Staying in Villa Torricella, a visit to Impruneta is almost compulsory. This beautiful town, a few minutes away from the villa, has a monumental basilica, built on the place, where, according to the legend, a miraculous image of the Virgin painted by Saint Luke was found.
The venerated Madonna is now kept inside the church, in an aedicula, most probably designed by Michelozzo, the architect of the Medici, flanked by two glazed terracotta figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The basilica, consecrated for the first time in 1060, reached its present shape between 1439 and 1477, when the parish priest Antonio degli Agli paid for the reconstruction of the church. The portico preceding the façade was added in the 17th century by the Florentine baroque architect Gherardo Silvani: under the vaults on the right, just dedicate a few minutes to enter the beautiful and very peaceful cloister, dating back to the late 15th century.
"Fornaci" and "Fornaciai"
For a lot of people, Impruneta means especially terracotta, fired clay. The marl forming the soil surrounding Impruneta, in the valleys of the rivers Greve and Ema, provides the ideal clay for bricks, roof tiles, statues, floer pots and vessels. A document dating back to 1098 already mentions a couple of “Fornaciai”, owners of a kiln in Impruneta. The historical kilns of this area have always been producing bricks and roof tiles for the all buildings in Florence, including the most important ones, such as the Dome of the Cathedral or the Spedale degli Innocenti, both designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the first architect of the Renaissance.
Visiting a kiln is an absolutely amazing experience. Walk inside crossing the terrace, the roofed space where the clay is sieved and refined and where the wares would dry in the sun. Two different spaces are built in the kiln: an underground one where the fire is lit and upper one where the object are placed. The kiln is built in such a way that the hot air is circulating through it and “baking” the bricks, tiles and vases.
The traditional modeling procedure, all done by hand, is still in use in some of the Impruneta kilns. Some parts of the vases and jars are made with a mould and then assembled and lined by hand with the “lucignoli”, worm-like strips of clay about 50 centimetres long, that will form the decorations. Craftsmen finish the work by hand, removing the excess clay along the seams and retouching the decoration.