Castles of Chianti: play chess with History!
History may look like a great lady who leaves in her path, just as a sign of her passage, countless jewels that slip through her hands. Sometimes, even death and destruction fall out of her pocket, but today, in front of the soft landscape of the Chianti vineyards and with a glass of fine wine in our hand to be enjoyed, we want to look at history as a benevolent goddess, although from these hills it is easier to grasp her contrasting signs: castles, for example, that look really “fallen” in the area like scattered jewels – today almost all of them are headquarters of famous wineries – and they were built as places of fortification and defense, and therefore of war.
Already in the eleventh century there are news about, when Florence always open in political and territorial expansion seeks to erode the boundaries due to Siena (wine): the Chianti region is between the two cities, and so begins a game of conquests and losses, just like the game of chess of an immense and impressive chessboard. And it is precisely because of its geography that castles were built to protect the people during the attacks of the enemy and give the hosts an extra chance of winning with a strong defense. History tells us that in Chianti region was created a line of defensive castles: Aiola, Cetamura, Cerreto, Selvole and Sesto belonged to Siena, while those of Brolio, Cacchiano, Monteluco, Montecastelli, Montemarchi and Rentennano were Florentines. But it was not all so easy: because of battles and political agreements certain castles passed from one town to the other, like the Castle of Montegrossi that changed several times and then become permanently an outpost of the Republic of Florence.
When invasions and foreign domination frightened Italian towns more than the “small but bossy” neighbor, Florence and Siena joined in a “League,” to fight the common foreign enemy, king or emperor, who was threatening their freedom to be republics: it was the thirteenth century, and it is was at these years that, between history and legend, stands the famous story of the Black Rooster, the symbol that once identified the Chianti territory, and nowadays the Chianti Classico wines: it is said that to define once and for all the border between the Florentine and Sienese territories it was decided two knights left from the cities of Florence and Siena at the daybreak singing of the rooster: the boundary would be set int the place where they would meet. Florence chose a little black rooster that was held the night before fasting and Siena a beautiful white one that the night before ate abundantly, so that the next morning he sang much later than the Florentine black rooster, so the Siena knight departed way later the opponent and the meeting point, i.e. the new border, ended up being closer to Siena than Florence, benefiting the latter.
This loss of land continued to feed the Senese resentments and clashes over the centuries were still many, both inside and outside the Chianti region, as evidenced by the famous painting by Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano, you can see in the “Uffizi ” museum, in Florence.
But visiting the castles, now you can find out all the life, not only military but also civilian, made of peasant work and daily tasks, and you can learn it through celebrities of the past, who are filling the history books.
Here, in Vignamaggio, Leonardo da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world; here Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince, the first “handbook” for the politician; even Michelangelo, the author of the David and the Sistine Chapel, here bought houses and farms, and it is said he donated large quantities of good Chianti to the pope, perhaps to atone for his terrible temper. Much life moves and passes along the paths of these castles, also crossed by Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni da Verrazzano, the great navigators who arrived in the “Americas”, originating in these hills.
Everyday life also goes by the wine, its production, by the care and preservation of the territory: thanks to the vines and love for the land, the landscape remains intact and traveling with us toward one of these castles you’ll find yourself watching a landscape, a house, a particular color that the great personalities of History observed centuries before. Even the taste of good wine, bread and typical oil, all made as tradition says, can give you the excitement and the pleasure, the same ones that have tried men whose genius is recognized around the world.
But above all, during the wine tasting tour that always combines a visit to a castle and to a wine boutique, holding a precious glass of wine you can find that it is something more than just a beverage. When the history is war it transform the Earth into a cruel chessboard with its aggressive and destructive rules, but when the History is life, its game resembles the Olympic relay race where the baton passes from hand to hand, and Leonardo da Vinci, Paolo Uccello and all the others stretch out the hands so we can all grab our time through them. And what is this witness who passes from hand to hand but a good glass of Chianti