Friday, April 27, 2018

Walking around Villa Vignamaggio

Past, present and future revealed in a Chianti valley
- part one -

Anyone who has seen the 1993 film version of Much Ado about Nothing by Kenneth Branagh, may recall the opening scenes where the male protagonists gallop home across a verdant valley towards the villa in Messina where the play's action takes place. The villa featured splendidly in the film is not in Sicily but in the Comune of Greve in Chianti, a 15 minute drive from Le Ripe: Villa Vignamaggio.

Although the Vignamaggio website includes a cursory (and not entirely accurate) summary of the Villa's interesting history, it excludes its context: the broad, sun-filled valley it dominates. 


A walk along the lanes and paths of the Piano di Montagliari as the valley is called, reveals much about life in this corner of Chianti as it once was, its present balancing act between decay and renewal and the promise of the latter for the foreseeable future as represented by Villa Vignamaggio itself.

On the way up to Panzano from Greve on the 222, a few hundred metres after Montagliari, you take the turn-off to Casaloste and Gogoli and follow an unsealed road past a series of beautiful old stone houses, notably Salvalta, a rare, intact testament to the medieval origins of the oldest of these buildings.
Salvalta

San Niccolò a Montagliari
After a gentle climb you reach the deconsecrated church of San Niccolò a Montagliari, where until relatively recently on Good Friday evening locals carrying torches made a pilgrimage following the stations of the cross. These mementoes of a religious past are gone or disappearing and the church is today the annexe of a private home and succumbing to ivy.
San Niccolò a Montagliari
the old well at San Niccolò, overgrown
an intact station of the cross near the former Piano di Montagliari school
Some distance below the church near a farmhouse a narrow grassy path, once a cobbled Roman road, winds down the hill into the valley towards Vignamaggio. The views are  beautiful and hint at what the future holds for this area.

Beneath this picturesque grass lane lies a Roman road
new vineyards and new dam/pond (bottom centre, behind tree)
raspberry and currant bushes planted on a grand scale at Vignamaggio
At the valley bottom stands a large cluster of buildings, seemingly a borgo or hamlet. This used to be the local primary school of the Piano where, until the late 1970s, all the children of the area were educated. It is still surrounded by bountiful apple trees and broad green swathes. Nearby, beside the Greve river, the community would meet to pic-nic and bathe in summer.
former Scuola del Piano frequented by generations of local children
Beyond the school buildings (today converted into private residences) a lane leads to an old mill, the Molino di Buccio, now inevitably also a home. Nevertheless the buildings retain many features of the old mill including the handsome terraced spillway where water once flowed to power the mill.

spillway above the mill-race
walls curving along the Greve river to where the mill once churned
Back on the valley road winding through olive groves and woods beneath the gaze of Villa Vignamaggio, you start to understand what is changing in this valley. Fortunately the change appears to be for the better: contrasting with a sense of decay and loss of historical identity from now on there is an impression of energy and considered innovation coupled with respect for the environment.

heaps of mulch and compost along the valley floor point to good farming practice
cinta senesi pigs in a spacious, clean home with shade trees: this pen is just for feeding

Carefully cleared woods once overwhelmed by brambles. The farm manager has decreed that all trees larger than saplings must be preserved. If a worker cuts down an old tree, he will be fired. Strict conservation is being enforced.

recently planted fruit trees interspersed through an ancient vineyard

the return of the wheatfield to Chianti
simple wooden gates and fencing grace the property
giaggioli or flags on the road to Lamole in spring

Vignamaggio seen from San Niccolò

...to be continued.

2 comments:

  1. Local history,scenery,architecture,and culture,are encapsulated and preserved in this most lovely Chianti Valley,and are beautifully recorded and photographed in this excellent post.Congratulations,a pleasure to read,as always.

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  2. What a beautiful and fertile Chianti valley.so full of rich surprises. Who could guess that under a lush,grassy lane the stones of a Roman road have been discovered. A lovely report.

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