Updated: Sep 29, 2020
There’s a common misconception that Tuscany, Italy has been overrun by tourists and there are no hidden gems left to be found! For certain areas of Tuscany there may be some truth to this. But the majority of the region still holds many secrets waiting to charm its more adventurous visitors.
Mugello, for example, is an area north of Florence that goes virtually untouched by tourists. Today we’ll dive into some of the fascinating history that makes this secret place a special area to visit, but check out this article on the Geography and landscape of Mugello, too!
Going way way back, Mugello was originally settled by a Ligurian tribe called the Magelli, which is where the area gets its name. (For those who aren’t history buffs, Ligurians were an ancient, pre-Roman population from north-western Italy with a strong Celctic influence.) After the Ligurians there were the Etruscans, who built the first roads in Mugello.
Following the Etruscans, the Romans came into power. Many artifacts of this period have been found in this secret area of Tuscany, such as tombs and coins. There's a gorgeous hidden winery, which we visit on our Living Slow in Tuscany small group tour, where they've uncovered the remains of a Roman house while planting new vines!
During the Middle Ages (400s – 1400s) many castles were built in Mugello and later, the Republic of Florence ruled over the area. As a result, several noble families built villas, including the famous Medici family. These prestigious supporters of the arts came to stay in Mugello during the summers when Florence becomes suffocating with heat, distracting themselves with dances and hosting celebrity figures and artists. (Going back in time a bit, the great artist Giotto lived in Mugello as well, known for breaking away from the old Byzantine style and advancing the arts in a way that was later taken as a model by Renaissance artists).
A Preserved Knife-Making Workshop in Scarperia
Unique History in Tuscany's Secret Paradise
There are two particularly interesting bits of history that come out of Mugello, both of which can still be experienced there today. First, the town of Scarperia became known far and wide as the best place to buy artisan, handmade knives of all sorts. From a visit to the knife museum, to stepping inside one of the remaining family-run knife workshops, a close-up look at this craft is fascinating!
The second bit of unique history in this area is that of Galileo Chini (1873-1956), who brought the Art Nouveau Movement to Italy which subsequently became known locally as the Liberty Movement. In the town of Borgo San Lorenzo, you can visit the Chini Museum, highlighting Chini ceramics housed inside a villa which is beautifully decorated with Art Nouveau paintings and details. It's a beautiful hidden gem worth visiting!
Another hidden gem in Borgo San Lorenzo is the Pecchioli Ceramics Factory, which today is still run by a direct line of relatives linking the factory with its founder, Galileo Chini. Ceramic tiles of all colors, shapes, sizes, and patterns are produced here in a by-gone method done by hand. On a leisurely stroll through the Borgo San Lorenzo, you’ll spot art nouveau details on the faces of the buildings and in the fonts of signs.
A fascinating point of history is the Palazzo dei Vicari in the town of Scarperia. This palace from the 14th-century has a facade covered with the coat of arms of each family and Vicar who has occupied power over the area. Inside the Palazzo, you can admire a magnificent fresco from the workshop of Ghirlandaio in 1501, not to mention the many beautiful rooms. Do I even need to say it? It's yet another secret spot not to miss in Mugello, Tuscany.
In more recent years, Mugello became known for its famous racetrack dating back to 1914.