Cucigliana, Lugnano, Noce, Caprona: discovering the Lungomonte countries
Let’s retrace the route of the River Arno from Vicopisano to Pisa, pausing to visit some of the villages of the area which are located along the road, in a journey to discover their main stories, traditions and monuments.
Cucigliana e i navicellai dell’Arno
After the town of San Giovanni alla Vena, the second village we meet is Cucigliana.
The village is of Roman origin, in a document dated 876 we discover it is the venue of a curtis – early medieval farm – belonging to the Bishop of Pisa. And precisely in relation to Pisa he based his livelihood: ferrying all kinds of needs along the river Arno (which, until the late nineteenth century, was a vital communication route of Tuscany), the “Navicellai” – this is how the expert sailors of the River were called, specialized in the transport of goods from Florence to Pisa – forged an important bond with the city.
Taking a step to the present day, it is a consolidated habit to load the machine of empty carboys, once or twice a week, and go and fill them at the historic fountain of the village, next to the bakery. This is a small detail of typical peacefull village.
The Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle
Not far from our fountain stands the Church, whose first signs of life are attested on a parchment of September 17 1063. The old building, for centuries under the jurisdiction of other churches (Calci, Cascina, Lugnano and San Giovanni) , was originally located near the current bell tower, but was destroyed, around 1700, by a flood of the Arno and rebuilt where we admire it today. Initially rebuilt as a simple chapel, it has been expanded in various phases of intervention, during the course of the years.
It consists of a façade with two doors, ended by a pediment decorated with a round terracotta representing St. Andrew, to whom it is consecrated. The bell tower, on the opposite side of the road, retains the basic medieval stone, decorated with early Christian stone friezes which local tradition attributes to the remains of the “Badia della Verruca”. The top, octagonal, dates back to the eighteenth century. The belfry ends on the top with seven large terracotta vases.
Continuing our Vicarese Streets journey, just below the Verruca mountain, we meet Lugnano.
The name clearly indicates the Roman origin; it derives from a fundus Lunianus, a “plot of land belonging to Lunius”, Roman predial that indicates the membership of the lots (predius). Around ’80 A.D. the whole territory of Pisa was divided into pieces of land, distributed as prizes to military veterans. Some of these agricultural plots gave life to permanent settlements that kept intact the ancient Roman name even in the Middle Ages: it is the case of Lugnano which was obviously owned by a former soldier named Lunius.
Despite the Roman origin, of that time there is no finding. The first mention of Lugnano dates back to 1005 and, in the later centuries, it is mentioned only in acts concerning secular and religious properties related to the city of Pisa.
Until at least the thirteenth century, Cistercian monks of the monastery of San Michele in Borgo di Pisa owned many goods on it. In the fourteenth century also the most important families of Pisa, which Gualandi, the Lanfreducci and Alliatas, bought a property there.
In the north of Lugnano, along the slopes of Mount Pisano, you can still see the remains of a large villa built by the Camoldese Abbot of Cremona, Guido Grandi, distinguished mathematician and a professor of philosophy and mathematics at the University of Pisa.
Church of Saints Quirico and Julietta
The church is mentioned for the first time in a document dated March 4, 1137; between 1648 and 1735 it underwent several changes and renovations, perhaps on the initiative of the family Del Mosca. Around the mid-eighteenth century it was restored once again, at the hands of the rector Augustine Banti, and further actions later decreed the structure remained unchanged until today. Inside, the two saints to whom is consecrated were originally placed as a worship of an iconography of the Virgin, which was lost and replaced by a painted glass, depicting the Holy Family. The painting, of considerable quality, can be attributed to a Tuscan painter of the beginning of the seventeenth century, very close to the ways of John Stephen Maruscelli, and was donated to the church by the family Lami Lugnano.
Church of St. George
This lovely church was mentioned for the first time in the catalog of the Pisan churches of 1372. Once, in the front lawn, there was the small village cemetery. It was almost entirely rebuilt in the style, in 1939, to be used as a memorial to fallen soldiers of the First World War.
The characteristic village of Noce
Nestled at the southern base of Mount Verruca, under a cliff of cavernous limestone rocks – the so-called “Grotte di Noce”, among which the most significant is the Cave of Pippi – from Noce you can climb to the slopes of Mount Verruca, through a typical Tuscan nature with olive trees, cypresses, pines and classic stone walls (the traditional “grotti” bordering the cliffs of olive growing). Further downstream unfolds the Piana di Noce, on the banks of the Arno, today affected by craft and commercial activities.
The location, documented since 970, is interesting for its shape and for its gathering composure. In the past it has always returned in the possessions of the rich families of Pisa Del Mosca , Lanfreducci and Upezzinghi who developed the economy of the country with the construction of agricultural buildings for the management of agricultural properties. The small village, with surprising pictorial charm, was probabily an ancient seaside resort along the Arno.
Church of San Domenico
Wandering the cobbled lanes of Noce, we encounter it overlooking the main road. It is a small church with one nave, with recently plastered walls. On top of the façade is engraved the date 1639, presumably the year of completion of the first interventions. In 1735 amounted to Del Mosca Family, on this date Mario Del Mosca signaled a painting depicting the Virgin, St. Dominic and other saints, that the learned attributed to Maruscelli, currently preserved in the Church of the Holy Savior of Uliveto.
