It is hard to imagine that the upper Valdarno (the valley of the River Arno) was once a lake, but that is what it was, a large and marshy lake, until it was supposedly drained by the Romans at a place a few kilometres to the west bearing the descriptive name Incisa or ‘Cut’. The area is rich in fossils of dinosaurs, mammoths and other animals and plants, as a visit to the Museo Paleontologico, at present being renovated,  in Montevarchi will attest.  

 

 

The lake also gave rise to the large deposits of lignite or brown coal that were mined in the territory of the comune of Cavriglia until a few decades ago. The lignite fed the local power station at Santa Barbara, which now burns gas instead. The large area of the open pit mine, for which special extraction and transportation machinery was developed, is now being converted for agricultural, industrial and recreational use (there will eventually be an 18-hole golf course).  

The whole of this area was part of Etruria, the land of the Etruscans who flourished in the period between 900 and 82 BC. There is a small settlement near us called Sereto that consists of a church and several buildings around a courtyard. Before the foundation of Montegonzi this church served the religious needs of all the nearby farms and hamlets and is reputedly built on Etruscan and Roman foundations. It is also said that there was a passage built by the Etruscans halfway down the well so that the inhabitants could escape into the woods in case of attack.  

By the 13th century Florence was spreading its power throughout this part of central Tuscany, and the Valdarno offered new possibilities for agriculture especially. Most of the valley towns – Montevarchi, San Giovanni Valdarno, Terranuova Bracciolini, Figline – are about 700 years old and have carefully designed town plans (Castelfranco di Sopra is a particularly fine example). These are now the main commercial centres in the valley, which has a current population of around 100,000, and are located close to the autostrada and the railway. As mentioned above, many people commute from this area to work in Florence and Arezzo, each being less than one hour away.