Vicopisano is a magnificent medieval village, which every day has a tale to tell about its fascinating, millennia-old history.
The town enjoys a strategic position in the area of Pisa, lying as it does between the river Arno and Monte Pisano. Its location, not to mention the archaeological finds that it has thrown up, pin its origins to Etruscan and Roman settlements, as is the case with the nearby hamlets of Cucigliana, Lugnano and Caprona. During the medieval period, all of these mountainside villages assumed a great importance in Pisa's political and economic life, and Vicopisano was no different. They served the territory as defensive bulwarks, and at the same time as centres of the Pisan aristocracy's estates.
Though their military and strategic importance waned after the Florentine conquest, the most noble families still continued to invest in these places. Their fertile countryside provided the ideal backdrop to their sumptuous residential villas.
The standout in Vicopisano's historic centre is unquestionably the fortress complex, known as the Rocca del Brunelleschi. This beautiful piece of medieval-cum-Renaissance military architecture was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1438, making the town nigh-on impregnable. His awe-inspiring creation has a system of drawbridges and a formidable network of defences, with crenellations and walkways that you can still visit and walk today.
No fewer than thirteen towers remain in Vicopisano's historic centre, and the most important of them is the twelfth-century Torre dell'Orologio (clock tower), which today functions as a bell tower.
The Rocca has been open to the public since 1998, following restoration work. Also restored is the Palazzo Pretorio, which contains a permanent exhibition of finds from the archaeological digs at the monastery of San Michele Arcangelo alla Verruca.
From the tops of these buildings you can take in the vastness and the variety of the local area, with a view that stretches far beyond Vicopisano. Apart from the buildings of interest, like churches and historic palazzos, you will see the outline of Monte Pisano, an environment bursting with a natural beauty that harmonises well with man's careful additions: churches, aqueducts, villas, and fortresses like the Rocca della Verruca.
You might visit the hamlet of Caprona, a stone's throw from Vicopisano. This village is known for its Torre degli Upezzinghi, a tower that looms from a steep cliff. Caprona was familiar to Dante, who mentions it in his Divine Comedy.
Once you've explored the Vicopisano area, you could allow yourself a well-deserved rest in the Spa Park of Uliveto Terme, famous for its natural hot springs and for the health benefits that they offer.
San Giovanni alla Vena is a must for those who love local craftsmanship. This village has honed its ceramics production to a fine art, thanks to the precious supply of clay from the nearby river Arno.
Vicopisano is a lively place, animated by a great many events and cultural, culinary and musical initiatives, such as the medieval festival that takes place in the first week of September. Of all the events to light up the town, this is the most important, with its historical pageants, campsites and medieval tournaments, wandering musicians and period theatre shows. In the streets and alleys you will bump into historical characters, taste some spiced wine, browse the market stalls and eat at various osterias, or even enjoy the medieval banquet in the Palazzo Pretorio.
For another thing, the town council organises a bicycle tour through the beautiful territory of Vicopisano. Slow travel par excellence, via monuments, craftsmanship, food and wine tasting, guided tours and rare access to private villas.
Vicopisano sits on the Monti Pisani Olive Oil Trail, a route where tradition, artistic and natural beauty and the taste of typical local produce - extra virgin olive oil chief among it - come together. Local working methods dictate that the olives be grown and harvested solely by hand.