Villa Lanfreducci-Upezzinghi (ora Ciotti)
Historical house dated 1400, has seen alternating families from Florence and Pisa. At the Lanfreducci family from Florence followed the Lanfranchi and Moscow Scotto from Pisa in the fifteenth century. The coats of arms of these families can be seen today in the lounge downstairs. The interior retains the original furnishings and tiled floors, as well as the frescoes of Ghirlanda – prestigious Florentine painter of the sixteenth century – the author of a wall of the Monumental Cemetery of Pisa and the frescoes of the Palace of “Fiumi e Fossi”, once called “Alla Giornata “: family motto of Lanfreducci which is also found in the villa.
Revamped in 1637, with a large courtyard with a fake bozzato of the 800, still displays a classic Italian garden.
Caprona: Tower quoted by Dante Alighieri and the Romanesque church of Santa Giulia
Passed Uiveto, along the Vicarese path, we find Caprona, the latest and the most interesting village of Vicopisano, also because the Castle of Caprona boasts its own, albeit small, place in the literature of Dante, as we shall see.
Caprona develops on the plain, near the river Zambra, under the slopes of Monte Verruca looking towards Pisa, surrounded by a beautiful natural setting of the Mediterranean, limestone cliffs and cool pine forests. The environment is even more fascinating thanks to the presence of the quarries which, creating natural terraces at high altitudes, create breathtaking views, with the ability to roam across the vast Pisa plain till Livorno and the Tuscan Archipelago.
It existed already in Roman times under the name of “Villa de Caprona”, during the Middle Ages it was the site of an important castle located on the height where today stands the old tower Upezzinghi. The village was developed around the beautiful church of Santa Giulia, attested for the first time around year 1096. The castle, mentioned on the archive documents since 1051, was the exclusive residence of the noble family of Pisa Da Caprona, under whose rule was placed this territory.
Caprona was central in fierce battles between Pisa and Florence who fought, for long and with mixed success, its domination. On August 16, 1289, to the conquest of the castle also attended the great poet Dante Alighieri, young feditore (soldier on horseback). The castle fell, but guaranteed Caprona a place in the twenty-first canto:
Thus issuing from Caprona, 1 once I saw
Th’ infantry, dreading lest his covenant
The foe should break; so close he hemm’d them round
The episode refers to the fear that the soldiers of Pisa, coming out of the town after their surrender, showed in front of the great number of Florentine soldiers.
After a series of raids by the Florentines, the castle was demolished in year 1433. According to tradition, the Granduca of Tuscany, Cosimo I de ‘Medici, had built along the slopes of the mountain a large building, now completely destroyed, the remains of which, however, were still distinguishable at the end of the nineteenth century.
It is the symbol of the country and one of the most scenic locations around the Lungomonte of Pisa, with fought origins. The castle of Caprona – whose sources have been documented at least since the XI century – was conquered in 1289 by the Florentine troops and dismantled in 1433. According to local tradition, the tower would represent the only surviving piece of the medieval fortress, nothing less the bulwark, from which ramparts, the Pisans could see Dante in his face, pledged to give a hand to his fellow citizens, in the conquest of the fortress.
Actually the most plausible hypothesis is that the tower was built in the early nineteenth century by Upezzinghi near the Romanesque church of San Biagio (called “Al Castlello”), whose remains – disappeared over time with rock erosion – still existed until the early decades of the twentieth century, as evidenced by a photo kept in the Archive of the Superintendent of Pisa.
Pieve di Santa Giulia
This charming Romanesque church, surrounded by olive and cypress trees, is located in a green plain bounded by the side of the Arno.
Made of blocks of sandstone and verrucano draft, it reveals various phases of construction: although the first evidence dates back to 1096, the walls reveal approximate belonging to IX-X centuries. In this period, according to scholars, was made a church with one nave, smaller than the current one, with a small semicircular apse, whose wall remains, along with those of the base of the original altar, emerged during the incredible restoration work carried out by the Superintendent in the seventies.
Santa Giulia and the town that was built around began to decline during the fifteenth century: the Florentine incursion of 1433 brought with it serious damages. Subsequently hit by the flooding of the Arno, the church remained abandoned until the late sixteenth century, when they began the first restoration work, by the Archbishop of Pisa Dal Pozzo. Among the many improvements, also arosed the small cemetery that we still see today. Since 1632 until the first half of the nineteenth century, in various stages of operation, the complex underwent extensive transformations at the expense of family Cambini who exercised patronage over the church; we can still admire the coat of arms on the facade. Since the beginning of the twentieth century they resumed the conservation work, but only in the seventies they proceeded to an interesting restoration.
The visit to the Parish fits perfectly in a journey to discover the Romanesque churches of Vicopisano and the Monte Pisano.
Palace Luperi Centoni
Impossible to not see it while walking on the banks, in the direction of Santa Giulia.
This majestic building is of medieval origin, as can be seen from the stones in Verrucano and pointed arches emerging from under the plaster, similar to those of the church. Maybe it was originally a fortification placed in front of the lagoon, in medieval times, which skirted Caprona. The appearance of the building is currently late eighteenth century, as reported by the piping in sandstone of the entrance door. The sources describe inside a theater and a chapel, it still has the vaults frescoed by the Niccolini in the early nineteenth century.
Note: San Giovanni alla Vena and Uliveto Terme are not included in this process, because you can discover them by reading the descriptions dedicated in their articles.