Montelupo, just outside Florence on the banks of the Arno, has been renowned for its ceramic production since the Middle Ages, bringing the town much fame. This activity has long driven the prosperity of Montelupo, the perfect place for the industry thanks to the water, clay and wood for feeding the kilns. From the moment the castle was built in the Middle Ages, ceramic production began, but it wasn’t until the mid-14th century that archaic majolica was produced. This brought Montelupo to the height of its splendour. Exclusive clients of these incredible decorations included noble Florentine families such as the Medici, Strozzi and Frescobaldi, who acted as a gateway for the works to reach all over Europe.
Strolling through the small but quaint historic centre, visitors will come across the Archeological Museum, the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista, the 14th-century Frescobaldi tower and the Medici Villa of Ambrogiana, elegantly reflected in the River Arno.
The Archaeological Museum, housed in the former complex of San Quirico and Santa Lucia, is home to around three thousand prehistoric, Etruscan and medieval relics, recovered over more than thirty years of research and excavations in Montelupo, the Empolese Valdelsa and Montalbano.
If you’re interested in learning more about the tradition of ceramics, its processing and the influence it’s had - and still has - on an entire community’s history, then it’s definitely worth a visit to the Museum of Ceramics. Seven centuries of the area’s history in craftmanship is traced back, and the collection consists of ceramics from the late 13th to the 18th century, with over a thousand pieces on display and another 5 thousand held in the museum's warehouses. The relics come almost entirely from findings made during archaeological excavations in the old furnace dumps within the historic center. The waste came from the work that constitutes the main centre of the museum's Renaissance collections (1450-1530).
The Villa Medicea dell’Ambrogiana is located near Montelupo’s main street, inside a park where the river Pesa meets the Arno. The villa was built by Ferdinando I in 1587, probably based on a design by Bernardo Buontalenti, and was used as a hunting lodge. It was then used for very different purposes over the centuries (nursing home for mental illness, women's prison, psychiatric hospital). Today, it’s closed to the public but the valuable works of art and external decorations are still on display.
During some excavations in the 1980s, the remains of a Roman villa were found in Pulica in a terraced area between the Pesa stream and its Virgigno tributary, after which the villa is named.
The complex is in fact a vast farm dating back to the 1st century BC and is a unique part of the area. The structure, with over 15 rooms on two floors, was divided into an upper level, intended for the owners and servants, and a ground floor reserved for agricultural activities such as grape and wine production. The remains of the vats for squeezing grapes and kilns for firing ceramics were found, as well as an area dedicated to baths, as in classic Roman homes.
A perfect time to revel in celebration is the International Ceramics Festival in June, when all the shops are open to visitors and live demonstrations of painting and the use of tools like lathe are given. The program is full of events that allow you to discover Montelupo and its traditions.
The promotion of the history and processing of ceramics has an impact all over Montelupo, including the neighboring municipalities. It’s because of this that the Strada della Ceramica was founded, connecting the villages, the Museum of Ceramics, producers, associations, the school of ceramics, and artistic wonders. The project includes, among other things, six itineraries, one of which is in Montelupo’s historic center and the other five head towards the neighboring municipalities, intended to be journeys among the most significant traditional places.
However, Montelupo Fiorentino and its surroundings are also known for their food and wine products. These include a traditional dessert prepared with flour, lemon peel, pine nuts, almonds, yeast, egg yolks and milk: Pan Bistugio, a simple and fragrant dough that involves two different cooking methods, one for the dough and one for the crust.
Montelupo is also part of the Bianco dell’Empolese DOC production area, with its Tuscan Trebbiano base; the same DOC also includes Vin Santo.