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Colle di Val d'Elsa

Colle di Val d'Elsa is located in the heart of Tuscany, in a strategic position, close to the cities of Siena, Florence and Volterra, along the route of the old Via Francigena, the medieval highway of long-haul pilgrims travelling to Rome from northern Europe.

The town originally developed in three distinct sites, each with different buildings and layout: Il Borgo of Santa Caterina, Il Castello di Piticciano, and Il Piano.
The first two settlements are the oldest, and were reserved for the local dominant classes. Situated along the same ridge in an east-west direction, and separated by a large dip or saddle, they look down on the valley below, where the third "borgo" stands, Il Piano, which is more recent in terms of its development, and which has always been the site of industrial activity.

Whilst the area of Colle has major archeological finds, dating to as far back as the 4th millennium BC, the first documents mentioning Colle di Val d'Elsa date to the 10th century. However, it was with the end of the 12th century that the town gradually acquired political autonomy and a political identity of its own: the first documented municipal statutes date to 1307.

Even in the medieval period the urban zone covered a large area which, as well as the upper part of town, comprised Il Piano which extended along the route of the original gore (water channels).

The gore are the artificial water channels supplied by water from the river Elsa, and were built over the centuries starting in the early 13th century, with the presence of numerous buildings which relied on water as a resource, such as water-mills, paper-mills, and fulling-mills.

In this sense, the gore were a crucial factor in the town's economy, fostering the development of industrial enterprises.

In its history, Colle di Val d'Elsa was the setting for frequent military events.

Among the most famous of these we would note the battle of 1269 between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, which had significant repercussions for the political geography of Tuscany, and the siege of the troops of the Duke of Calabria, which took place in 1479 in defense of the territory of Florence, which led first to serious destruction, and later to further reinforcement of the system of fortifications.

In the course of the 16th century, Colle di Val d'Elsa still gravitated in the orbit of Florence, gradually acquiring more and more power, above all thanks to the Medici family, and to illustrious figures from Colle who looked after administration on behalf of the Prince.

After the war of Siena and the formation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, in 1592 with the papal bull of Clement VIII, Colle became the site of a new diocese.
In the 16th century, with the Usimbardi family, a new chapter was begun in the history of modern Colle di Val d'Elsa.

On the threshold of the modern era, paper production was replaced by the new industries of iron and glass.

The industrial activity of Colle di val D'Elsa was marked above all first by the manufacture of glass and subsequently by the production of lead-crystal glass.
Indeed, as far back as the 19th century Colle was described as "the Bohemia of Italy", while nowadays it has become a full-scale "Crystal Town", making 15% of the world's entire output, and over 95% of Italy's output.

In Colle, the age of industrialization coincided with the advent of Socialism and periodicals linked to the new political climate, with the appearance of the newspaper "La Martinella".

A centre of art and culture throughout the 20th century, today the charming town of Colle di Val d'Elsa is home to over 20,000 people, with old and modern buildings nestling among the green hills which roll down to the river Elsa.

Individuals of international standing who were born here include Arnolfo di Cambio, a sculptor and architect who designed Florence Cathedral, and in more recent times Mino "the primitive" Maccari, and the writer Romano Bilenchi.


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