San Miniato and its territory
San Miniato's hillside profile from the early Middle Ages divides the Arno River Valley, dense with towns and settlements, and the uncontaminated panorama of its vast rural hinterland. On the map, the "hills of San Miniato" connect the Florentine area of Montespertoli and San Casciano, the Valdelsa of San Gimignano and the inland Pisan countryside to the Etruscan town of Volterra, which, on a clear day, you can see from the Colle della Rocca (Castle Hill).
The first news about the territory of San Miniato dates from 938 and can be found at the Archiepiscopal Archives in Lucca: and it is an act of enfeoffment that confers the city and over thirty nearby localities to a lord. The most important farms in the territory are already listed in this document. A Papal Bill from 1195 shows over fifty churches with their rural communities were located in the San Miniato territory.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the San Miniato countryside still has numerous small villages, villas, parishes and castles. The most interesting itinerary is in the direction of the Valle dell'Egola (Egola River Valley), a tributary of the Arno river going southwest.
Coming down the hill from the town of Costa towards the inland area of Pisa and going through the village of Serra, a steep unpaved road in the midst of a forest will take you to the Castle of Montebicchieri, one of the bastions for the defence of the old commune. An ancient abandoned rural settlement amid large oak trees today surrounds the castle.
Returning back towards Serra and heading in the direction of Palaia, you come upon an interesting sight. Turning towards Bucciano, going up the hill and proceeding towards the Chiecina river valley, the ancient Pieve di Barbinaia can be reached. Mentioned in documents dating back to the year 868, its ruins later became part of an old farmhouse, now in rubble.
Leaving the Valley and returning the opposite way along the Egola river, you can climb to the ancient village of Balconevisi, dominated by the Villa Strozzi. From this very old settlement (the name is probably Longobard: the Valle di Cunighiso) several very interesting itineraries can be followed, some of which lead to underground tombs from the Neolithic Age.
Finally, continuing along the Valley, you will come to the Pieve di San Giovanni di Corazzano (Parish Church of St. John), a national monument and classic example of rural Romanesque architecture. It dates back to the 12th century and with its distinct red terracotta colour, combines in its marble facade Roman ruins from the Classical Age taken from the pre-existing colony, the ancient Roman settlement of Quaratiana.
Surrounding these sites are the hills with their farms that dot the wooded hilltops, the old farmhouses and the imposing structures of the tobacco drying structures, some of which are still working. These surroundings, verdant and rich with history, are as yet untouched by modernity and can be enjoyed today thanks to the agritourism facilities found at the area's main farms.