During one of our drives around Tuscany, we spotted a medieval fortified town (borgo medioevale in Italian) on top of a distant hill. We immediately decided to have a look. The name of that village was Certaldo and was touted as the hometown of Renaissance poet and humanist Giovanni Boccaccio. The author of the Decameron (b. 1313- d.1375) spent his life between Certaldo and Florence.
Our GPS was broken at the time so we had to rely on street signs to find our way up the hill. We had previously found out that Italian street signs are not totally reliable, if at all.
We drove in circles around the town of Certaldo Basso (Lower Certaldo, an uninspiring modern town) until we were about to give up. At the last minute, we saw an inconspicuous sign that pointed towards Certaldo Alto (Higher Certaldo.) The village was giving us a last chance.
We followed the arrow, which led us along a narrow country road that curved uphill among small farms and vineyards to the borgo medioevale. We left the car at the municipal parcheggio (parking lot) outside the walls and crossed the arch into the town.
My husband decided he’d done enough sightseeing for the day and settled in the mild spring sunshine to read and wait for me to do my thing. I went straight to the Casa Boccaccio museum.
The museum is located in the house where Giovanni Boccaccio lived at various times. It sustained heavy damage after a bombing during World War II and was faithfully restored since.
The museum is also the headquarters of the National Giovanni Boccaccio Society and houses a library dedicated exclusively to the poet’s life and work. Other than that, a fresco and some medieval shoes that Boccaccio may or may not have worn, the museum is devoid of original or even interesting objects.
The view from the top of the tower, however, is magnificent. The 360-degree view of Certaldo and the surrounding Tuscan countryside is well worth the 3 euro admission and the steep climb up and down.
A medieval church with a surprise
Later, once my legs stopped cramping, I wandered up the street. A few dozen yards from where Boccaccio lived is his final resting place, the church of St. Jacopo and St. Filippo. The chunky, solid building dates back to the 12 and 13 centuries and is rather dark inside.
I pushed the creaky wood door open and adjusted to the semi-darkness and eerie silence. Although there was nobody else, I felt I wasn’t alone. I turned my head to my right and saw her. The sight made my hair stand on end: the Blessed Giulia lying in the crystal coffin, still wearing her 14th-century nun habit, her empty sockets staring back. Just then the door creaked shut. I yelped and leaped to the door, yanked it open and went out into the sunlit street.
I cursed the Italian custom of displaying saints’ skeletons or relics inside churches. Whatever for? At least, give me fair warning.
A delicious chocolate gelato worked wonders to steady my frazzled nerves.
Certaldo is located in the Val d’Elsa in Tuscany (Italy) about an hour’s drive south of Florence. It is accessible by train as well as it’s on the Florence-Empoli-Siena line.
Things to do in Certaldo
Visit the Boccaccio museum.
Be spooked at the church of St. Jacopo and St. Filippo. Also, find the tomb marker for Boccaccio.
Find the Palazzo Pretorio at the intersection of Via Boccaccio and Via del Rivellino. The palace dates from the late 110s and now houses an art museum. Don’t miss the coats of arms, many of which were made by the della Robbia family.
Visit the church of San Tommaso e Prospero, built in the 1300s. It has a fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli and Giusto D’Andrea. It’s located at the end of via Rivellini.
Visit the Museum of Sacred Art.
Travel forward in time to the Renaissance at the Palazzo Stiozzi Ridolfi and its two towers overlooking Costa Alberti.
Time your trip in time for the Mercantia Festival, an international street art and theatre festival.
Walk around, enjoy the medieval atmosphere, admire the sweeping views of the countryside. It’s even more pleasant if you do it with a gelato in your hand, just sayin’!