One of the characteristics of the Municipality of Vicopisano is the high number of villages covered by its administration .
One of the characteristics of the Municipality of Vicopisano is the high number of villages covered by its administration (San Giovanni alla Vena, Uliveto, Lugnano, Caprona and Cucigliana, plus the small villages of Cevoli and Noce), thus differing from the neighbouring Municipalities, that cover a maximum of 2-3 other villages.
Another peculiarity is that these “administrative subdivisions” can hardly be considered as such, as they all have their own distinctiveness, well representing a traditional Tuscan feature: the “parochialism”.
The reasons for this radicalism are to be found in the different histories that these villages have experienced: actually, each of them was featured by a specific activity, different commercial outlets and interests. The result has been a strong community-minded spirit. This leads us to consider that, in the age of globalization with a trend towards the levelling off of culture, these conditions of dissimilarity and differentiation can only be observed with interest, being aware that differences mean enrichment and not division.
In this paragraph, we will analyze the History and the cultural patrimony of each of these villages and hamlets. The villages administered by the Municipality of Vicopisano are all of them located along Via Vicarese, between the course of the river Arno and the slopes of Monte Pisano, in a natural environment which has always been scarcely fit for extensive cultivations, unlike the immediate surrounding of Vicopisano village. This circumstance has undoubtedly influenced the development of these villages, which were compelled to desert agriculture and devote themselves to other activities: pottery making (San Giovanni and Cugliana), limestone mining (Uliveto and Caprona, and later San Giovanni) and river transports carried out by the Boatmen Corporation (all the villages).
The place names and some archaeological findings clearly indicate the Roman origin of most of these urban settlements: Cucigliana, Lugnano and Caprona were most likely seats of Roman rural villas. However, due to its particular morphology and the presence of an important river course, this area must have been inhabited since more ancient times (this theory has been bolstered by the recent discoveries of archaic Etruscan findings on the relieves facing the river Arno).
All the urban settlements along Monte Pisano, Vicopisano included, held in Middle Ages a particular importance for the politic and economic life of Pisa. They represented points of military defence for the territory and centres of landed estates for some of the most outstanding families of the Aristocracy of Pisa. After the decline of the strategic and military importance of the area, due to the conquest by Florence, the important families of noble birth didn’t stop their investments in the landed property of this fertile country, particularly fit for diversified cultivation. Since the 17th century, they chose these pleasant and quiet spots to build their sumptuous residential villas, still present in the district .
La rocca di Vicopisano
On 16th July 1406 the Florentine army succeeded in conquering Vicopisano after a nine months siege. In defence of the precious conquest it was necessary to build a fortress, that ought to be impregnable. That’s why the Government of Florence commissioned to Filippo of Ser Brunellesco (Filippo Brunelleschi) a project that caused a sensation since the presentation of its wood and clay model to the Government Commission. A member of that Commission was the young leader Francesco Sforza, who would later become the Duke of Milan.
The building of the fortress was started in 1435: a great number of the churches and palaces that existed on the top of Vico hill were demolished. The Brunelleschi fortification englobed an ancient tower dating back to the 12th century, once a possession of the Archbishop of Pisa: the Tower of Santa Maria, that became the donjon of the fortress. The typology of the Brunelleschi’s fortress is medieval: high walls with battlement resting on little arches, and loopholes which allowed the pouring of burning rosin and boiling oil on the assailers.
What was really remarkable, however, was the ingenious and innovative system of drawbridges, that, when lifted, could cut off parts of the fortress from the rest, in the event of an invasion by enemies. For instance, before entering the courtyard of the Rocca, one had first to break through the ante-door with its drawbridge and moat. In case of impending loss of the courtyard, the defendants could demolish the stair - based on four slender arches – that joined the courtyard to the patrol route on the curtains. In the event the enemy had succeeded in reaching the curtains, the defendants would consolidate a bridgehead in the tower: by retrieving the drawbridge that joined the patrol route to the only entrance of the tower it was possible to isolate the tower from the rest of the fortification. The tower was provided with a cistern and a depot to store up provisions that allowed to withstand long sieges.
The most ingenious solution was however the powerful battlemented massive wall that descended from the Rocca to the foot of the hill, ending in a 21 meters high tower, the “Torre del Soccorso”, which was situated at that time near the river Arno: if the enemy had entered Vicopisano, it would be impossible for them to besiege the Rocca and cut off the supplying of food.
Who tried to attack the massive wall would have been mown down by the fire of the culverins coming from the Rocca and by the artillery positioned on the gun ports of the Tower, while light fire and crossbow shooting would have come from the massive wall battlements. From the Torre del Soccorso (Defence Tower) – positioned near the Arno river – it was possible to get support from Florence: the boats could dock at a little cove defended by fortifications (no more existing), unload gun powder and men that, through a narrow portal and by means of ladders, reached the second floor of the tower. From that position they were able to access the massive wall and go up towards the Rocca.
In the event of the seizure of the “Torre del Soccorso”, it would be very hard for the enemy to cover the battlemented passageway exposed to the fire coming from the Rocca; moreover, they would find the only possible connection between the massive wall and the patrol route- a door with a drawbridge - interrupted: one can still observe the three meters jump and fifteen meters drop.
Today, from the tower once used for signalling to Florence, one can enjoy a view on the hills and fields and relish the peaceful and serene atmosphere. Palazzo Pretorio
The Palazzo Pretorio of Vicopisano is one of the most representative civil buildings constructed in the Province of Pisa in Middle Ages. Furthermore, the many historical events linked to the Vicariate of Vicopisano since 1400 have left in the palace interesting historical and artistic testimonies which deserve a further analysis.
The most ancient part of the complex can be identified in the big building made in “verrucano” stone which dates back to the years between the 12th and the 13th century. It is characterized by three pointed arches which connect in the upper part the four pillars in “verrucano” stone that cross its typical ochre façade.
From the existence in the front part of the palace of beam housings and stone corbels, we can assume the presence of wooden balconies, a common feature at that time, that allowed to gain more space on the outside. The stone corbels are decorated with anthropomorphic (a hand) or geometrical (ribbons and knots) patterns.
Unfortunately there are no printed documents concerning its first destination. According to a recent theory, however, it could have been a visible demonstration of the feudal power that the Archbishops of Pisa had on Vico from the 11th to the 13th century. This could be testified by the imposing dimension of the building – a sign of the proprietor’s wealth – and moreover by its prominent location on the top of the hill dominating the “castellum” of Vicopisano.
PARISH CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA
The Parish Church of Santa Maria, originally consecrated also to Saint John the Baptist, dates back to the 12th century. It is the oldest and most important church in Vicopisano area and is the only one to have been erected outside the wall enclosure. Furthermore, the entrance doesn’t face the West, as it usually did according to the ecclesiastic habits, but it faces one of the Castle access gates, Porta Miccioni, later to become Porta della Rocca. The Church was first mentioned in 934, but the document infers that it already existed some time before.