Vallombrosa, the monastery and the forest: God’s greenery

For those of you who have already visited this area, you’ll know very well that every corner of central Italy is filled with holy stories. Religious leaders have lived here for centuries, including San Benedetto, San Romualdo, and San Francesco. The steep mountains are home to hermits who live their lives of loneliness, in a place which was discovered by monks. We could say that each part of this magical land has been part of some sort of mystical dialogue between the divine elements for a long time now.

This land represents, more so than other places, a bridge between our world, and that of the unknown. Vallombrosa is like no other. Visitors from Florence come here because it is a place where you can clamber through the hills of Prato, between forests that are always full of greenery, a place where you can catch a glimpse of a chapel, and buildings covered in moss. Just as you think you’ve seen all the beauty you can, something magical will appear, like a mysterious revelation, the façade of a beautiful thousand year Abbey illuminated by the sun. A façade that rather than welcomes the visitor, commands their respect and fear, with its big bold surface and long grey lines from the clear stone windows – something of a Florentine tradition. Here you will find yourself in the presence of a holy place, created by Bernedetto who wanted to create a place closed off from the dangers of the outside world, a real bulwark which would fly the flag of his faith. A theme which is also carried on if you look to the right side of the building, where there is a majestic 14th century tower, which is an important place of prayer.

We’re immersed in the immense greenery of the forests in this area which covers everything from the valley of Casentino to the borders of Emiglia Romagna and the Marche regions of central Italy. It is quite difficult to believe that this isolated place, was one of the centres of medieval Christianity, and so, one of the most important places in European history during the 11th century.

Founded between 1037 and 1038 by Giovanni Gualberto, a Florentine nobleman who sought refuge from his life to that of a simple hermit because of his disappointment with the church and its business at the time, the monastery and settlement of Vallombrosa also became a very important place under the Papacy of Gregorio VII. He stopped the violent occupation of the Empire, and took back the reigns of control the Pope was accustomed to. It was at this point (between 1075-1122) that the most powerful men of the time came here. They came armed with only their faith, just like the old Biblical figures, to publicly accuse the bishops of buying their positions of authority over the area, as well as having wives, which was of course strictly forbidden for clergymen. And these men had the courage of their convictions to really prove their accusations to the people, as was customary at the time, they walked over hot coals to show how passionate they were about their beliefs.

This sacred place has a long history, and it carried on after the medieval times, it has been one of the richest and most powerful places of its time, but has also gone through a time of decline, especially through the years 1810-1866. In 1961, after a period of being abandoned, it was completely restored to being a home to the monks again.

The building underwent major expansion and rejuvenation in the 16th century following a series of events. The church, had some modifications from the original 13th century building. The monastery kept its old charm, especially in the huge kitchen, the refectory, the library and the beautiful courtyard.

This beautiful place has been an inspiration to many artists and authors, including Ariosto, Milton and Lamartine.

The gorgeous forest is also one of the most beautiful things in the area, which is very well respected by the monks as a gift from God. You can adore the plushy scenes of fir trees, beach trees, oak chestnut trees, pine trees and other exotic plants. The worship house has recently been restored. You can take many different routes around the area, crossing beautiful waterfalls, but the best one to take is the one that the monastery offers, which will take you up the stairs to the old hermitage called “Paradisino”, which was a place in the past where the monks chose to live their hermit lifestyle, a place where you could forget you’re in an abbey, due to the spectacular views of the forest.

There are so many routes you could take on the winding networks of roads and pathways which will show you the splendid nature of Pratomagno. You can also visit the charming chapels which are isolated in the sea of gorgeous greenery and olve trees.

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