The idea of building a ropeway between Montecatini Alto and Montecatini Terme, respectively called "The Castle" and "Baths of Montecatini" were proposed in the late nineteenth century by the Genoese Alessandro Ferretti and funded by Eng. Carlo Barbano and by James Giovannetti, after who the square above the hill station of the funicular railway was named.
The inauguration took place on the 4th of June 1898, in the presence of distinguished guests including Giuseppe Verdi. In the early years of its operation, the two little red trains were operated by a big steam boiler, located at the hill station, until 1921, and then replaced with a powerful electric motor.
The cable car service car has undergone some interruptions: September 2nd, 1944 an incident during the war caused extensive destruction and rendered it unusable until 1949, and in 1977, due to technical adjustments, the funicular was closed and then reopened on the 3rd of August, 1982 thanks to contributions from the Tuscan Regional council that also allowed the restoration of the coaches, which also helped to maintain the same original structure consisting of three compartments with wooden benches and two external balconies.
Seasonal opening: March to October.TAKE ME THERE
2. The Little Square
Here we are at the center of Montecatini Alto, the original center of Montecatini Terme, which represents the real historical center.
The history of Montecatini Terme is in fact, for many centuries that of Montecatini Alto, whose first record goes back to a dispute between bishops for the possession of two churches, eventually leading to an intervention from king Liutprando and the bishop of Florence, Spezioso (716) .
In 1300, Montecatini Alto, because of its location, was at the center of one of the bloodiest battles of medieval history and even fratricide. Having welcomed the Guelphs that had fled from Lucca from the advancing Uguccione Faggiola, it was besieged by the Ghibellines, led by Castruccio Castracani of Antelminelli giving rise to a tremendous battle.
Montecatini played host to many other sieges and events until Cosimo de 'Medici in 1554, with the spirit of a Machiavellian, decided to destroy the places where people did not choose to live by his laws. The city walls were then torn down alongside the burning of anything that could maintain local traditions.
Traces of its history remain in this square, still paved in stone and dominated by the Tower of Ugolino which takes its name from the local doctor who founded the hydrology of the town.
There are also signs of public and religious life: In the square we find the Palace of Justice, with its characteristic facade decorated by numerous coats of arms which dates back to medieval times. The Parlascio, with its picturesque facade painted in 1906 which now houses the Theatre of the Resurrected, can be found next to the Podesta palace and the former central office for markets and public meetings. After a recent restoration the Parlascio has seen the return of the “Madonna of Humility" (a seventeenth-century copy of the painting preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Humility in Pistoia by an unknown artist)
Today the square is dedicated to the poet Giuseppe Giusti, who lived here with his family for several years. It is striking for its lively atmosphere, which is festive and intimate at the same time. Filled with small craft shops and typical restaurants whose tables occupy almost the entire area.
Here you can taste the famous fett'unta, based on Tuscan bread and locally produced oil, tasty sausages and an array of typical Tuscan cuisine, or simply, a wonderful bowl of ice cream.TAKE ME THERE
3. The Rock
The fortress or rock can be reached by climbing the steep Via della Rocca, where we find ourselves in front of the church of St. Peter the Apostle. Just below it is the home of Giuseppe Giusti, which also offers spectacular views.
The Church of S. PETER THE APOSTLE. Formerly named after S. Michele, traced back to 716, the church has three naves and was rebuilt in the twelfth century after it became a parish church. Further reconstruction of the church was needed after the damages suffered during the siege of Florence in the sixteenth century. The church underwent a further modification in the eighteenth century with an emphasis on the baroque style. The last restoration during the last century has brought to light the original Romanesque capitals embedded in the pillars. The bell tower was built around the ancient watchtower.
Valuable works including a stone crucifix from the end of the fourteenth century, the baptismal font from 1580 and an organ with elements of the same period. A Nativity by Andrea del Sarto and works by Jacopo Ligozzi and Santi di Tito.
Two paintings with scenes of the life and martyrdom of St. Barbara, the patron saint of the city of Montecatini, who is remembered on the 4th of December each year. The church is also home to a beautifully maintained and precious reliquary.
To visit the Museum of Art and Church ornaments.
Also in Santa Barbara we find a Monument dedicated to the four services (fire brigade, Artillery, Military Engineers and Navy) which find placed under the protection of the saint.
A few meters from the Church of San Pietro are the ruins of the ancient fortress, a large parade ground with a pentagonal enclosure consisting of sloped walls which lead up to a tower. Once known as "Fortress of the Old Castle" or "Tramontana" to help distinguish it from "Fortress Carmine" or "Castelnuovo" which is located on the opposite hill.TAKE ME THERE
4. The Walls
A testimony to the importance that surrounded the castle is to remember that Montecatini Alto had walls of almost a mile in circumference, with six access doors and many towers.
The walls, which have witnessed centuries of history are now a long and beautiful pathway that stretches from one side of the hill joining the two "spurs" (the Rock and Carmine), thanks to its height of almost 300 meters, you can enjoy wonderful views: on a clear day the view exceeds Valdinievole and even reaches the towns of Leonardo da Vinci and beyond.TAKE ME THERE
5. Church of the Carmine
A fort was once situated here called Castle Nuovo or Castle Lemmi. Probably built towards the end of the 12th century, it held a dominant position on the plain, the Serravalle pass leading towards Pistoia and southern Valdinievole.
Later destroyed, it was replaced by the Carmelite convent founded in 1296, which also incorporates the church of SS. Jacopo and Filippo where, in addition to valuable paintings of the seventeenth century, there is a Martyrdom of St. Sebastiano painted in 1595 which has against its backdrop, a representation of Montecatini and its lands at the time.
Dominating the valley around noon stands the oratory of S. Sebastian, with a single nave and a small porch supported by stone columns.
The tower of the ancient fortress has remained intact since the end of the 700’s. The north wall houses a clock visible from all over the surrounding area and is still working.TAKE ME THERE
6. Benedectine Monastery
The birth of the Monastery occurred during 1533, when a group of pious youths from the Montecatini castle, who had embraced the Rules set down by the Hermits of St. Augustine, were assigned to the Church of St. Maria a Ripa (whose existence is documented from the year 1260), with several attached houses so they might dwell in them and lead a common life.
Since 1533 and for over two centuries, the monastery housed the Augustinian nuns until the end of the Lorraine rule first and then the Napoleonic wars. The nuns then retired to a private life and the monastery was sold at public auction and abandoned for several decades.
In 1881 the building was bought by the Church and in the same year the Convent was repopulated and returned to perform its function with the arrival of the Benedictine Order of Nuns from the nearby municipality of Borgo a Buggiano.
Inside, eighteenth century frescos were brought to light, also from the same period, an organ with carved reliefs in wood, painted and gilded. A painting of the Madonna and Child on wood from the fourteenth century, is kept inside the convent.TAKE ME THERE