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Montecatini alto a medieval village in tuscany

Choosing Montecatini alto for your holiday signifies being at the very heart of the quintessential Tuscan atmosphere. In addition to enjoying all the spa services, the town is a perfect departure point for discovering the region's art treasures surounded of art cities.

Montecatini Alto is the original Montecatini settlement, lying a few hundred metres above the 'new' town.
The views from here are splendid, and the delightful Piazza Giusti is home to some good bars and restaurants.

Montecatini alto (high) is a characteristic medieval village, abounding in historical events culture and illustrious personages, is one of the most ancient inhabited centrs in the Valdinievole. The Vallis Nebulae, or Valley of Fog, as it was called was, of old, inhabited by the Ligurians, Etruscans, Romans and Longobards and was always of relevant strategic importance because its hill dominated the important roads of communication such as the Cassia, the Francesca and the Romea. The Montecatini Alto of today, a suggestive outdoor masterpiece, does not retain the image of a sole period nor does it have a style with a definite, rigid imprint Instead, it is witness toa historical parable of intense experiences, filled with dark moments, almost total descruction opposed to other periods of growth and splendour. Borgo, Castello, Terra Murata: around the year 1000 this ancient nucleus already had twenty-five house-towers and two fortresses to its name, town walls two kilometres long, built according to the natural course of the two hills, with seven gateways confirming a proud and uncompromising civic nobility and an indisputable strategic and military importance that lasted up until the fatal year of 1315, when Castruccio Castracani, a Ghibelline, lieutenant of Uguccione della Fagiola, laid siege to the castle, took it by storm and sacked it atrociously.

Montecatini Alto view

The defensive works of Montecatini Alto date back to 1016 (still indicated as Villa) and 1074 (indicated for the first time as Castle). During the XI century Montecatini Alto belonged to the Church of Lucca (Saint Martin's Bishop) and to the aristocratic family of Lambardi from Maona and Montecatini; subsequently it became an independent municipality with its own consul (appointed in 1167 according to a Frederick I's placitum) In the XII century (1177-1179) Montecatini Alto took part, with Lucca, in the wars against Pistoia. In 1260 it gave hospitality to Florence and Lucca Guelph refugees and, being of Guelph part, it was besieged and conquered in August 1315 after a bloody battle, where many Guelph soldiers died and the survivors were imprisoned by the Ghibelline Uguccione della Faggiola, Lord of Pisa and Lucca. In 1328 after Castruccio Castracani's (Anteminelli family) death, it allied to other Valdinievole municipalities under the Florence protectorate. The local Ghibellines had not borne this domination for a long time and the Guelphs were driven out. In 1330 Florence besieged Montecatini Alto for 11 months and finally subdued it after its surrender. In summer 1554, during the Siena war, it was occupied by the Italian/French mercenary troops, hired by the Florentine refugee Pietro Strozzi, but it was re-conquered by Cosimo I De Medici and destroyed almost completely in July 11 of the same year. Seven gates opened along the two-kilometer mighty walls; only one of them has remained: the "Porta di Borgo". On the contrary some of the 25 towers have remained: some of them incorporated into the built-up area, in the square, in front of the S. Maria a Ripa's convent (XVI century), and others, such as the bell tower of the parish, in the fortress, in the Lemmi's tower (called "of the Carmine", with the clock), are still well visible. Montecatini Alto flourished again in the XVIII century thanks to the Lorena family who definitely enhanced the value of its already famous curative waters, by starting the building up of the thermal town.

The religious buildings: The Church and convent of Santa Maria a Ripa (3) are located near Porta di Borgo (1), in the quarter previously called Ripa. The Ancient-style church dates back to the XII century; the convent foundation took place subsequently (XV-XVI century), by a group of women from Montecatini who joined the Order of St. Augustine. Todate the religious community of Benedectine nuns live in the convent and the church recently restored. The aisleless interior shows the beautiful stone altar, belonging to the ancient church, remains of frescos portraying two Evangelists on the vault of the presbytery, the church entrance with the organ and the Nuns' Choir dating back to the end of the XVII century. St. Peter's Church, (5) where the present Rectory is located, dates back to the XI century and has undergone many changes; first of all its complete re-building during the second half of the XII century. New works were carried out during the late Middle Ages, but the present aspect is mainly due to the drastic changes by the architect A. Zannoni during the second half of the XVIII century i.e. the widening of the lateral aisles, the westward elevation and lengthening of the Apse etc. More recently (1962) new decorations were added and parts of columns belonging to the former ancient church were made visible.

