Verrazzano Castle wine estate near Greve in Chianti in Tuscany, Italy

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Castello di Verrazzano - Verrazzano Castle

Castello di Verrazzano - Verrazzano castle
Castello di Verrazzano

The Castle of Verrazzano is famous as the family home of the navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano (sometimes spelled Verrazano), the discoverer of New York harbour. The Castello di Verrazzano is one of several fine castellated villas in the Val di Greve, the others including the Castello di Vicchiomaggio, the Castello di Uzzano, Villa Vignamaggio and Villa Calcinaia.

The central tower of the castle was constructed in the late Romanesque period and was joined by an underground passage to another tower close by, providing an important point of surveillance over the Greve valley and control of any movement between Florence and Siena.

The Verrazzano family, of Longobard origins, took its name from the area where it settled in the 7 C according to some scholars and not before 971 according to others, when the leader of Florence was Ugo, Marquis of Tuscany. The name Verrazzano might derive from the latin name of the area "Veratius" (Veratiae Gentis Veraci - farm of the Verazi), or from the latin word "verres" (wild boar) and "zona", land of the wild boar.

The family belonged to the Guelph faction and this was the cause of many disputes and controversies. In 1247, they suffered at the hands of the Ghibellines and during the Battle of Montaperti in 1260 they lost two sons. Ser Chiaro da Verrazzano himself, a valiant defender of the Guelph cause, had to flee to Rome and leave the Castle in the hands of the victorious Ghibellines. In Rome, Cardinal Corsini learnt of the vicissitudes of Ser Chiaro, and consequently commanded that a star on a background half white and half yellow (the Vatican colours) be placed on the Verrazzano coat of arms.

Later, when peace was restored and the Guelph government reinstated, Ser Chiaro returned to his home, but during the journey to Florence he was attacked by the Masnadieri of Ricasoli and robbed of all the riches he had accumulated in Rome. But even in this instance, Ser Chiaro demonstrated his ability in reversing difficult situations: the thieves were found and of the stolen goods "he received in return more than he had lost". Naturally he was hated and envied, for this and also for his position in the government and the affairs of Florence, so he did not escape when the Florentines re-asserted their independence upon the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in 1197.

His sons demonstrated the courage and also the unscrupulousness of the family by finding the principal leaders of the plot and having them beheaded. A separate destiny was reserved for the actual perpetrator of the stabbings - his hand was cut off and exhibited in public for three days while the assassin was hung up to bleed to death by the side of the road. Different strokes for different folks.

Little more is known of the family because the Verrazzano’s Florentine home was destroyed by fire during the memorable siege by the Imperialists in 1530, and all the important documents in the archive were lost. The Verrazzano family had an altar (still in existence) and several tombs in the church of Santa Croce.

A view of the Castle over its fish pond

Interior of the castle
with a portrait of Giovanni da Verrazzano

In 1485 Giovanni da Verrazzano was born, and later became a navigator and the discoverer of New York harbour plus a large part of the east coast of America. Giovanni’s work on behalf of King Francis I was rewarded with the French Fleur de Lys on the family crest.

Another member of the family who maintained the marine tradition was Girolamo, who compiled maps of the known world and of the new lands discovered by his brother Giovanni for the rulers in Europe. Yet another seafaring Varrazzano was Cavalier Prior Lodovico di Francesco da Verrazzano, Admiral General of the Galleys of Saint Stephen and Governor of Livorno, who won the Battle of Zembalo against the Turks.

The importance of the port of Livorno during the period of the Grand Duke, when it was one of the foremost ports in the Mediterranean, is due to the Verrazzano family and the people of Livorno called the road that went from the port to Florence "Verrazzania" because it was on this road that the family travelled.

The family died out in 1819, thus interrupting the history of a series of worthy gentlemen: the Verrazzanos were the first magistrates of the Republic of Florence, twice they occupied the position of standard bearer for Justice, and thirty five times they had the honour of being the Prior.

The property has been famous for many years as a producer of high quality Chianti Classico wines, and the Castle, which had deteriorated over the centuries with the disappearance of the Verrazzano family, has today regained much of its ancient splendour following restoration work undertaken by the owner, Cavaliere Luigi Cappellini, in collaboration with the authorities for the Monuments of Florence. Musical and other events are held on the magnificent roofed terrace, and wine tours are available.

Anna Maria Baldini

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Anna Maria Baldini