Colle di Val d'Elsa or Colle Val d'Elsa is a town and comune in Tuscany, Italy, in the province of Siena.
It has a population of ca. 20,000 (2005). Its name means "Hill of Elsa Valley", where "Elsa" is the name of the river which crosses it.
Today, Colle di Val d'Elsa is internationally renowned for the production of crystal glassware and art (15% of world production), largely produced in the industrial lower town.
People have settled in the area of Colle Val d'Elsa since the earliest Eneolithic settlements, dating to the 4th millennium BC, and throughout the Etruscan and the later Roman settlements, but it became a full-scale town at the height of the medieval period, before becoming one of the key sites in the history of the free comuni (boroughs), in the struggles between the Guelfi and the Ghibellini, eventually becoming established later on as an important industrial centre.
It is a long and complex history, which it is not possible to cover in a short summary, and in many ways it resembles not so much a historical account as a fairy tale.
How to get to Colle di Val d'Elsa
Colle di Val d'Elsa is easy to get to, both from northern Italy and from southern Italy.
Although the car is the ideal form of transport for those coming to Colle from elsewhere in Italy, it is possible to get to Colle in various ways, especially using the Autopalio highway which links Florence to Siena.
But to get around within the town itself, although there are plenty of public services, we advise visitors to take things nice and slowly: so leave your car in a car park and move around at your leisure.
Home of Lead-Glass Crystal
Città del Cristallo logoAmong the many features and attributes which can be ascribed to Colle di Val d'Elsa, that which is most dear to local people is the title 'Città del Cristallo' ('Home of Lead-Glass Crystal').
Since 1331, glass production, which evolved into lead-crystal production in the 20th century, has been one of the most typical features of the town, which over the centuries, for this reason, has been called the 'Bohemia of Italy', and is now the Città del Cristallo.
All this is promoted by the Cristallo di Colle di Val d'Elsa consortium, a body which represents all the firms working in the sector, which represent 95% of Italy’s entire output of lead crystal, and 14% of global production.
The aim of the Cristallo di Colle di Val d'Elsa consortium is above all to recognize, and protect, lead-crystal glass as a material, and also its production and processing at whatever level within the Colle di Val d'Elsa area.
Lead-glass vaseThe main difference between glass and lead-crystal is the presence of Lead Oxide.
The presence of this oxide gives the glass certain characteristics which make it particularly interesting, since the lead leads to a marked increase in the density of the glass, and thus in its refractive index.
In this way the glass comes close to the optical properties of diamonds: the incoming light is refracted to a greater degree than with normal glass, thereby giving the effect of great brilliance that is typical of lead glass.
The effect increases with an incresce in the content of Lead Oxide, but only glass which contains at least 24% lead oxide by weight has the legal right to be called 'lead-crystal glass'.
Only skilful adjustments in the composition of the glass, by specialized chemists, working side by side with master glass-makers, make the lead glass clear, transparent, brilliant, stable, and worthy of the name lead-crystal.
In order to find out all the history and the features of lead crystal, consult the official site of the Cristallo di Colle di Val d'Elsa consortium.
The area was settled by man from at least the 4th millennium BC, but first mentions of the city are from the 9th century AD. In 1269 it was the seat of a famous battle during the wars of Guelphs and Ghibellines and in 1479 it was besieged by Neapolitan troops. From the 14th century it was a possession of Florence and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany until the unification of Italy in 1860.
In the 20th century it became an important industrial center. During World War II it was bombed by Allied aircraft.
The oldest part of the town is the "colle alta", the higher part, with a well preserved medieval center. The town developed along the river from the 11th century onwards, building an artificial canal to power various industrial activities, such as wheat mills and paper factories.
The city is also famous as the birthplace of sculptor and architect Arnolfo di Cambio.
Please visit also our history section to read more about the history of Colle di Val d'Elsa.
The information above has been contributed by the
municipal council of Colle di Val d'Elsa. For more details, especially some very detailed suggested sight-seeing routes, please visit the website www.terrediarnolfo.it