To be visited inside the church: the Baptismal Font, a white marble bowl dated 1580 and relative carved walnut wood cover; St. Anthony's and St. Joseph's altars in sandstone (XVIII century); Confessionals (XVII century), decorated by sandstone floral festoons; St. Barbara's Martyrdom (Montecatini's Patron Saint, celebrated on December 4), oil painting realized in 1595 by the painter Santi di Tito by order of one of Montecatini's inhabitants, portrayed on the right lower side (please note the exact representation of the bell tower located in front of St. Peter's church); Wooden crucifix of the second half of the XIV century realized following the model of the Borgo a Buggiano miraculous crucifix; Pipe organ by G. Banci of the XVIII century; Oratory of St. John, formerly the see of the homonymous confraternity, the access of which is from inside the church; it presents an aisleless, precious sandstone structure with altar and canopy with painting towering above, decorated by two twisted finely sculptured columns. St. James' and St. Philip's Church (called the Carmel church) (16) was built in 1296, next to the Castelnuovo fortress, by the Carmelitans; few years later they also built the convent nearby (presently a private hospital) and subsequently, the Oratory of St. Sebastian (17) that can be reached through roof-covered stairs (presently private property). The Carmel church, as well as St. Peter's, underwent many changes up to the present late baroque aspect following the complete restoration in 1764. To be visited inside: the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, painted at the beginning of the XVII century by Bartolomeo Marinari, showing the ancient castle of Montecatini with walls and towers in the background; Our Lady with Infant Jesus, a tempera painting from the Florentine school, dating back to the second half of XIV century: the Montecatini inhabitants have great devotion for this image that shows Our Lady sitting on a throne and feeding her child - the painting is located inside a larger glass-case together with other small relics; Crucifixion, oil painting on canvas by an unknown Florentine artist dating back to the XVII century; it represents Christ crucified adored by St. Paul, St. James and St. Peter; ten terra-cotta, almost life-size statues of Carmelitan Saints located inside niches along the nave walls: among them St James and St. Philip located at both sides of the high altar. Small Chapel in the main square (10) built in 1403 inside the Tavarnelli's tower by desire of a noblewoman from Montecatini who had great devotion for the Virgin who is portrayed in the fresco on the altar holding Infant Jesus on her lap, with St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist placed side by side; presently the chapel is dedicated to the Fallen. St. Margherita's church (12) was built in 1276 by the St. Augustine monks and close to the homonymous convent (presently St. Francis' Rest-home). Only the imposing bright stone front of this building, roofless and not accessible to the public, is visible and located near the Oratory of St. Anthony Abbot.

The walls: The passing of time, the violent battles (among them the destruction due to the Florentine army in 1554) and the construction of new roads have completely cancelled the Montecatini's defensive system made of surrounding walls, gates and watch towers. The only gate left is Porta di Borgo (1). The ancient papers relate several gates along the walls (one for each road entering the castle), of which at present the name of a street or of an alley survives.

The Fortresses: they belong to the village's ancient defensive system and are located on the top of both heights of the hill. The present Fortress (4), near St. Peter's church, in the ancient papers was called "The Fortress of the Ancient Castle" or "Tramontana" in order to distinguish it from "The Carmel Fortress" or "New Castle" located on the opposite height. Its present aspect, its pentagonal enclosure of slope walls with a tower on the top, was arranged by the Florentines in the XIV century (as it has been confirmed by the recent archeological excavations), utilizing the former aristocratic dwelling-place, dating back to the XII century, composed of tower buildings, one of them being destined to be the castle keep. The second fortress, the Carmel, (15) was probably built at the end of the XII century by Montecatini Municipality in a position overlooking the plain, the Serravalle passage to Pistoia and the castles of the southern Valdinievole. Its walls and gates do not exist anymore (this modification is also due to the building of the church and of the convent nearby), while the imposing tower still remains; subsequently it was made higher and provided with merlons and, from the end of the XVII century, with a clock visible from all the castle.

