Whoever arrives in Valdelsa, rarely stops at Poggibonsi to admire the artistic treasures that are still here. The guides speak little of this centre known more for its industry than for its history.|
In reality, "there are two Poggibonsis... there is a modern, industrial and commercial Poggibonsi and there is an antique, historic and artistic Poggibonsi. The first is a slightly boring and industrialized town, but this doesn't have great importance for those who participate in her active life; the second is more charming, tranquil and conducive to recollection and meditation.
The two Poggibonsis for all their differences do not intrude upon one another; their being relatively well separated from one another permits them to live "together" peacefully. In fact, the more antique practically needs to be conquered, being situated on higherground, while the more modern is reachable simply by stepping off the train".
This is the portrait that was left by the journalist Sandro Noci on "ll Mattino dell'ltalia Centrale" of the 16th March, 1950.
From the geological point of view, the zone of Poggibonsi was formed in the recent Tertiary Period, and above all, in the Pliocene Period. The community has an area of 70.73 skm., an altitude of 115 metres, and is situated between 11 degree18' 20" longitude East and 43 degree 28' 06" latitude North. On the 31st December, 1982, the population was 26,473 of which 21,506 composed the electorate. Poggibonsi forms part of the Province of Siena and of the diocese of Colle Val D'Elsa.
Evidence of human settlements date from prehistoric Neolithic times, but the most important ones come from the Roman-Etruscan Period. Even the toponymy conserves traces of human presence in the antique period; in fact, if Talciona takes us back to the Etruscan world, the names of Megognano, Gavignano, Cedda, Cinciano, Sornano and Gaggiano take us further back to Latin origins.
The street network is also of the same origin. However, the principal growth caused by the expansion of the populated centres occurred between the X and the Xl centuries and in the Xll century when Poggibonsi, following a branching off of the Via Francigian, found itself directly situated on this fundamental route. It was really in the 10th century that Borgo di Marte developed, which, was later named Marturi and again re-named Borgo Vecchio. Today we have the name Poggibonsi for the same town. Historian's opinions generally differ about the origins of Borgo Marturi: however, now it seems certain to be of Etruscan origin, even if there is a legend that insists that it was founded by some Roman soldiers, survivors of the battle of Catilina which took place at Piteccio in 62 B.C.
Around the year 1010, the origins of Borgo di Camaldo were established. It extended from Villa Pasquini to the Church of Santa Maria a Camaldo, thus incorporating the basilica of San Lucchese and perhaps several old farm houses that overlook Calcinaia. The population of these two suburbs, together with those of Talciona, Sant'Agnese, Gavignano, Papaiano, San Lorenzo in Pian dei Campi and Siena, and with the protection of Count Guido Guerra, began to build in 1155 (or 1156) the town of Poggiobonizio on an important hill. (The name Poggiobonizio derives from the combination of "poggio" which means "hill" in Italian, and the name of the landowner, Bonizzo Segni).
This superb Ghibelline city, that in Villani's opinion, was among the most beautifuI in Italy, lived for only 115 years. In fact, being an obstacle to the expan sion of Florence, after several turbulent years, Poggiobonizio was conquered and destroyed in November, 1270 by Neapolitan and Florentine armies, aided by French soldiers which were all lead by Bertoldo Compagnoni and by the Duke of Monfort. While the rich merchants succeeded in escaping during the night, the less rich ones and the town's inhabitants didn't abandon their city. However, the invading forces left no choice to the defeated citizens: they forced them to move down from the Poggio and to unite with the people of Borgo Marturi. In fact, after 1270, this zone ceased to be known as Marturi and Borgo Vecchio, and inheriting the namefrom "Noble Castle" (Nobile Castello), it adopted that of Poggibonsi which it still retains today.
The 14th century city, born from the expansion of Borgo Marturi, had a surrounding wall which was a little longer than a kilometre, four gates and twenty-six towers; its urban structure is still traceable today, at least in the outlay of its foundations.
With Fucecchio's Peace Treaty of the 12th of July, 1293, Poggibonsi was annexed to the Florentine territory, even if, in the meantime, there had been many opportunities of revolt. In 1313, with the arrival in Italyof Emperor Henry Vll of Luxembourg, an attempt was made to reconstruct Poggibonizzio, (from then on also called Poggio Imperiale). This was interrupt ed due to the death of the same emperor which occurred in Buonconvento on the 24th of August, 1313. From this date until the Napoleanic invasions, Poggibonsi remained under the influence of Florence, experiencing, of course, similar historical events.
Nonetheless, ever since 1300, the Commune had given itself a statute, thus maintaining a certain autonomy that included a Guelph captain, six governors and a general advisory council of administrators. The imposing military fortification of Poggiobonizio was construct ed in 1488 according to the wishes of Lorenzo the Magnificent, from the plansof Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo.
Campanile Chiesa S. Lorenzo
The countryside, at this point of transition between the high and the low Valdelsa, is particularly beautifull and its beauty is enhanced still more by the intelligent and secular works of man. The Mediterranean climate with its mild winters and hot dry summers has, since ancient times, permitted the agricultural exploitation of vast hillside areas, where of course, vinyards and olive groves are sovreign, and where cypresses line the roadsides leading to rustic farm houses or beautiful Renais sance villas which gracefully clot the rolling hills.
Now in place of the farms that functioned on a sharecropping system, larger properties of specialized produce have developed, especially vinyards which use controlled methods of propagation and which yield excellent wines of various types.
Modern Poggibonsi is an important industrial town: in the last decade of the 19th century, the economic hinterland of the Chianti region provided it with the material conditions necessary for the construction of a consistent industrial structure. Wine processing plants, glass works, factories for the production of casks and vats blossomed a bit everywhere. The central railway, inaugurated on the 14th of October, 1849, provided the opportunity to eclipse the local market and to distribute the town's products to other areas of Italy, to many European states, and using the port of Livorno, to other countries and principally to the United States (even Enrico Fermi drank to the discovery of the atomic battery with a bottle of Chianti wine).
During the Second World War, Poggibonsi had to support 56 air-raids which are still sadly remembered today. One, which occurred on the twenty-ninth of December, 1943, led to the mass exodus of her inhabitants. "Poggibonsi has been evacuated ..." are the words that Franco Battiato uses to remember her in his popularsong.
After the conflict, reconstruction of the town began, and in addition to the traditional industries, those of wood and furniture were born and since that time have had the prevalance over the others. The railway and the Cassian Way have contributed to the town's industrial expansion as have the routes to Pisa and Empoli. The construction of the Florence-Siena motorway completed in 1967 has, since then, provided easy access to the Autostrada del Sole near Florence.
Among the many illustrious names of Poggibonsi, that which has left the strongest imprint was a follower of St. Francis of Assisi: St. Lucchese, the patron of the town.