The Castello dei Conti Guidi is one of the most important examples of medieval architecture and one of the main tourist destinations in Tuscany. Located at the top of the medieval village of Poppi, included in the Club of the "Most Beautiful Villages of Italy", the castle dominates the Casentino, a valley of great naturalistic interest, the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, historical-artistic-religious the Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli and Sanctuary of La Verna and food and wine.
Castello di Poppi History
The Castle of the Counts Guidi, which dates back to the tenth century, witnessed the famous battle of Campaldino (1289), in which Dante Alighieri took part. The Castle, surrounded by walls with Guelph merlion, can be reached through the Porta del Leone, built in 1477. In the suggestive internal courtyard, a large fifteenth-century staircase, wooden balconies with remains of valuable original ceilings, an imposing eccentric column supporting the roof supported by overlapping shelves and numerous coats of arms that embellish the walls.
From the courtyard you can reach the ancient prisons and the Museum of the Battle of Campaldino, with a model that reconstructs the armies of the Guelfe and Ghibelline armies. On the upper floors, stands the Salone delle Feste, covered with trusses and decorated ceiling, in which the surrender of the last of the Counts Guidi, Francesco, to the Florentine Republic was signed in 1440.
Finally, the Cappella dei Conti Guidi, with a cycle of fourteenth-century frescoes depicting "the stories of the Gospel" attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto's principal pupil, and the Biblioteca Rilliana, with 25 thousand ancient volumes, is of extraordinary historical-artistic importance. 800 manuscripts (including 150 medieval) and over 700 incunabula (one of the largest Italian collections).
The castle was the scene of an historical event: on 11 June 1289, in front of the monument, the battle of Campaldino took place. The paternity of the building is uncertain: the oldest part is attributed unequivocally to Lapo di Cambio, while the most recent, datable to the end of the thirteenth century, would be of Arnolfo di Cambio.
The first documents attesting to the presence of the fortified site of Poppi date back to 1191, but it is believed that it was built between the ninth and tenth centuries following the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire. Since its origins the history of the Castle is closely linked to that of the largest feudal family of Casentino who placed Poppi in the center of its great properties and inhabited this manor for almost four hundred years: the Guidi Counts.
The current architecture is attributed by the historians to 1274, a period in which Count Simone di Battifolle was in power, who had the right side of the building built by commissioning it to architect Lapo di Cambio. The Castle has a certain resemblance to the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence, later built by Arnolfo di Cambio, so much so as to be mentioned by Vasari in the work "Vite de 'finest architects, sculptors and painters", when he describes its construction, and deserves the definition of some experts of "Prototype" of the Florentine building. The scarce openings in the masonry surrounding the castle seem to be original. The fortified walled enclosure was built around the tower from which the other fortification buildings developed.
The complex had only two doors, a larger one facing the valley towards Ponte a Poppi with a steep access ramp, and a smaller one on the opposite side towards the parade ground. After the last major renovation of the Castle in 1470 it was the latter, with the name of Porta del Leone, to become its main access. This door owes its name to a bas-relief depicting a large lion, created by Baldassarre Turriani (1477), placed just above its opening. The castle was enlarged with the construction of the rectangular block on the right of the tower.
This was the primitive structure of the Castle, used by the lower floors upwards respectively to prison, storage and housing. Although today is joined to the tower by a curtain wall, originally the two buildings were detached, connected only by drawbridges on the upper floors, to be independent and possibly to defend each other. In the hall of the upper floor of the quarterdeck, today the seat of the city council meetings, the surrender of the last of the Counts Guidi, Francesco, to the Florentine Republic was drafted in 1440. Almost at the same time the construction of the other wing of the castle was started, on the opposite side from the tower. Inside it was created the internal courtyard that we still admire today, full of coats of arms of the Florentine families who carried out the vicariate at the Castle.
Another major intervention was carried out from 1470: it mainly involved the internal court with the construction of the splendid stone staircase to access the various floors of the building and the external enclosure. The separation ditch between the castle and the parade ground was dug and on the outer wall the anti-port called "Munizione" was erected to defend the Lion's gate. The Ammunition was also equipped with a drawbridge, which has now disappeared. The Castle was now a splendid residential building. The last restoration, which dates back to the last century, with the remaking of a large part of the battlements and the restoration of the mullioned windows and other parts of the masonry, gave the beautiful appearance of the castle today.
A curiosity that embellishes the history of the Castle is linked to Dante Alighieri, who lived there between 1307 and 1311, and tradition has it that in Poppi the great poet composed the XXXIII canto of the Inferno of his Comedy. The same Dante Alighieri took part in the famous battle of Campaldino, fought between Guelphs and Ghibellines not far from the Castle of the Counts Guidi.
Inside the building, which for years has housed the headquarters of the municipal administration of the center in the province of Arezzo, it is possible to see a chapel, a museum on the battle of Campaldino, a library and the Giovanni Gualberto Miniati documentation center. On the vault of the single aisle of the chapel annexed to the castle there is one of the most important fresco cycles of the Arezzo Province. Its walls are almost entirely frescoed: the three cycles on the Stories of St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist and the life of Mary, as well as the figures of saints placed below them should be noted. In a niche placed under a window there is a frescoed trompe-l'oeil polyptych, while on each of the four corners of the vault are the Evangelists enthroned, whose paternity has been attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, a pupil of Giotto, after the restorations carried out between 1988 and 1990.