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Badia a Passignano

and Vallombrosa


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The original Badia (Abbey) a Passignano was built in central Chianti near Panzano by Sichelmo in 890, in the shadow of the powerful Lombard castle of Passignano (whose central tower is still there).  In 1049 it became a daughter house of Vallombrosa - the reformist Benedictine monastery and monastic order set up in the mountains to the East of Florence by S Giovanni Gualberto (who lies buried in the abbey of Badia a Passignano). 


The Abbey flourished through the Middle Ages, but today, outside of the medieval tower, not much of the external building that you see is original.  The abbey was suppressed, privatised, "restored" and crenulated in the nineteen hundreds, though more recently it has been returned to the monks.  Set in the middle of the Antinori estate vineyards, olive trees, its own huge Cypress pines and the Chianti hills, it is, along with the valleys and ridges around nearby Panzano, one of the most photographable places in the very photographable area of central Chianti.




The vineyards in the area are owned by the Antinori family, one of Italy's foremost wine producers.





360 Badia a Passignano

From the East and from the North (above)

From the South and from the West (below)




The refectory, built in the fourteen hundreds, has a Last Supper frescoed by the brothers Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio in 1476.  It used to be the setting for a Pentecost chamber music festival in June each year (above in 2000), and it used to be open on Sunday afternoons.  It is a sad feature of abbeys being "returned to monks" that they become much more difficult or impossible to access.



The Monastery of Vallombrosa was set up on a site previously more attractively known as Acquabella, by Florentinian nobleman (San) Giovanni Gaulberto around 1028.  Today there is nothing left of the early wooden then stone buildings,  the huge monastery complex and undistinguished church in the middle of a forest of tall mountain pines 1000M up to the South East of Florence, dates mostly from the 16 hundreds. 


Back in the 10 hundreds, Giovanni was making a stand against simony - the practice of buying or selling ecclesiastical privileges such as pardons and benefices (or a living or property from a church office) - and nepotism.


Although the Vallombrosians mothered many other abbeys like Badia a Passignano, San Salvi and Santa Trinita in Florence and Torri near Siena, not to mention the Basilica of Santa Prassede in Rome (which Innocent III gave them), neither they or the other two contemporary reformist movements in Italy had nearly as as much impact as the Burgundian based Cistercians who launched at about the same time. 


There are several small ex-Vallombrosian monasteries in central Italy now mostly in private ownership.  Their buildings were usually ex-Benedictine monasteries, and there is no distinctive Vallombrosian architecture or governance culture.


Galileo (1564 - 1642 (78)) was for a time a novice in Vallombrosa.


More on Early Monastic Reform


Lunch and Other Things


Link to the restaurant scene around Badia a Pasignano


If you do venture to Vallombrosa be aware that outside holiday periods everything closes down for a long lunch between 12 and 3.  You can join in the lunch bit at La Gastronomia in nearby Saltino - a typical bar / deli joint with the restaurant tables crammed Italian style into the back room along with the inevitable TV radiating lunchtime shows full of drop dead gorgeous Italian women.  In fact there is nowhere else to go on weekdays outside of the hotels apart from La G.  Our main course, a beef casserole (spezzatino), served with cubed boiled potatoes tossed in a light olive oil / tomato sauce was in fact outstanding - that's Italian casalinga cucina for you! 


There is also the option of going for a long walk through the cool giant mountain pines using one of the many well marked forest tracks.  


Photographers be aware that the sun hits the facade of the Abbey dormitory (above) only in the later afternoon (in June).  Also, one suspects that this would be a good area to avoid at weekends!

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All photographs and text Adrian Fletcher 2000-2015 - may not be hotlinked, or reproduced without permission