From Anghiari to Caprese Michelangelo between history, trekking and beers

di Renato Nesi

There is a precise place in Anghiari, which tells the duality and its living for centuries, a life in perspective. It is the intersection of Via Del Carmine and Corso Matteotti.

Just stop for a moment, shoulders to the Conventone and look at the road, stretched like a rope, sword’s edge, which steeply descends to the plain and points straight towards Sansepolcro. The 13% slope in the first part makes it almost epic, if you read the faces of those who encounter it by bike as in the eighth stage of the Giro d’Italia 2016.

The mountain and the plain. Tuscan Valtiberina and Casentino hills always linked and involved for millennia in an infinity of stories; today we will try to tell some of them. A journey that moves along an itinerary that leads from Anghiari to the village of Caprese Michelangelo, from there to the Alpe della Faggeta and to the intertwining with the path of Saint Francis. Of course, not to mention a beer break.

Stage 1: Anghiari

The presence of Anghiari, from the Latin Angularium or from the Longobard Ango (but it is probable that the origin of the name comes from the shape of the ancient castle Castrum Angulare), is documented since 1048 even if the first settlements were of Roman age. Until 1259, at the foot of the sedimentary hill where the town stands, the Tiber flow diverted to reclaim the area and start farming with the subsequent construction of twelve mills. Its position has always been decidedly strategic. From here many strata of history have passed. Some real and political, others symbolic.

The urban structure as we see it today has its roots in the last centuries of the Middle Ages, the walls were built during the Thirteenth century, further proof of how the world at the time was decidedly in turmoil and tell well the phenomenon of the “stronghold” widespread in the last centuries of the Middle Ages. When the security of the late ancient kingdoms failed and local communities felt the concrete need to defend themselves in common spaces. It is no coincidence that Anghiari also started the construction of the new circle of walls, after the Castle of the Lords of Galbino was devastated by Arezzo in 1181.

In the centuries to come, however, the village was made famous in the world by a matter of blood known as the Battle of Anghiari.

The fight, which took place on 29 June 1440, saw the army of the Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti led by Niccolò Piccinino against that of a coalition of 4000 Florentines under the orders of Giampaolo Orsini, as many soldiers of the Pope under the command of Ludovico Trevisano and a company of 300 knights of Venice, in addition to the Anghiari volunteers.

The coalition prevailed, thus ending the conquest of the Visconti, who had long wanted to expand in Tuscany.

Certainly it was an important event, but it is curious how its fame is actually due not so much to the fact itself, to the drama of the clash, as to its artistic representation.

In the next centuries, however, the village was made famous in the world by a matter of blood, known as the Battle of Anghiari.

In 1503 Pier Soderini, Gonfaloniere of the Florentine Republic, commissioned an enormous mural painting to Leonardo da Vinci to celebrate the republican victory and its values on invaders and tyrants. The work was to be realized at Palazzo Vecchio in the hall then called “Gran Consiglio” just ironically, in front of the fresco dedicated to the Battle of Cascina (29th  July 1364, against the Pisans), entrusted to his colleague and rival Michelangelo born right near Anghiari.

As it is well known, Leonardo did not succeed in completing his project, which unfortunately has now been lost. Although some copies remain, including one by Rubens still preserved at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

In short, there are many reasons to visit Anghiari, not least the views that you enjoy, the romantic casket of the streets of the old village centre, the bars where you can take a break for a chat and a glass of wine, as well as an excellent gastronomy that awaits you in the many taverns. Not to mention the neighborhood. You can spend even a week here without being able to discover all that is beautiful to see within a radius of thirty kilometers.

Stage 2: Caprese Michelangelo

Our itinerary now takes us to what was the birthplace of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Caprese, which bears the name of his eldest son from 9th  February 1913, when a Royal Decree wanted to celebrate the artist in the very soul of the village by changing, in fact, the toponym.

Michelangelo was born to a fairly wealthy family on March 6th 1475, during the period in which his father Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni performed here the function of Podestà. Which, in all probability, explains why his birthplace is right in the heart of the castle, where today it houses the museum dedicated to the artist, consisting of three main buildings: Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo Clusini and  Corte Alta, in addition to a garden with outdoor exposure where there is also a small newsstand, built in the early Twentieth century and dedicated to the young Michelangelo.

There is indeed another reason why I am proposing this stage, but let us proceed in order.

Caprese is about 16 kilometers away from Anghiari, which by car can be reached in just over twenty minutes along the provincial road 47, but here life is something else, trust me. The village consists of an ancient, high Medieval core placed on a hill and one more modern area, sign of the building widespread in the second half of the last century. The community is small, little more than a thousand residents, but still alive and linked to their traditions.

Historical sources speak of Caprese already around the year 1000, while the castle is found in traces from 1082, when it belonged to the lords of Galbino.

