Not far from Florence lies the little town of Sesto Fiorentino, famous above all for its tradition of ceramics and for the many potters that call it home. Sesto Fiorentino has a history that dates back to an ancient Etruscan settlement, but it really began to flourish at the time of ancient Romans, thanks to its position along the Via Cassia. In order to encourage urban development here, the Romans did vital reclamation work, and built the first aqueducts that Tuscany had ever known.
Sesto Fiorentino’s social life continued to grow and blossom during the Middle Ages, thanks to ever-heavier commercial traffic. Tower-houses were built as a result, lending the town a formidable aspect.
The beautiful church of San Martino is distinctly medieval, a fine example of the Romanesque. The history of Sesto Fiorentino is intricately bound up with that of Florence: indeed, the Florentine Republic built Sesto’s Palazzo Pretorio. Yet the town was still subjected to endless sackings during this period, which is perhaps why, come the Renaissance, a large number of noble residences and fortified villas sprang up, mostly belonging to the Florentine aristocracy. Sesto Fiorentino only really began to take control of its identity in the 1700s, with the foundation of the Doccia porcelain factory. From then on, Sesto’s fine ceramics and porcelain production exploded, and it soon became known as the town’s tradition.
The Bruno Carmagnini Museum of Peasant Culture contains innumerable tools and objects from everyday peasant life as it was once lived in the area.
The Teatro della Limonaia, meanwhile, is a little theatre built into the elegant lemon garden in Villa Corsi Salviati, on Viale Gramsci.
Those who prefer to dive headlong into a green paradise might want to head to the Podere La Querciola (known also as the Parco della Piana ANPIL – Podere la Querciola). This large protected area is the ideal destination not only for sporty people but also for those who love to observe wild animals in their natural habitat. Finally, we should mention Montagnola, a stunning example of Etruscan burial architecture.
A few miles from Sesto, but still in the Florentine radius, we come to Calenzano, which lies between Monte Morello and the Monti della Calvana mountain chain. This is an area that hikers are very fond of. Calenzano’s low-lying ground is surrounded by hills which typify the Tuscan countryside: olive groves and thick woods cover the slopes, which clear for the odd medieval tower or farmstead. Those farmsteads often lie beneath sumptuous villas, like Villa Peragallo and Villa Ginori, which also have their respective hunting lodges.
Campi Bisenzio, by contrast, has an economy in which agriculture plays only a minor role. This town is famous for its textile industry, based on clothing and tailoring. It is, therefore, a slightly more commercial hub than Sesto Fiorentino, but even today it enjoys a thriving tradition of straw-weaving and its concomitant products, such as hats and bags.
The Festa del Grano (Grain Festival) has become a staple tradition at Sesto Fiorentino. It was started in order to ensure that local peasant customs continued to be passed down, and every year it brings together the practitioners of these age-old agricultural crafts, which have remained unchanged for centuries.
Another tradition in rude health is the Olive Oil Festival, which takes place every November: a week of culture and high-quality gastronomy.
One traditional local dish is pork budella alla sestese: the pork, after some rigorous cleaning, is cooked as in a normal stew, with carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes, salt, pepper and cinnamon. The cooking broth is then used to prepare something else: the rice that is served on top.
This Sesto locals are famous for their love of roventini: a fried dish made of pig’s blood and various spices, similar to black pudding.