The medieval village of Montecatini Alto
The original core of Montecatini Terme is the hill village of Montecatini Alto.
As a result of its geographical location, Montecatini Alto was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in medieval history, between the Guelphs and Ghibellines in 1300, before being surrendered to the Republic of Florence in 1330.
In 1554, Cosimo dei Medici destroyed the town almost completely, burning down even its archives and dooming this place to the oblivion of its earliest history.
In the center of the village is Piazza Giusti, which is dedicated to the poet who lived there for many years, originally from Monsummano Terme. Several restaurants and bars overlook the area, which is still covered with stone paving.
Dominated by the Tower of Ugolino, a doctor and founder of hydrology who lived here, the square is also overlooked by the Palazzo di Giustizia (“Justice Palace”, dating back to the medieval period, with its characteristic façade adorned with numerous noble coats of arms) and the Parlascio.This is located next to the Palazzo del Podestà and was once the site of markets and public assemblies, which now houses the Teatro dei Risorti.
Climbing up a steep street, via della Rocca, one heads towards the church of St. Peter the Apostle. In order to fully appreciate the unique panorama, a short stop should be made before entering the church.
The church, formerly dedicated to St. Michael, features three naves. It was rebuilt in the 12th century when it became a parish church. It was modified in the 16th century for damage sustained during the Florentine siege, and then renovated in the 18th century in the Baroque style.
The last restoration in the last century brought to light the original Romanesque capitals embedded in the pillars. The bell tower is carved out of an old watch tower.
It contains valuable works, such as a stone crucifix dating from the late 14th century, a baptismal font from 1580, an organ from the same period, a Nativity by Andrea del Sarto, and works by Jacopo Ligozzi and Santi di Tito.
There are two paintings that depict scenes from the life and martyrdom of St. Barbara, patron saint of the town of Montecatini, who is celebrated on 4 December. A precious reliquary of this saint is also kept in this church.
There is also a monument dedicated to Saint Barbara at the side of the church, where the four arms (Fire Brigade, Artillery, Military Genius, and Navy) are placed under her protection. The house of Giuseppe Giusti is just below the religious building, where the remains of the ancient Rocca can also be seen.
As a mediaeval town, Montecatini Alto still features the walls, which still represent its history. This is an evocative path to follow on foot that joins its two “spurs”: “La Rocca” and “Il Carmine”. There was once a second fortification there, called Castel Nuovo or Castel Lemmi, later destroyed and replaced by the Convent of the Carmelites, which also incorporated the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo.
Only the “de’ Lemmi” tower remains from the ancient fortification, which is also known as the “Torre dell’Orologio” (Clock Tower) due to the presence of an original six-hour clock dating from the 19th century on top of it. According to this so-called Italian time, the day began at sunset, with the Hail Mary in the evening. Furthermore, the clock hands which used to complete four rotations during the day.
This village can be reached by means of the historic funicular railway, which opened in 1898 and consists of two carriages, called Gigio and Gigia, which meet half way along the route. In the first years of operation, the two small red trains were powered by the large steam boiler located at the upper station. This continued until 1921, when the traction method was entrusted to a powerful electric motor. Once at the top, one can admire a suggestive view of the Montecatini Terme valley in harmony with the surrounding nature.