San Giovanni Valdarno, known before as Castel San Giovanni, lies on a flat area on the left bank of the Arno. It was founded at the end of the 13th century as one of the “terre nuove” (new lands) created by Florence as outposts in the valley of the Arno river in order to strengthen its territory against an eventual attack by Arezzo.
Among these “new lands”, San Giovanni Valdarno and Castelfranco di Sopra were built starting in 1296, Terranuova Bracciolini from 1299.
Between 1356 and 1363, the city walls were reinforced and 24 defence towers were built, spaced out by Aretinian gate, Florentine gate, St. Lorenzo gate and St. Andrea gate. During the 15th century, wars between Florence and Milan intensified so San Giovanni continued to be a defensive outpost.
After that time, a long period of economic standstill ensued but the reforms adopted during the second half of the 18th century led to the development of farming. In addition to this, during the 19th century and the following one, manufacturing started to grow.
The historical centre of San Giovanni Valdarno still keeps its mediaeval diagram. The central Praetorian Palace, in Cavour square, also called Palazzo d’Arnolfo, is attributed to the renown Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio. The building has some elegant walkways and a tower with crenellation and its construction lasted from the end of the 13th century and the start of the 14th. The city magistrate lived inside the palace until the start of the 15th century and then it was remodeled and housed the Florentine vicar. Nowadays, the palace is the location of the Museum of the New Lands (Museo delle Terre Nuove) where it is possible to discover the history of the cities of Valdarno between the 13th and 14th centuries.
The basilica of Our Lady of Graces (Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie) in Masaccio square, maintains the memory of the miracle of Monna Tancia during the plague of 1478. According to the tradition, an old lady, after her prayers in front of an image of Mary, mother of Jesus, frescoed in San Lorenzo gate, could nurse her orphan nephew. In 1484, a chapel was built in that place and then it became a three-aisled church in 1523. The current façade, in a neoclassical style, was built between 1840 and 1856. At the bottom of the staircase there is the entrance of the chapel whereas at the top of it there is the entrance to the church.
Near the church there is the Museum of the basilica where paintings, sculptures, sacred furnishings and vestments from the end of the 14th to the 18th centuries. A room is dedicated to the breath-taking “Annunciation” by Beato Angelico, made between 1432 and 1440. It is also worth mentioning the works of art by Giovanni da San Giovanni, one of the most important painters of the art of Tuscany from the 17th century.
Along Corso Italia, Casa Masaccio is an experimental exhibition centre for contemporary art and also was the house of Tommaso di ser Giovanni, better known as Masaccio, the well-known painter of the Renaissance.
The parish church of st. Giovanni in Cavour square is the baptismal church of the town and it was built in 1312 but it has had many changes and nowadays has a walkway with three arcs. The church of st. Lorenzo, in Masaccio square, has a gothic style and has some remains of frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries. The church of the Most Holy Annunciation (chiesa della Santissima Annunziata), in Giovanni da San Giovanni street, was part of a hospital conducted by the Augustinian nuns that founded a monastery. During the second half of the 1600s, the church was restored taking a baroque style. In the same street there was the oratory of the Nunziatina, built in 1516 that nowadays is a cultural centre. Along Alberti street there are the 17th-century oratory of the souls of Purgatory (Oratorio delle Anime del Purgatorio) and the church of st. Lucia, built during the Middle Ages but restored in the 17th century.
On the right bank of the Arno river, lie the hamlets of La Badiola, with the ancient church of st. Mary in Mamma, and Renacci, with the church of st. Silvestro, built between the 17th and 18th centuries. In Montecarlo, on the left bank of the river, there is the monastery of st. Francesco that was, according to tradition, founded by st. Bernardino da Siena in 1424.
In the foreground, the portico of the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista, with the Palazzo d’Arnolfo in the background of the square
Pieve of San Giovanni Battista
Coat of arms on the façade of Palazzo d’Arnolfo
Madonna della Cintola by Giovanni della Robbia (1513) Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Annunciazione by Beato Angelico (1430-1440), Museum of the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Museum of the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Decollazione del Battista by Giovanni Mannozzi, also known as Giovanni da San Giovanni (1620)
Annunciazione by Iacopo del Sellaio (1472?), detail