Castello di Gabbiano

Gabbiano Castle near Mercatale Val di Pesa, Tuscany

Castello Gabbiano near Mercatale

Castello di Gabbiano

Via di Gabbiano, 22 - 50024 Mercatale Val di Pesa (FI)

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Early records indicate that the construction of a defence tower began at Castello di Gabbiano in 1100 AD. The tower was built to protect one of the most important trade routes between Florence and Siena. About two decades later, in 1124, a wine storage cellar, with vaulted ceilings, was added to the site. The existence of the wine cellar is proof that wine was being made at the estate from the beginning of its history.

The estate's original owners, the Bardis, were one of the wealthiest Florentine banking families. In the late 1200's, the family expanded the fortress, building walls on either side of the original tower. The new walls were crenellated in the Guelph architectural style of that time. In the 15 C, Gabbiano passed from the Bardi family into the hands of another prestigious Florentine Family, the Soderini. It was during the Soderini era that the “casa padronale” was converted into a farm house and into a structure very similar to the one that stands today. We know this from the “portata catastale”, a hand-written document by Pier Soderini’s father, Tommaso, dated 1464. During the course of the century, the Soderini family made continual developments to the estate. This is evident by the walls of the castello, where we can see the different phrases of growth over time. The complex was thus transformed into a large square construction that constituted a private fortress with four round towers. These towers are an example of the strong French architectural influence of the time and remain a feature of the castle today.

In 1506, when the township of Bologna urged the rulers of Florence to send Michelangelo to Bologna, it was Castello di Gabbiano's Pier Soderini who wrote a letter of introduction for Michelangelo. It said: "The bearer of this letter is the sculptor Michelangelo. We place him at your disposal to serve His Holiness, our lord. We bear witness that he is a very talented young man and second to none as regards his art in Italy and maybe in the whole world. It is not possible for us to recommend him warmly enough; he is so good natured that, with gentleness and friendship, you can obtain all you want from him. You must treat him lovingly and kindly and he will make things that will amaze everyone who will see them." At the end of November 1506, with Pier's letter in hand, Michelangelo headed to Bologna to make a bronze statue of Pope Julius II.

Another friend of Pier Soderini was Amerigo Vespucci whose family had a house in nearby Montefioralle. When Amerigo returned from his travels in America, the first letter he wrote was to his friend Pier. Pier and Amerigo had attended school together at the cloister of St. Marco, where Amerigo's Uncle (Father Giorgio Antonio Vespucci) had been their teacher. From then on, the two had remained good friends.

Sometime in the 16 C, when the Soderini opposed the powerful Medici family, they were banished from Florence and forced to abandon the castle. It remained unoccupied for a very long time. In the 17 C, the Soderini’s returned from forced exile, and restored new life to the castle once again. During the 19 C the Castello was owned by a number of families who instigated various restoration projects. However the integrity of the original architecture has been retained.

Gabbiano Castle near Mercatale Val di Pesa, Tuscany

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