Originally, Malmantile was nothing more than an old postal station and a few houses dotting the via Pisana. Its name comes from a legend involving St. Ambrose, who was walking through the Florentine countryside when he stopped at a small inn in the village. The future Bishop of Milan asked he innkeeper how he was, who responded that he couldn’t complain, since God had given him a life without too many worries. The saint, feeling suspicious of the innkeeper’s good luck, thought the man was being guided by the devil and decided to put a curse on his house. “Mala Mantilla!” he said, emphasizing the maliciousness of his guests. As soon as St. Ambrose spoke the words, the innkeeper’s house fell into the bowels of the earth, taking with it the man and his entire family. Don’t believe us? A plaque on a tabernacle just outside the walls of Malmantile reminds us that this legend is still alive and well today.
Repetti, author of the celebrated Dizionario Geografico Fisico Storico della Toscana (1835) speaks of the town as a “half destroyed castle with a parish church down below… Malmantile Castle is located on the backside of the rocky slopes, and to the left, a descent into the long and tortuous Golfolina gorge.”
This desolate land was catapulted to fame thanks to a Burlesque opera by Lorenzo Lippi, titled Il Malamantile, published in 1665. The subject of the opera—the conquest of the city by a queen—is rich in cultural references and Florentine sayings, so much so that the Accademia della Crusca has always considered the work an important document for the construction and divulgation of the Italian language.
Malmantile Castle was built at the beginning of the 15th century to defend the Florentine Republic from Pisa. The fortress was celebrated by various military leaders but lost its importance after Pisa came under Florentine rule and after the road between Porto di Mezzo and Montelupo was opened in the 18th century.
During the 19th century, the village was run by various powerful Florentine families, including the Frescobaldi, but Malmantile is home to much older history as well. The Parish Church of San Piero in Selva was founded in 1276, while the most important sacred building in the area is the former Lecceto Monastery, built at the end of the 15th century. Filippo Strozzi was vital is founding the monastery, since he agrees to finance its construction while he was living in exile because of his role in a plot against the Medici. It was Strozzi who commissioned decorations by Benedetto da Maiano and an altarpiece by Domenico Ghirlandaio, both of which were removed in the 19th century.
The recently restored monastery was deconsecrated during the Napoleonic era, leading to a long period of decline. In 1875, it was purchased by the Archbishop of Florence and turned into a summer residence for the seminary’s upper school, though today, Lecceto is a spiritual retreat named after Cardinal Elia Della Costa.