Just west of Florence is the historic town of Lastra a Signa, a picturesque place with its protective walls and towers intact. Lastra was built as a military outpost, a walled settlement to help guard and defend Florence itself. You can still enter the city through the towering Porta di Baccio, which could be closed at night and in times of peril to keep invaders out. Today, it greets visitors and leads them into the Piazza Garibaldi, the main gathering spot of the city. In the MIddle Ages the piazza was used for military training.

This is where you'll find the town hall, Palazzo Pretorio, a brick building adorned with various coats of arms. Inside are some beautiful, but unfortunately not well-preserved, frescoes.

The Renaissance-style Spedale di Sant'Antonio looks very Florentine with its arcade and cross vaults, and for good reason-it was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The building was used as a hospital and care center for the poor. It is now cultural center owned by the city and hosts exhibits and special events. The Pieve di San Martino was built in the 1200s in the hills outside town, and has a tall tower and frescoes. There is a museum of sacred art that is open by appointment.

The lower town is along the Arno River and a beautiful arched bridged once spanned the river, unfortunately destroyed in WWII and replaced by a non-descript modern cement bridge. The upper town climbs the hill Colle San Romolo to 286 meters above sea level. The towns name derives from "lastra," or the slabs of stone cut from the quarries here and Signa, the adjoining town. The walls were built to heavily defend Lastra a Signa and 7 of the 10 towers remains standing, making a distinctive sight.

Don't miss the Villa Caruso with its beautiful gardens and museum dedicated to tenor Enrico Caruso who owned the stately manor hour.

The city of Lastra a Signa is just west of Florence, on the road to Empoli. It is near Montespertoli and Montelupo Fiorentino. What had been just a walled hamlet is now a city of 20,000 residents, with plenty of restaurants, shops and cafes tucked in its streets, and a nice place to wander around and admire the typically Tuscan ambiance.

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