Mugello: Mount Senario

We start this month’s journey atop a mountain peak, on which one of Tuscany’s most important holy places sits and from which you will be greeted by a breathtaking view of the entire Mugello region, as far as the peaks which separate the region from Emilia-Romagna. The mountain we are talking about is Mount Senario (817 m.), located 18 km away from Florence. In the 13th century, a convent was founded on this very peak by seven florentine nobles who decided to embrace a life of solitude away from the noise of the city. At first, the seven of them lived in several caves in the mountain, and soon after they built a church and the first stone cells. Today, it is possible to visit these caves where the founders of the Order, then called Maria’s Servants, lived and this holy site still remains an important destinations for pilgrims and for those people looking for peace in both body and spirit. In fact, the monks who subsequently lived there, did not spend their all life deprived, but they also made excellent liquors. All you need to do is think that many famous alcoholic beverages were actually created here during the 1800′s including the “Gemma d’Abeto”, the “Elisir di China” and the “Alkermes”. The last of which is a sweet liquor, bright red in colour, used to make the zuppa inglese which, despite the name, is a traditional Italian dessert dating back to the era of the Medici family.

Speaking of this famous Florentine family, you will no doubt remember from the previous newsletter that we had mentioned the Mugellane roots of the Medici family, shown by the splendid Trebbio and Cafaggiolo villas. Yet, as you can imagine, these were not the only properties owned by the family in the region. Just a few kilometres from Cafaggiolo, we find the Franciscan Bosco ai Frati convent where, during the summer, the Medici used to attend Mass. Here a precious Crucifix of Donatello is kept: infact, this famous sculptor lived in the Mugello region for a short period of time on a farm given to him by Cosimo de’ Medici.

While we are on the subject of crucifixes and Donatello, we must talk about that dispute between Brunelleschi and Donatello, which is described by Vasari in his Vite. After having just finished carving a wooden crucifix, he showed it to Brunelleschi to ask his opinion. However, rather than praising Donatello for his work, he criticised it, stating that his representation of the body of Christ was more similar to that of a regular peasant than the almighty Christ. In response to Brunelleschi’s criticism, to which Donatello replied that it was easier said than done, he challenged Brunelleschi to produce a more justified representation of Christ. Brunelleschi did in fact carve another, much better, crucifix and presented it to Donatello who simply exclaimed Well, you are capable of representing the glorious Jesus Christ, whilst I, however, am fit only to represent mere peasants!

Not far from the “Bosco ai Frati” convent, we find Scarperia, a small town which is reknowned for the art of iron cutler making, whose collections can be seen by visiting the town’s museum which is housed in the Vicari Palace. Cutlery making, both for civil use and weaponry, is an activity which dates back centuries in the town of Scarperia and the success of the trade here is mainly linked to the fact that Scarperia is situated to the, back then, only road that linked Florence with Bologna. As a result, the cutlery making grew in the town as one of the important activities to the many traders, merchants and travellers who passed through this place. Scarperia was founded in the 14th century by the Florentine Council as a means of protecting their territory at the border, as the settlement was originally used for the deployment of military troops and the production of weaponry, such as knives and swords, for these troops. The State of the Cutlers of Scarperia of 1538 imposed that each cutler should only teach the trade to his sons so as to prevent the trade from being discovered by others. Production, over time, however, exceeded the necessary quota and Scarperia began to export its goods, eventually exporting them throughout Europe. However, this town has more to offer than just cutlery making. In November, for example, Scarperia hosts a reknowned truffle festival, one of many products that the Mugello has to offer its visitors.

This valley is therefore an astonishing land which knows how to combine a noble past, rich in art and traditions with modernity. In fact, not far from Scarperia there is a motordrome with a racetrack which attracts tens of thousands of motor enthusiasts every year.

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