The medieval towers: typical medieval ancient buildings, evidence of their owner's wealth and power, visible from far off and characterizing the skyline. Once they were private houses, re-utilized during the centuries; sometimes they were destined to other uses (e.g. inside the Fortress), sometimes other buildings were built next to them so as to widen them as houses. Todate 7 of them are visible and date back to 2nd half of the XII (2, 4, 10, 11, 13, 14, 18) The ancient municipal buildings: they are all located in the main square and they are no more dedicated to their previous functions: presently they are private property. The Court House (7) dates back to the Middle Ages, during the XVI century it was completely restored and enlarged; it was subsequently modified, keeping in any case its dimensions and the coats of arms located on its front. In its ancient Assembly Place (called the loggias) (8) took place the public assemblies and the markets; the upper floor, completely restored during 1920s as well as the front, was destined to be a theater (The Risorti's Theatre). The Podesta's Palace (9) shows architectural details typical of the XVII-XVIII centuries such as the window frames and the sandstone door; in the past the Podesta, charged by the Florentine government, lived in it.

funicular montecatini-terme thermal spasFunicular of Montecatini
The Funicular looks like one of those little trains of the Western movies pursued by the Red Indians and even its age brings us back to that period: 1898.
At the end of the XIX century, Mr. Alessandro Ferretti, an engineer from Genoa, had the idea to realize a ropeway between Montecatini Alto and Montecatini Terme, called respectively "the Castle" and "the Montecatini Baths".

He obtained the relative licence by the Montecatini Municipality on October 8 1896 but he needed to find the necessary financing for this complex and expensive work.
He found his capital partners in Genoa: Mr. Carlo Barbano and Mr. Giacomo Giovannetti (the square next to the Funicular is named after them)

They took about 4 months to terminate the studies relative to the layout and to the location of the stations and to carry out the on-the-spot investigations on the lands where the Funicular would have run through and their consequent expropriation; in the end, on February 11, 1897, the majority partner, Mr. Carlo Barbano, sent to the Montecatini Terme Municipality "copy of the final layout and of the longitudinal profile of the Funicular according to the finally selected way and for which the definitive expropriation contracts were being entered into, according to the preliminary agreements taken with the land owners".
On March 1, 1897 the first rail works began. The dream of many inhabitants of Montecatini to be easily connected to the "Castle" was about to come true.

The excavation and building works such as viaducts and bridges and the track laying lasted some months.
The beginning of 1898 was employed for the technical improvements of the facility and especially in preparing the great opening ceremony which took place on June 4, 1898 with the participation of famous people such as the genius of the opera, Giuseppe Verdi.
Up to 1921 the two red little trains were operated by a big steam boiler located in the uphill station; subsequently, thanks to electricity, traction was carried out by a powerful electric motor.

The Funicular service went on safely up to September 2, 1944 when a troop of sappers in retreat, in setting off some charges arranged in various sides of the facility caused serious damaged to it, making it unserviceable up to 1949. A Florentine entrepreneur, in collaboration with the Montecatini Municipality carried out the restoration works necessary for its reopening.
The end of the war was followed by the years of the economic recovery. Montecatini became a very attractive thermal resort for thousands of people during summer and the Funicular was more and more utilized by the tourists who wish to visit the "Castle".
In 1977 following some difficulties due to the facility upgrading and fitting works, the Funicular was closed and reopened only with the contribution of the Tuscany Region allowing the coaches restoration, the installation of a new motor and of a very modern "black box" for the trip control.

The activity reopening took place on August 3, 1982. Since then in order to make the vehicle safer to passengers, various mechanical traction parts have been replaced and very important upgrading works have been realized.
The two historical coaches, which "greet" half way, have not been modified.
The structure is the same: three compartments with wooden benches and two external balconies, the most longed-for places from which you can enjoy a wonderful panorama.
Funicular service is Open every day Phone and Fax 0572/766862 - 329/5698986

At a short distance there are Monsummano Terme town with her great natural grottos.


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