Guide to Valdarno: San Leolino, San Pancrazio, Sogna, Solata, Torre and Mercatale Valdarno
A cosy little town built on top of a hill, at around 350 metres of height (around 1100 ft) San Leolino , surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, is located ideally halfway between the castle of Cennina and Galatrona Tower. Framed by tall cypress trees, it keeps its round shaped structure, typical of a mediaeval fortified settlement. Once in the fiefdom of the Guidi of Modigliana – in what is now Romagna – its fortifications are no longer extant, having been incorporated into houses' walls that have been built following the Florentine conquest. Still inside the "walled land" makes its beautiful shows the parish church, which goes back to the tenth century, although it has undergone various transformations - the last in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - that led to the current Baroque appearance. Inside the church, there are many Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.
An elegant tabernacle of either 15th or 16th century adorns the main altar, while the rest of the church features a 16th century painting, featuring the Virgin with Child, St. Lawrence, Peter and Angels, together with two other paintings – an Annunciation and a St. Francis – in Baroque style. On the left altar, there is another painting – the Madonna of the Rosary and Saints – attributed to Santi Castellucci and that was painted in 1671, while on the opposite side there is an interesting 16th century baptismal font built in decorated alabaster. The village also hosts a small but well-kept Museum of Sacred Art, in which are housed for display vestments and liturgical ornaments from the 14th century onwards, together with a library and an archive.
San Pancrazio is located not far from one transport hub of great importance in Roman times in fact, near the village passed the branch to the ancient Arretium consular Via Cassia and from Chiusi (Si). The aforementioned road, a bypass of the Cassia, was known as "via Traversa" during Middle Ages and "via dei Procacci" in the 18th century. San Pancrazio – as well as many other settlements and castles in the area – belonged to the Ubertini, that sold it, in the year of Our Lord 1262, to the abbey of Agnano, and eventually ended under the control of the Republic of Florence in the 1350s. In 1944, the village suffered the killing of 55 of its inhabitants at the hands of the Nazi-fascists, retreating to the north during the last phases of WW2. For that reason, to honour the sacrifice of the people of San Pancrazio , a Museum of Memory has been established, aiming at raising awareness of what happened then, so that such events may never happen again.
Situated at the end of a dirt track around one kilometre away from Rapale, Sogna is a very ancient settlement now converted into a tourist centre.
A fortified borough during the Middle Ages, as of today it keeps only a handful of traces of its long and turbulent history, when it was a stronghold of the Ubertinis in the southern tip of Valdambra. Completely destroyed in the 15th century, and abandoned in mid-20th century, in the village's centre there's still standing the small parish church of St. Thomas, and around the village there are – although only partially visible – the ruins of the old castle's ramparts.
"On the edge of the hills" between the Ambra and Trigesimo creeks. As such is described Solata in an early 19th century writing. This very tiny hamlet is reachable through a walking pathway of the Italian Alpine Club, plunged into a luxuriant nature offering interesting panoramic views on the valley below. A handful of houses around the tiny church, devoted to the Saints Jacopo and Cristofano, plus a 19th century villa, nowadays used for tourist accommodation purposes, form the community perched on the hill, a perfect observation point for those enjoying the view of the Valdambra at dawn.
Cited in a 1427 Florentine cadastre, in which its wines' quality was exalted, Torre – from the data inferred by the aforementioned register – is described as a castle that contained 21 small dwellings inside its walls, and 31 on the adjoining village. Nowadays, the small town retains its original mediaeval shape. It developed beginning in the twelfth century around the castle and the church. The community had been granted market rights, and thus the market that was held here gave the name to the small town (literally, Italian "mercatale" means "marketplace" or, alternatively "place where a market is held").