What is now a quiet town in northern Tuscany was once contended for and heavily defended. Serravalle Pistoiese is at the foot of the Apennines below Monte Albano in the rolling hills, about half-way between Florence and Lucca. While there was an ancient presence, it grew as a old military citadel as it was at the crossroads between Pisa and Lucca to the west and Florence to the east. The castle was built in 1302 by Lucca, and it was fortified with towers and walls. It gained importance as it fell between the contested territories of the fracture groups, the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs. It was taken by the Ghibellines in 1351.
Serravalle Pistoiese has a compact and cute old center with towers jutting upward, red tile roofs, old streets, churches and monuments to explore. It maintains its pretty old world face. Below the town are the rolling hills of Tuscany blanketed with olive groves and grape vines, like a postcard. Serravalle has a Palio event, with resplendent medieval costumes and an archery competition using antique bows that challenge the districts to win the cherished Palio drape.
The church of San Michele Arcangelo has a beautiful tryptych of the Madonna with Child Enthroned With Saints. There are impressive fresco fragments remaining from the 1300s in the Oratorio di San Rocco. But the primary veneration is reserved for their patron saint, St. Louis of Toulouse. The son of Charles II, King of Naples, who was himself the son of King Charles I (the grandson of Louis VIII, France's "Lion King"). Ludovico, called Louis (also sometimes referred to as Ludwig) is revered here. His father was captured by the Aragons and freed only after giving his sons as hostages. They were taken to Barcelona and cared for and educated by the Franciscan friars there. When he was released, Ludovico renounced his claims to the throne in favor of his brother Robert, went to Rome and took Franciscan vows. He became bishop of Toulouse in 1296. Legend holds that Ludovico was given shelter in the castle during a journey, and years later miraculously saved the town from siege by the Luccans while they were scaling the walls to take the town, he appeared in the tower window bearing a flaming sword, called down thick fog and scared them off. He worked miracles and tended to the poor and needy throughout his life. (A side note, the town of San Luis Obispo in California is named for this saint.)
Serravalle Pistoiese is in a lucky location between Florence and Lucca, in reach of the art cities of Tuscany, the beaches of the coast, the hill towns of the center, and the mountains to the north. There are country restaurants, pretty villages, castles sprinkled around the hills, and world class wineries in the area.
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