One day in San Giovanni Valdarno

by Sandro Fabrizi

San Giovanni Valdarno is one of the most important villages of the province of Arezzo, there are many reasons why it is important to visit: one of them is its history which is very charming and which deserves to be remembered. 

Its origins date back to the Middle-Ages, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio according to the typical scheme of the Roman Castrum, which was also adopted for the other New Florentine Lands. The village was then called Castel San Giovanni. 

In the centre there is still today the symbol of the city: Palazzo d’Arnolfo

which is covered with the coats of arms of the Podestà who succeeded one another over the years. Some of them are very beautiful and elaborate; they are definitely worth a close look.

Inside Palazzo d’Arnolfo, the Museum of the New Lands is located, there the history of how the city was built is well developed. There is even a beautiful room for civil weddings.

On the back, there is the Basilica della Madonna delle Grazie, which was built around a miraculous image which is still visible behind the altar nowadays.

The event, to which it refers, is the Miracle of Monna Tacia, which happened in 1479 during the plague, when a newborn being orphaned was weaned by his grandmother (for farther information you can look at this link: 

https://www.lamiabellatoscana.it/2020/03/il-miracolo-di-monna-tancia-a-san-giovanni-valdarno.html).

Just below the Basilica there is a chapel that recalls the extraordinary event and above the entrance door is a beautiful glazed terracotta lunette by Giovanni della Robbia.

Next to the church there is the Museum of the Basilica where, among the various works of art, the Annunciation by Beato Angelico coming from the convent of Monte Carlo, which is just outside the walls of the city.

The most famous artist of San Giovanni Valdarno is undoubtedly Masaccio: you can visit his birthplace, home of the homonymous museum, at no. 83 of Corso Italia.

Museo casa del Masaccio
The home of Masaccio is visitable in San Giovanni Valdarno at n. 83 o Corso Italia.

Inside the ancient walls, there are two other churches which deserve a visit: the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista and the church of San Lorenzo.

In recent history, the village of San Giovanni Valdarno linked its name to the exploitation of lignite deposits in the nearby area of Cavriglia and as a result of it the Italian Society for the Iron Industry was born in 1872. It is more commonly known as “La Ferriera” which, at the beginning of the 20th century, employed more than seven hundred people. It also developed the production of ceramics and bricks and later the glass industry from Valdarno (IVV). Today many things have changed: the furnace no longer exists and the activities of Ferriera and glass are drastically reduced but the signs of their infrastructure remain well visible.

Piazza Cavour
Piazza Cavour, proprio di fronte al Palazzo D’Arnolfo, è il luogo perfetto per un aperitivo

The Sangiovannese stew

From the culinary point of view San Giovanni Valdarno is proud of its typical dish: the Sangiovannese stew, which is a kind of stew flavored with special spices whose recipe is very secret. Every year, there is also a competition to elect the best creator of this dish with the participation of cooks and housewives and it is called the Palio dello Stufato. 

Thanks to its location in the centre of the Arno valley, to the well-served railway station and to the proximity to the motorway, San Giovanni Valdarno is easily accessible from any direction.

Not only “Forgiveness”

Note the liveliness of Saturday morning, when the entire historic center is animated by numerous stalls for the traditional weekly market, one of the most important in the area. 

Note the liveliness of Saturday morning, when the whole historic centre is animated by numerous stalls for the traditional weekly market which is one of the most important in the area.

Another attraction not to be missed is the Notte Bianca (White Night) which is usually held on the evening of the fourth Saturday of June, while on the third Sunday of September there is the traditional Festa del Perdono (Feast of Forgiveness), with entertainment, exhibitions and cultural activities.

There are many festivals and events which enliven the historic centre of San Giovanni Valdarno throughout the year, but if you want to fully appreciate its beauty the advice is to have a relaxed visit.

Try to take a walk on Corso Italia with its many shops, look inside the characteristic chiassi, relax in the green of the pine forest and along the river park which runs along the Arno. Then, stop for an aperitif in Piazza Cavour, right in front of the Palazzo D’Arnolfo, stay and watch the beauty of everything which surrounds you.

Take your time: enjoy the wonderful lands of Arezzo.

Palazzo d'Arnolfo
Piazza Cavour, right in front of the Palazzo D’Arnolfo, is the best place to stop for an aperitif.