Poggibonsi: historical background


In the heart of Tuscany, situated in the charming Chianti region, Poggibonsi is an italian municipality of 28 449 inhabitants, 33 km away from Siena.
It’s placed in the territory of Alta Val d’Elsa, an area rich of history, culture and many craft activities and home of important manifacturing sectors related to vines and olive groves’ cultivation, at the basis of products well known worldwide. Theare are famous industries linked to furniture and caravans, which have conquered, with time, a rising signifcance.
Currently, the city is the chief town of Val D’Elsa’s region and claims an enviable employment rate because, in additon to the agricultural and industrial sector, the services’ field represents a relevant element for the local economy. Tourism as well is experiencing a period of strong expansion thanks to the discovering of cultural and historical wonders, recently promoted, through the re-evaluation of the archeological zone with the restoration of Poggio Imperiale, the Spring of the Fays, the Cassero, and San Lucchese’s church.  These new treasures are additioned to the Romanic churches, medieval castels and Renaissance villas that enrich the area’s geoghraphic and cultural beauty.

Poggibonsi is situated in a so excellent stategic position that the historian Giovanni Villani has defined it, in the fourtheenth century, “Tuscany’s pivot” because it’s in the middle of urban and extra-urban beauties like Florence, Colle Val d’Elsa, Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra and Monteriggioni.
The town has received the incentive to build or ameliorate many accomodating establishments and touristic agencies in order to meet visitors’ necessities with the possibility, in the meanwhile, to promote products of local agriculture like honey, olive oil, saffron and wine, that allow Poggibonsi to introduce its present, its past and its identity to those, as it, are open to new inspirations.


THE NAME – At the beginning of its history, Poggibonsi was known with the name “Poggiobonio” or “Poggio di Bonizio”, which comes from the latin “Podium Bonitii.”
The word “Poggio” is referred to the typical hilly landscape of this area and to the strategic position of the city’s primary core, which had the possibility to defend itself from the expansionist aims of Florence thanks to its location.

ORIGINS – Following the erudite eighteenth century’s tradition, never proved archeologically, the birth of the original core of Poggibonsi is dated to the ages of the Etruschans and the Romans and a folk tale sets the origin of the village in 62 b.C. , when Roman soldiers, escaping from Pistoia after Catilina’s defeat, settled in the area: in this time Etruschans had been already defeated by Romans and their independence was over in 89 b.C. ,the year when “Lex Iulia” was enacted by Julius Caesar to give allies or surrended enemies Roman citizenship.
The first permanent settlements in Poggibonsi’s territory corresponding to Fortezza Medicea are dated back to the half of the fifth century a.C. and they arose as rural units on stones foundations. To this original complex, a village of huts jointed until the tenth/eleventh century which, over the years, became a rural farm managed by a landlord who had control on his farmers. This village had to revolve around the close Abbey of Marturi, overlooking a way called Francigena di Fondovalle, which was built in those decades linking to Siena and passing through Staggia and Monteriggioni.

LATE MIDDLE AGES – Since 1155/56, under the protection of Guido Guerra of Guidi’s Counts, settlers coming from Borgo Marturi (probably originating from the Etruschans), Camaldo (village situated on San Lucchese’s hill), Talciona, Papaiano, Sant’Agnese, Gavignano, San Lorenzo in Pian De’ Campi and Siena started building Poggio Bonizio in the area of the today’s fortress.
The new town became a castle built in urban style, had a great achitectural and demographic development and was equipped with magnificent buildings and churches, amongh which the main was Sant’Agostino’s one. Probably declared imperial city by Frederik II of Swabia in 1220, the city flourished for just 115 years because, in 1270, Florence achieved its conquest and destoyed it completely. The population was moved to the valley, in the ancient centre of Borgo Marturi, and the village continued its development even after Arrigo VII’s failed attempt to rebuild a great settlement in 1313 (from these ages comes the placename Poggio Imperiale given to the fortress' area).
Florence’s politics, aimed to expansion towards the sea and Rome, found in Poggibonsi (this was the new name given to the village, defended since 1300 by walls and towers) an ideal achievement, being it a road junction, intersection of many paths from Noth to South and East to West, so much that in 1482 Lorenzo de Medici, with a final defensive and militaristic project, imagined the reconstruction of Poggio Imperiale fortress. The construction was not completed due to the changing historical and political framework.

RENAISSANCE – With more pacific purposes, in 1500 there was the improvement of Via Cassia in the line Staggia- Poggibonsi and in the part beyond the stream, where there was the diffusion of mulberry’s cultivation. These streets, since the beginning location of traffic and trade of far and local goods like the ancient saffron, tobacco, wine (barrels and flasks), animals and cereals, have been teathre of the passage or the stop of emperors and kings, popes and saints, scientists, artists and policians, people important for culture and history.

MODERN TIMES – A more vibrant impulse was given to traffics during Leopoldian ages, thanks to the building of the Empoli- Siena railway, called “La Centrale”, which jointed to one of the most ancient Italian railroads, the Firenze -Livorno.
Once Italy was unified, the most diffused craft productions were the ones linked to mills’ activities (flours, vegetal oils and oilve residues), pasta factories, tanneries and glasswares even if the main economic sector was the agricultural one, being the largest part of the population rural, settled in the beautiful surrounding countryside, punctuated by refined villas and country houses, owned by many Florentin nobles, some of whom enriched with their palaces the inner-city, which was about to change the ancient urban structure.

CONTEMPORARY YEARS - During the first years of 1900, the stream Staggia was diverted from the city centre, giving it the appearance that it has right now.
If Poggibonsi’s inhabitants of previous centuries had to suffer poverty and famines, recurrent epidemics and plagues (the most serious was in 1630-33), wars and attacks, the ones living in the twentieth century saw their city almost completely destroyed by awful bombings during the II World War and many human casualties. But with determination, the citizens rose up again so much that, after the reconstruction of their city, they gave it a great impetus which made it a lively industrial centre.
Even if the wine making tradition was still alive, present in international trade, timber industries flourished, in particular furniture’s manifacturing, and mechanical ones, followed by electromechanical and advanced plant engineering, service industries and tooling.
Next to manifacturing activities, commercial ones originated, followed by financial businesses, of service to the private sector and to enteprises' ones, by touristic and hosting servicies, next to cultural and association activities .
Such development (called Valdelsa Phenomenon) conquered the interest of economists and historians of the time since it transformed the urban and social aspect of the city, which grew significantly and made Poggibonsi a destination of internal migration and from far countries so much that nowadays it appears humanly richer and multicultural.
In 1961 the President of the Republic, Giovanni Gronchi, gave to the municipality of Poggibonsi the bronze medal due to the exemplary behaviour of its population during the aerial bombings of II World War and, a few yeras later, rewarded it with the title of “City”.