From Bigallo to Villa la Torre
Difficulty: easy – Length: 6 km approx. – Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes – Calories 231 – Co2 saved 1,118 kg
This excursion begins in front of the beautiful Bigallo complex, which can be reached from Bagno a Ripoli by going along Via Roma until you cross Via del Bigallo ed Apparita, where there is a parking area immediately beyond the imposing walls of the building.
We are on the old Aretina, one of the most important tracks of the intricate network of roads which, from ancient times, crossed this territory and then converged towards Florence.
Amongst the many places to stop for pilgrims and travelers which sprung up along these ancient routes, the Spedale del Bigallo (Bigallo Hospital) is certainly the most important. The wide and severe structure, announced by a slender bell tower, was founded in the first half of thirteenth century by the wealthy Florentine Dioticidiede and was known as the “Hospital of Santa Maria a Fonteviva” for its proximity to a rich source of water.
We walk along the front while from the secondary entrances we can see glimpses of the beautiful courtyard. At the corner we turn into Via di San Quirico a Ruballa, then follow the cart track named “behind the walls” given that it goes along the boundary wall of the Bigallo garden.
Entering through a “breach” opened by the passing of time in these high walls, we can glimpse what the friars cultivated: fruit trees, olives, vines and especially herbs.
Our walk continues among the many farms which once belonged to the Bigallo, fields which were cultivated by local farmers to supply the Hospital with products from the land.1
The path comes to an abandoned farmhouse with a beautiful Passiflora plant in front of it, overlooking the clearing that leads us into an olive grove where we find a bench that seems to have been put there just for us, as if to say we don’t need to hurry and we can stop to admire the landscape. Not surprisingly, the area is called “Apparita” (Appearance), to emphasize the beauty of the landscape, with Florence that seems so close.
The flower of plants belonging to the Passifloraceae family is known as “passion flower”, a name that was given by Jesuit missionaries in 1610 for the similarity of some parts of the plant with the religious symbols of the Passion of Christ: the tendrils – the whip with which he was scourged; the three stylars – the nails; the stamens – the hammer; the radial corolla – the crown of thorns.2
Amongst glimpses of great beauty we continue until we cross a path, we then turn left and we find ourselves on Via Vicinale di Valcelli, a white avenue which, going along the walls of the Bigallo, goes down towards Via Roma. We continue on the left and after a few steps we will see Villa le Corti a Ruballa, which belonged to the Peruzzi from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century.
This villa is one of the few that still has the fortified appearance that noble palaces had in the Middle Ages, and perhaps it is because of its austere appearance around the “Cortaccia” that many legends have arisen.
One of these tells of an underground tunnel that connected the building to the Bigallo, an unlikely fact but justified with craftiness by ancient inhabitants, seeing as in Villa le Corti were nuns and in the Bigallo, the friars.3
At the end of the high walls, we then take Via della Torre, guided by the view of the tower that gives its name to the street and to the next villa we will encounter: this one also belonged to the Peruzzi family until the end of the nineteenth century. In this era, the property also included 9 farms with its relative annexes.
From Villa la Torre we go back to Via Roma, which we cross to take Via del Casone, a beautiful country road that leads us to the church of San Quirico a Ruballa.
Arriving by foot in front of the simple facade of this country church, almost hidden among vegetation, will truly make you feel like travelers of yesteryear. Sitting on the wall in front of the step, we can look at the high crenellated tower, but if we turn around the appearance of Florence will surprise us once again.
We continue to go up Via San Quirico a Ruballa and once we have arrived in front of Villa Querceto alla Catena, we take the narrow road on the left which leads us to the square in front of Villa Valcelli. In the first half of the fifteenth century, the villa belonged to Niccolò di Cante Peruzzi, before passing over to other wealthy Florentine families who invested the gains from financial transactions and trade in this countryside.
The shady path which goes through the park of oak and cypress trees surrounding the villa brings us back to the local Vicelli, where, thanks to the red and white bands that indicate the paths of the Bagno a Ripoli Trekking Group, we will reencounter the path running alongside the walls of the garden which will take us back to the Bigallo.
1) (G. Righi, “Routes of art through ancient streets” in No hurry, a guide for alert planet travelers, Bagno a Ripoli, Editoriale Tosca srl, Florence)
3) Villages and hills. A path in the Bagno a Ripoli area – Bagno a Ripoli Trekking Group – Edizioni Multigraphic Florence