evacuated ..." are the words that Franco Battiato uses to remember her in his popular song.

After the end of the war, reconstruction of the town began, and in addition to the traditional industries, those of wood and furniture were born and since that time have had the prevelance over the others. The railway and the Cassian Way have contributed to the town's industrial expansion as have the routes to Pisa and Empoli. The construction of the Florence-Siena motorway completed in 1967 has, since then, provided easy access to the Autostrada del Sole near Florence.

Among the many illustrious names of Poggibonsi, that which has left the strongest imprint was a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, namely St. Lucchese, the patron of the town.


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