La Valle delle Fonti

Hamlets in the Pisan mountains

Explore the region’s most characteristic small towns

Holm Oaks, which in these parts are considered sacred and a symbol of conjugal love, are the predominant species of tree in the woodland of the Pisan mountains. There are also many holly trees, butcher’s broom and elder. The woodland is populated by wild boars and shy porcupines, and the undergrowth is full of dormice and squirrels. Numerous jays, thrushes, hoopoes and tawny owls can be heard from the upper branches.

The ground in this area is chalky and porous and so absorbs rainwater quickly. As a result, the undergrowth is limited to a few species. Small plants with minute flowers on Mount Penna might seem like nothing special, but in the Summer months they produce the most wonderful fragrance. The most commonly found bush here is the myrtle bush, often found alongside cistus plants and broom.

The Pisan fort of Ripafratta stands facing the castle of Nozzano on a rocky outcrop surrounded by thick woodland. This fort was a strategic post during the unending skirmishes between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, as well as the battles between the inhabitants of Pisa and Lucca in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.

The beautiful Renaissance villas which make up Gattaiola stand in a ring around the town’s church. Gattaiola is home to Villa Rossi, the Notter villas, Villa di Puccio and Villa Guinigi. The church of Sant’Andrea was founded in the eighth century and then was enlarged in the Romanesque style of nearby Lucca in the twelfth century. White decorations were added, along with embedded sculpted decorations which were subsequently cleaned up during restoration work in 1901.


The small Villa Bernardini was completed in 1615 and has stayed in the same family ever since. In front of the villa there are two old sequoia trees, planted in the nineteenth century. The eighteenth century Teatro di Verzura (Verzura Theatre) sits behind the villa. The theatre can sit up to 650 people.
Guamo’s harsh fortified villa with its four towers was built by Castruccio Castracani. Its severe outline contrasts with the softer architecture and more refined and welcoming atmosphere of the surrounding area.

S. Leonardo in Treponzio
This town is home to a small museum dedicated to everyday objects from times gone by. The museum is named after one such object, la ruota: an ingenious pedal mechanism which allowed farmers to raise water from the wells and distribute it in their fields. The five rooms of the Museo della Cultura Contadina la Ruota (the Ruota Museum of Peasant Culture) cover such subjects as textiles production, farm work and the up-keep of peoples’ home and places of work. The museum’s collections include artefacts which were in use up to the end of the twentieth century.

S. Andrea di Compito and Pieve di Compito
Sant’Andrea di Compito and Pieve di Compito are home to Villa Borrini, Villa Orsini and Villa Giovannini. These villas are famous for the camellias which grow abundantly in their gardens. In fact, the damp, fresh and protected soil of the hills in this area is ideal for growing the many species of camellia which were long ago imported from the Orient along with spices and other ornamental plants.
The Longobards once inhabited what is now known as Vorno. They would have been attracted by the nearby woods and its rich game. In the sixteenth century, the Tegrimi, Mansi and Trenta families reorganised the area’s farming estates and villas, using a system which had proved successful in other areas. Thanks to the abundance of water in the area, numerous watermills, olive presses and two paper mills were opened here in the seventeenth century. Many of these are still standing today and are in excellent condition.

How to get from Ripafratta to Castelvecchio
Follow the signs from Ripafratta to Cerasomma. Take a left turn on the via di Cocombola. Continue until the bend in the road where you should turn left again, this time onto a rough track which leads to Meati. Follow the road to Gattaiola. After the church, turn right and follow the boundary wall of Villa Rossi. At the fork in the road, turn right. After a short time on the via del Brennero, travelling in the direction of San Quirico di Guamo, you’ll eventually join the Sottomonte provincial road. Massa Macinaia, San Giusto, Sant’Andrea, Pieve, Colle and Castelvecchio di Compito are all signposted from this road.