CASTELVECCHIO, formerly CASTRUM VETUS
In the most hidden part of Valdelsa, at the south limit of the municipal area of San Gimignano, it is possible to see the ruins, or to be more exact the architectural outcrops, of a very important civilian and military medieval settlement that in the past was known as Castrum Vetus, nowadays Castelvecchio: the most ancient "castle" par excellence of the Valdelsa.
Castelvecchio was probably born as "curtis" or built-up area in the 6th and 7th centuries after the Longobard invasion. Its importance and notoriety increased after 1000 AD when it was transformed in "Castrum" and in a fortified citadel with its strategic geographic position near the cross between the international Via Francigena, directed from the North to Rom, and the Via del Sale, that since the Etruscan period connected Volterra and it's saltmines to the inland towns like Chiusi, Arezzo and Cortona.
The dependence of Castelvecchio on the diocese of Volterra is attested by evidential documents, but at the end of the 12th. century both free communes of San Gimignano and Colle di Valdelsa showed their interest in possess it. With a document of May 29th 1210 Ildebrando de' Pannocchieschi, Bishop of Volterra, assigned his rights on Castelvecchio to the Commune of San Gimignano that was represented by podestà Palmiero di Angioliero.
In 1213 San Gimignano, which had expansionist ambitions, came into conflict with Volterra deploying a strong military contingent in Castelvecchio, that was located on the border between the two towns, in order to conduct the war operations. The conflict lasted about one hundred years, although alternated with periods of respite. In 1308 a pitched battle between San Gimignano and Volterra seemed to end without winners or losers, however, with an arbitration on April 14th 1309, the San Gimignano area could extend to South to the detriment of Volterra and a border fortress named Castelnuovo (now Castelsangimignano) was built on the Montespeculo.
During the 14.th century began the decline of Castelvecchio, that accentuated in the next century when, being no longer a military contingent, was not able to defend itself, from attacks by the armies first of Milan and then of Naples, which were enemies of Florence. In addition to the troubles of the war and of a critical economic situation an epidemic of plague broke out in August 1478. The people of Castelvecchio asked for a strong help from San Gimignano, which was not able to give it; despite this, they managed to overcome the difficult time until 1485 when the plague reappeared, more violent than usual.
San Gimignano provided once again no help, indeed, by order of October 1485, it declared Castelvecchio one of the epicentres of spread of the plague that had to be isolated in the public interest, without the possibility to enter or exit from the settlement.
In the 16.th century Castelvecchio was seasonally inhabited for short periods by lumberjacks, coal miners and shepherds. In 1576 the ecclesiastic authorities ensured that the church of Castelvecchio, that was already a parsonage, was in an advanced state of deterioration and the surrounding area was "selvatichissima" (extremely wild). The settlement was so completely abandoned and even forgotten that it was disparagingly called "Le Torracce" (the bad towers) because of the skeletons of two towers that emerged above the wood vegetation that has taken over.
In 1908 the writer Romualdo Pantini visiting Castelvecchio defines it in his book "...il ricordo di un paese che fu, nel tempo lontano, di cui non rimangono che miseri resti di una bellezza grandiosa e triste..." (... the memory of a country that existed in ancient times and of which there are only scanty remains of a great and gloomy beauty..."
In 1979 a group of citizens of San Gimignano decided to dig up Castelvecchio with the help of many volunteers from many parts of Italy, from Piedmont to Sicily, including many foreigners. The first "group" was formed in an association called "Historical Group of Castelvecchio" and in 1995 the settlement of Castelvecchio was recognized as "cultural heritage" by the Ministry of cultural heritage and activities (under the law June 1st 1939, n.1086 , as amended and supplemented) while the associated group was awarded as non-profit organization, with legal personality, with the Regional Decree of 30 October 1995, n.4903.
By decision of March 21st 1996 the Region of Tuscany instituted the " Castelvecchio Natural Reserve" entrusting the management of it to the Provincial Administration of Siena , which divides the "Reserve" itself into two zones: the "A" with archaeological characteristics and "B" with flora and fauna peculiarities. The protection of the area "A" is entrusted to the Historical Group of Castelvecchio that continues the work of "rebirth" of the ancient settlement planning every year "research fields" in the summer period where many volunteers continue to participate without receiving any compensation.
We must remind that Castelvecchio needs constant care because of the dilapidation of buildings and the involuntary damages caused sometimes by incautious visitors so that it's necessary to take protection measures that go beyond routine maintenance. For more information on Castelvecchio it is advisable to contact the Historical Group of Castelvecchio, telephone and fax 0577 / 941388 e-mail email@example.com.