The Benedictine abbey of Vallombrosa is definitely worth a visit. Not only the abbey is a marvellous piece of architecture but it’s also an oase of peace surrounded by beautiful nature.
Abbazia di Vallombrosa is a Benedictine abbey in the comune of Reggello in Tuscany, c. 30 km south-east of Florence, in the Apennines, surrounded by forests of beech and firs.
It was founded by Giovanni Gualberto, a Florentine noble, in 1038 and became the mother house of the Vallumbrosan Order.
Giovanni Gualberto, monk of San Miniato, reached Vallombrosa in 1036. The forest of chestnut trees, silver fir and beach trees immediately became the destination of pilgrimage for clergymen and laymen, attracted by the rigid monastic life led and preached by Giovanni Gualberto. Already in 1039, the abbess Itta donated the land to build the monastery and church, consecrated in 1051, while in 1055 Pope Victor II recognised the Benedictine Congregation of Vallombrosa.
Even if Florence annexed the monastery in 1280, it kept its autonomy and its own statute.
Reconstructed around the mid 15th century by the abbot Francesco Altoviti, the monastery grew very rich through the centuries, becoming between the 17th and 18th century an important point of reference for scientific culture in Tuscany. It appears that around 1578, by order of his father, Galileo Galilei sojourned here, perhaps as a novice.
The Vallombrosans conducted weather observations for the Medici weather station network (1654-1667), the first to be instituted in Europe. Botanical studies were also important. Quite noteworthy between the 17th and 18th century was the activity of Virgilio Falugi and, especially, of Bruno Tozzi, friend of the great botanist Pier Antonio Micheli, and correspondent of the major botanists of Europe. Tozzi and other monks studied and depicted the vegetal species of the region with great ability.
The monastery has its own business life based on timber trade and livestock farming. In the XVI century, the rich and powerful convent of Vallombrosa caught the attention of the Spanish troops during their presence in Tuscany. In the second half of the XVI century, the abbey started to thrive again and it was also restored. The congregation of the Vallombrosiani was suppressed in the Napoleonic age, when the French emperor initiated his fight against the religious brotherhoods, but it recuperated its properties in 1818. Later on, after the Unity of Italy, a second abolition of all the orders was settled. the monastery was repristinated in 1815, and then transferred to the State in 1866 as headquarters of the National Forestry Institute. The Benedictine monks returned to Vallombrosa only after World War II.