It must be said that, of course, those were not very quiet times. At the time Italy was largely shaken by wars fought by the late ancient kingdoms, particularly between the Lombards and the Byzantines, and it was at that time that someone decided to stop and live in these areas giving rise to a town that because of its strategic position, it made a passageway to the powerful people of the area during all the Middle Ages.

The ownership of the castle was long disputed, passing into the hands of Arezzo in 1226, of the Guidi di Romena in 1260 and then of Florence in 1384. This would be enough to understand how Caprese has a rich history which goes beyond that of Michelangelo. A story perhaps less famous, but made of intrigues, sieges, clashes and tangles of lives coming who knows why and from some “far away”. Perhaps for escape or love, war or trade and that at some point they met here. But there is something else.

Just half an hour by car, about 20 kilometers away from the village, there is the Monte Sacro de La Verna and enough to frame Caprese even in the vast and wonderful Franciscan universe. On the surrounding mountains pass several devotional and ancient paths that linked hermitages, sanctuaries and places of spiritual research. Sometimes they also helped a certain humanity not to give too much into the eye, but for now let’s limit ourselves to the rest.

Near the village there are also the Camaldolese Abbey of Tifi, the charming little Pieve dei Santi Ippolito e Cassiano and the Romanesque, as romantic, Church of San Cristoforo in Monna.

And then there is the charm of the places that witness the passage of Saint Francis during his travels from Assisi to La Verna: the Church of San Polo, the Chapel of Zenzano, the Eremo della Casella. I mean would you have thought that such a small village in the mountain, lost among the passes of the Apennines, had so many treasures to discover? Well, I do. ‘Cause Caprese has been in my life forever.

But, as I said at the beginning of this story, not only for the sake of art and history I brought you here. There is also beer involved.

Yeah, ’cause Caprese has got its craft brewery. To be more precise, it is an agricultural brewery, that is a farm that produces most of the raw material used to make beer (at the moment mainly barley). I am talking about La Luppolaia, founded in 2015 by Elisa Brogialdi, owner and Birraia. The cooking room can count on a 5-hectoliter system as capacity on a single run and 500 as average annual performance. The brewery, located in the hamlet of Trecciano, immersed in an enviable context, can count on the water of the precious spring of Monte Faggeta and a structure with low environmental impact thanks to systems of exploitation of renewable energy sources. Something you never stop underestimating.

On the beer front, Elisa prefers Belgian-inspired styles such as Tripel, Dubbel, Belgian Blonde Ale, but there is a far from extreme Ipa, a pleasant Stout and a beer with local chestnut honey. The battery is completed by a Blonde Ale gluten free. By reservation, visits and tastings in the beautiful room adjacent to the brewery are available.

Gastronomy is also a strong point of the territory to try maybe in combination with beers here or if you prefer with a nice glass of Anghiari or Valtiberina red wine.

In Tuscany the name of Caprese Michelangelo means mainly chestnuts. The fine local marrone is characterized by a very intense flavor tending to sweet. As evidence of its quality, in 2009, the “marrone of Caprese Michelangelo” obtained the protected designation of origin (PDO) and its production is now regulated by a strict discipline. In the month of October usually there is a festival in the village to celebrate it and enjoy it in every way possible.

The area is also known for its mushrooms, black truffles especially with fresh pasta and wild game.

Stage 3: Monte Faggeta and Monte Altuccio

The last part of our itinerary does not require a long way to go, but proposes that touch of fantasy that changes the face of all things. A moment ago I mentioned Monte Faggeta or as I have always heard it called Alpe della Faggeta. You arrive by car following the homonymous Via Faggeta dotted with houses and chalets, immersed in the forest in a paradise of quiet and fragrances at 1,200 meters above sea level. From here you take a comfortable well-marked path that in an hour of total relaxation allows you to climb to the High Meadows and from there to the 1,407 meters of Mount Altuccio.

The view that can be enjoyed is simply beautiful and ranges from Valtiberina, Casentino and Montedoglio Lake. In winter, in good years, snow creates a white sea and in summer the wind dampens the heat and cleans the air. Once at the top the choice is yours: a nice picnic and an hour lying down in silence or away, backpack on your shoulder, you can continue weaving the way with the Franciscan paths that lead to Chiusi della Verna following the panoramic path of ridge number 50. Consider about 5 hours in CAI pitch without any particular difficulty.

Think that in the past they used to want to build a ski resort around here. But then things change, enthusiasm and ideas give way to new suggestions and certain corners of the distant world are preserved almost by chance. Which I am very grateful for.

Well friends, for today our journey ends here. But it is not the case to stop, to turn off curiosity. No, that must always travel aiming beyond the next hill even if only in the desire to start again, in planning the next path as it is true to say with Michelangelo “Waiting is the future that presents itself empty-handed”.