Empoli is the most contemporary center in the Valdelsa, and if on the one hand, it’s the perfect base for exploring the surrounding territory, on the other, the city also knows how to surprise the visitor with a few historic and artistic gems, some perhaps unexpected.
Known since the 8th century as a castle, Empoli boasts ancient and refined origins. The pleasant historic city center is a testament to this, which revolves around Piazza Farinata degli Uberti, with Palazzo Ghibellino, home of the Museum of Paleontology and the City Archives, the Palazzo Pretorio and the beautiful Collegiate Church of Sant'Andrea.
The current appearance of the Collegiate Church, first mentioned in a document in the year 780, dates to 1093. The two-coloured marble façade marks the western limit of the spread of Florentine Romanesque. Connected to the Church is the Museum of the Collegiate Church of Sant'Andrea, one of the oldest ecclesiastical exhibitions in Italy, where admirable and authentic masterpieces of Tuscan art from the 14th to 16th centuries are on display. From the evocative Baptistery, where all the frescoes are located (one of which is by Masolino) and for which the imposing baptismal font was sculpted by Bernardo Rossellino, the visit continues to the sculpture room (where you can admire works by Tino di Camaino and Mino da Fiesole). On the upper level, there’s the Pinocateca, where works from Florentine workshops active in the 14th and 15th centuries are on display, including two triptychs by Lorenzo Monaco, a small Maestà by Filippo Lippi and works attributed to Antonio Rossellino and Botticini. The museum’s itinerary ends in the upper part of the cloister, with some works by Della Robbia.
Another church not to be missed in Empoli’s city center is the church of Santo Stefano (dating to the 1400s) and the adjoining Convento degli Agostiniani, home of the “Renato Fucini” Town Library. The church’s interior conserves important remains of frescoes by Masolino da Panicale, a marble Annunciation by Bernardo Rossellino and exquisite 17th-century Tuscan paintings. In the nearby Piazza della Vittoria sits the The Museum and Home of Ferruccio Busoni, a famous pianist and composer born in Empoli in 1866 and to whom the museum and a Research Center are dedicated.
Not far from the center is the hamlet of Pontorme, the birthplace of the immensely famous painter Jacopo Carucci, known as Pontormo (1494-1556). At the center of the village is the artist's birthplace, with a display that includes a copy of the artist’s Diary and reproductions of the preparatory drawings for the paintings of St. John the Evangelist and St. Michael the Archangel in the nearby Church of San Michele. The work, executed in 1519, contributes to the definition of Jacopo as one of the exponents of the “modern style”. His birthplace is also home, thanks to a loan from Florence’s Superintendency, to the Madonna of the Book – an early copy of Pontormo’s painting whose origins are still unknown.
Although contemporary Empoli is a modern and industrialized city, there are still vivid traces and memories of the most important manufacturing traditions that once defined the city’s character, like, for example, glass-making: an activity that strongly marked Empoli’s identity in the 19th and 20th centuries and which today is documented at the Glass Museum. Here, visitors can admire a wide range of objects produced in the city’s furnaces from the second half of the 1700s to the 1970s and, through multimedia apps, discover how the furnaces worked and the various phases of glass-making.
Cover image credit: Tal dei tali