About a kilometre and a half away from Stia, on a hill to the left of the Arno, the Porciano Castle is one of the symbols of the Casentino Middle Ages, with its massive bulk inspiring awe in anyone who stands in front of it.
The place is documented at the beginning of the XI century. In a writing of 1017, it is mentioned as the residence of Count Guido di Teudegrimo, founder of the branch of the Guidi da Porciano Counts, who, from this strategic position, could control the valley as far as the Bibbienese territory and the roads towards Mugello and Romagna.
In the early XIV century, Dante Alighieri was a guest in the fortress during his long exile from Florence. According to tradition, in 1311 the poet went to Porciano to convince the lords of the upper Casentino to support Henry VII of Luxembourg against the Florentine Guelphs during the descent of the Holy Roman Emperor into Italy. Here Dante would write three famous letters: “To the Prince and People of Italy”, “To the Florentines” and “To Henry VII”.
The last member of the family, Count Ludovico Guidi, spontaneously renounced his earldom in 1442 and became a monk. The castle thus passed under the direct control of Florence and the slow decline of Porciano began, in favour of the development of nearby Stia, located further down the valley and more convenient to reach for trade.
In 1799, the Goretti de’ Flamini Counts purchased the manor house, which in many of its parts was by then dilapidated and in the most complete abandonment. In the 1960s, major restoration work began, thanks to the efforts of Flaminia Goretti de’ Flamini and her American husband George Anderson Specht. After the last interventions in 1975, the castle came back to life and in 1978 a museum was opened inside, now part of the Casentino Ecomuseum network.
The most evident element of the ancient fortress is the mighty Tower with Guelph battlements, the largest in the Casentino with its 35 metres and six storeys in height, which rises between the remains of the walls that had two openings, one to the north and one to the south. The castle tower, in addition to serving as a private home and museum, is used for conferences and meetings.
The ground floor houses a collection of objects from the rural civilisation. Visitors can admire antique pieces of agricultural and domestic use related to the local sharecropping world, dating from between the XV and XVII centuries. There is also a small American collection of objects from the pioneers and the Navaho and Lakota tribes, of which George Anderson Specht was a fan.
On the first floor of the museum, two beautiful showcases house the archaeological finds discovered during the renovation of the castle in the 1960s and 1970s and dating from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance period. Illustrative panels on the history of the Guidi Counts, the Porciano area and the long restoration of the fortress enrich the exhibition. A model of the castle helps to better understand the importance of the place.
On the second floor is the so-called Salone di Dante, the reception room characterised by two large windows on either side of the fireplace. This room commemorates the supreme poet’s visit to Porciano around 1311 and is used for conferences, educational workshops and seminars.
To complete your visit to the castle, you can stroll through the small village that developed around the fortress, where you will find the Church of San Lorenzo, of medieval origin but rebuilt in the 17th century. One of Porciano’s surviving towers served as the bell tower of the religious building. Until 1932, the small church housed a 1414 triptych commissioned by Count Neri Guidi from the Florentine artist Bicci di Lorenzo. The centre features a beautiful “Annunciation”, to the left “Saint Michael Archangel and Saint Jacopo”, and to the right “Saint Margaret and Saint John the Evangelist”. Today the work is kept in the Pieve di Santa Maria in Stia.