The missing town of Semifonte


This story I’m telling you is a typical ancient legend of this land, part real, part fantasy. During the first part of the Middle Ages the castle of Semifonte rose on the hills between Certaldo and Barberino Val d’Elsa, in Chianti. Semifonte was built around the year 1000 and because of its political openess and its particular position, it became soon a point of arrival for many people exiled from other cities and castles and also many other “damned” people such as homeless, prostitutes, wizards and lepers.

In the early 12th century Semifonte had become a large city with almost 20,000 people, not much smaller than Florence or Siena, which werer the most powerful cities of Tuscany during Middle Ages. In 1220 Florence, worried by the incredible growth and the strange population, ordered Semifonte to limit its size. In reponse Semifonte hung a sign on the door towards Florence with the sentence

Florentia fatti in là che Semifonte si fa città

Get out of the way Florence, Semifonte is becoming a city.

Florence sent two ambassadors to Semifonte, but they were killed and their bodies hung for several days on the door of the city. In 1229 Florence and Siena sent their troops to Semifonte with orders to destroy everything. The whole population was massacred and buried in common graves and the city was reduced to ruins.

A Florentine law then forbade construction on the site until the 18th century when the Lorenas built a little church of San Donnino – a miniature of Santa Maria del Fiore better known as the Duomo of Florence.

Visiting the area I tried to find some trace of the mythical ancient Semifonte but I couldn’t even find a single stone of the old city – maybe you could have more luck than me. Anyway, leaving the area, driving towards Certaldo for about 1km stop at the Botteghina di Wilma – Wilma’s Inn – where you can taste the typical Tuscan sandwiches with fresh sausage and Chianti cheeses and a glass of the famous Chianti wine.

To get there: take the Florence – Siena road and exit at Tavarnelle. Continue toward Siena and after Barberino Val d’Elsa turn right toward Certaldo-Empoli and keep going for 7-8 km. You’ll see the signpost for Semifonte on the right.

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