Completely surrounded by lush green countryside, amid vineyards and olive groves producing the best wine and the finest olive oil, lies the town of Vinci. It stands at the foot of Montalbano, a beautiful range of hills stretching between the Provinces of Florence and Pistoia, within easy reach of all the major Tuscan art cities (Florence, Pisa, Pistoia, Lucca and Siena). Originally a possession of the Guidi Counts, Vinci Castle dates from the first half of the 12th century. It fell under the rule of Florence in 1254, and Florentine domination continued until 1273; it was subsequently granted the status of a Commune, or city-state, and from 1372 was governed by a Podestà appointed by Florence. Leonardo was born at Anchiano, just outside Vinci, on 15 April 1452 and spent his childhoodthere: all the most inspiring and interesting places in Vinci are intimately linked to the life and work of Leonardo, the great Renaissance polymath.
The heart of the historical town centre is the Castello dei Conti Guidi (Castle of the Guidi Counts): its imposing walls, topped with crenellations, followed the elevation lines of the hilltop, enclosing the slopes in their elliptical shape, as can still be observed today. The original nucleus of the Castle buildings still stands today, including the walled area around the central Tower. It was within these walls that the other two buildings were added later, to the east and to the north of the Tower. Behind the entrance to the Castle is an open space, like a square, that offers an impressive view. Mario Ceroli’s sculpture (The Man of Vinci, 1987), an interpretation of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, has been placed in this open space.
Just a few yards away stands Piazza dei Guidi, the square redesigned in 2006 on a plan by artist MimmoPaladino. The entrance to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum is in this square, in a small building called Palazzina Uzielli : the itinerary through the Museum illustrates Leonardo da Vinci’s technical and scientific studies and guides one through a fascinating history of technology, and goes on inside the Conti GuidiCastle where over 60 models of machines are displayed. They include military machines and scientific instruments, life-size recreations of machines for the movement of air, water and earth, as well as reconstructions of Leonardo’s experiments in physics and optics.
The Church of Santa Croce still preserves its original baptismal font, in the small baptistry which also houses the sculpture cycle of the History of Salvation by Cecco Buonanotte. Historians believe that the newborn Leonardo was baptised at this font. The Leonardo Library is visited every year by scholars and enthusiasts from all over the world. Its collections include facsimile reproductions of all Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscripts and drawings, as well as copies of all printed editions of his works. Recently, the Library has also produced a digital archive, called E-Leo, where over 6,000 pages of Leonardo’s manuscripts and drawings can be accessed online free of charge. The Sanctuary of Santissima Annunziata stands at the crossroads of the roads to Empoli and Cerreto Guidi: inside, visitors may admire a splendid Annunciation, painted by Fra’ Paolino from Pistoia around 1525.Near the little pinewood called Pinetina della Doccia, where a watermill of the same name once straddled a stream, visitors can now admire the Peace River (2004), a colourful example of urban furnishing designed by the primary and secondary schoolchildren from Vinci. To the north, along an old pathway through the olive groves now called the “Green Route” or the panoramic path, visitors can reach Anchiano, to see the house where Leonardo was born, a typical 15th-century Tuscan rural dwelling. Tradition has it that Leonardo was born in this house on 15 April 1452 and it appears quite likely that this is the home he returned to regularly, to visit his siblings in the early 16th century, occupying his time with further studies and projects in the area around Vinci. The whole area of the Montalbano hills is perfect for walks and excursions: there is an extensive network of footpaths and cyclepaths (itineraries indicated with white-and-red signposts) leading to beautiful woods and meadows, archaeological sites, ancient forests.