Toscana - Places to Visit - Chitignano
The municipal boundaries of Chitignano follow the borders of a Tuscan rural signoria that survived from the Middle Ages up to the late 18th century and extend up the slopes of the Alpe di Catenaia.
Archaeological finds and the names of the two nearby villages of Rassina and Taena, together with the sulphurous waters there, have long led experts to hypothesize the presence of a sacred complex in the area. Set on a road connecting Apennine settlements, in medieval days this district was the fief of the Ubertini family.
This historical period ended when the fief was sold to the Grand Duchy. What remains is the Podesteria, which despite numerous alterations still exhibits 14th- and 15th-century architectural features, and the castle of the Ubertinis, one of the very few completely inhabited and fully preserved manor houses that remain to us.
The nearly continuous presence of the most powerful family in the area provided safety for the inhabitants, a wily and adventurous folk who, among other things, engaged in the contraband of tobacco and, later, gunpowder.
This activity was pursued with greater determination than the more generic smuggling that was widely practised in the Apennines from the 17th century on.
The tobacco was produced directly, as a regular job, and was carried to isolated cottages and remote hamlets, even quite far away. This practice survived until about 1960 and amounted to a true local culture.
The hand-made cigars are still kept in many homes and the phenomenon lives on in tales bordering on the legendary, and is celebrated in manifestations along the old via del contrabbando (smuggling route).
A sightseeing and resort area, Chitignano has been known since ancient times for its numerous springs of iron-bearing mineral waters whose healing properties are still considered effective for treating skin disorders and digestive ailments.
The springs are a destination for many tourists seeking cures. Their waters are also channelled to buildings in various places, particularly in Romagna. The impression that the visitor takes away is one of great peace, of perfect equilibrium between man-made constructions and the surrounding environment.
An excursion to the Eremo della Casella and to the Prati della Regina, on the Alpe di Catenaia, which forms part of Casentino Forests National Park, makes for an interesting and enjoyable outing.
A short ways beyond the hermitage, built after the passage of St. Francis of Assisi on his return trip to La Verna, there is a magnificent view of the Sasso della Verna, which rears up ahead and off to the wings formed by the Apennine buttresses swooping down to the upper Tiber Valley and Casentino.