Painting by Giusto Van Utens - 1599

Photo by Alberto Pini - 1999

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The architect of Il Trebbio, in its present form, was the famous Renaissance Florentine, Michelozzo Michelozzi. The castello, which actually dates back to 1364, was restructured by Michelozzo in 1427 for Cosimo de Medici, known as “Pater Patriae”. It was intended as a summer resort and as a hunting and hawking lodge (there were at that time cages for hawks on the front terrace). The surrounding woods, as today, abounded in game of all kinds. The square tower (9th century), and perimetral walls (12th century), already existed and had no doubt been maintained as part of a fortified look-out post by the early Florentine Republic. It was situated on the site of a still older Roman and later Longobard fortified location built at a cross-road of the “Flaminia Militare” road constructed by the legions of the roman consul Caio Falminio in 187 B.C. roughly following the layout of an Etruscan road between Fiesole and Bologna. This road , in medieval times, became the main road to Rome for pilgrims from northern Europe. The architecture is of great interest. Built against two sides of the tower and, starting from an outside staircase in the small courtyard, the levels proceed upwards in stages round the court. There is a covered walk round the ramparts and under the roof of the tower, from which there are magnificent views. The loggia, originally, was open only to the courtyard with no window or door to the front. The castello was never involved in any major hostile attack nor, in all probability, had need for defence though it was built with enhanced surrounding protective walls with some such eventuality in mind, as was the custom in those days. Cosimo Il Vecchio, his son Piero and his grandchildren, Lorenzo (known later as Il Magnifico) and Giuliano-who lost his young life in the “Congiura dei Pazzi” –and their three sisters with the rest of the family and their cousins from Cafaggiolo, must have spent many happy days here, hawking over the hills, hunting with dogs, and fishing n the river Sieve. Their actual summer base was the old castle of Cafaggiolo, situated two kilometers below Il Trebbio, which was re-built rather later, about the year 1450, also by Michelozzo.
The 15th century “Pergola” – above the “orto” or kitchen garden of Il Trebbio is original and unchanged and was no doubt built for, and used by, at least some of the Philosophers of the “academy” of the San Marco Gardens in Florence.Poliziano must have been on hand as well as Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and also that poet friend of the Medici family, Gigi Pulci, whose family owned a small property nearby at the village of La Cavallina. At the death of Lorenzo Il Magnifico in the year 1492, the Florentines rejected the authority of his son Piero, known as “Piero the Unfortunate”. His pride and his haughtiness were probably inherited from his Mother’s family of the Orsini, but he was also incompetent, and this resulted in the exile of the Medici from Florence.
At this time the castello of Cafaggiolo, together with that of Il Trebbio was already owned by Piero’s cousins (the grand-children of Cosimo’s younger brother Lorenzo) with whom he had quarrelled, and they, perhaps partly to save the property, took the name of Popolani. One of these Popolani (de Medici) named Giovanni, was sent as Florentine Ambassador to Imola and Forlì which were ruled over by the notoriously couragious, Contessa Caterina Riario-Sforza, twice married, and the natural daughter of Galeazzo-Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan. Caterina married Giovanni, who apparently was of gentle disposition, though he was some year her junior. Unfortunately he only survived one year during which time a son was born to them in 1498. His death was never been attributed to foul play though both Caterina’s previous husbands had been murdered. Whereas all her Riario children were somewhat despised by their mother, this baby was “all Sforza”, and the apple of her eye. At a tender age he showed himself both hardy and fearless but, alas, these attributes later developed into violence and vindictiveness and as his mother was the only person who had any control over him, it was a tragedy for all when she died in 1509. She had been taken it with a leg infection at Il Trebbio, but her health had already been undermined during her terrible imprisonment by Cesare Borgia in Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome after the fall of Forlì to the Papal armies.
The property of Il Trebbio was left to Caterina’s child, named Giovanni after his father, and there are extant letters written by the agent Vaini to Jacopo Salviati, the child’s guardian in Florence, explaining how he was quite unable to control the headstrong boy who, at the age of twelve, already sought dissolute company in the village of San Piero a Sieve, encouraged by an older cousin at Cafaggiolo. At the age of eighteen he married his fairly distant cousin, Maria Salviati, whose father was his guardian and whose mother was a daughter of Lorenzo Il Magnifico. He soon became the famous military “Condottiero” of that time, known as “Giovanni delle Bande Nere”, or John Of the Black Bands, introducing for the first time uniformed troops which were an early form of mercenaries. While he was almost continuously away fighting, Maria brought up their only child, Cosimo, at Il Trebbio, sometimes afeard for his safety, always in want and harrassed by creditors. Giovanni came home rarely. When fighting for the French at the battle of Pavia, he was mortally wounded and died at the early age of twenty eight.
Mother and son continued to live at Il Trebbio until 1537, when the reigning Duke of Florence, Alessandro (the natural son of the first Medici Pope, Clement VII) was murdered by another Medici cousin, Lorenzino. The Florentines then chose Cosimo, now actual head of the Medici family, to become Duke, and later he became the first Grand Duke of Tuscany. Thus Il Trebbio remained a somewhat rarely visited hunting lodge, although Cosimo and his Spanish wife, Eleonora di Toledo, did stay there occasionally. The last Medici to give grand hunting banquets there was the worldly titular Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici, brother of the fourth Grand Duke Ferdinand II. Around the year 1650, the property of Il Trebbio was sold to a Florentine merchant named Giulio Serragli. This new owner, however, only survived four years leaving the property, together with the castello, to the religious Order of the Filippini, with the provision that a church should be built in his memory. Thus it was that the big church of San Filippo Neri in Florence (known today as San Firenze) was built together with the lovely adjoining Oratory, both of them in one block between the Bargello and the Palazzo della Signoria, taking about one hundred years to complete. The building was financed by income derived from their lands in the Mugello, including of course Il Trebbio.
The Filippini Fathers ran the property with success and detailed accounts and carefully coloured plans of all the “poderi” or peasant farms, can still be viewed in the Uffizzi Archives, and manyof the old family names of the Renaissance were still in existence right up to the dissolution of the “mezzadria” system after the second World War. This system of agriculture actually had its origin in Roman times, but the form of “mezzadria” dating from the early Florentine Republic (and which was still being practiced in the 20th century) was based on the sharing, half and half, of all harvests while the repairs and new investments were the proprietor’s responsability. The system had many advantages and, after the emancipation of the peasants from what could be considered serfdom, worked very well.
But this rural procedure, as in many other parts of the country, was rudely shaken by the Napoleonic invasion of Italy, and the subsequent unrest before the unification of the country under the House of Savoy. During this period towards the end of the 19th century, when all church property was threatened with confiscation, the Filippini Fathers, in order to avoid expropriation, placed their lands and the castello jointly in the hands of one of their own Company, Padre Meli, together with a lay administrator. Padre Meli died and therefore the joint owner, called Codibo, was in full possession. At his death, no will could be found; either he had destroyed it or (and this was the popular explanation) his only surviving nephew, another Codibo, had stolen it surreptiously while his uncle lay dying. In the meantine most Church property had been restored to the religious communities, so that a complicated lawsuit followed which dragged on for more than two years, but the eventual verdict was given in favour of the nephew who proved to be an entirely worthless man. Codibo got rid of the “fattore”, or agent, kept a pack of noisy dogs in the “orto”, cut down the centuries old oak trees which abounded from the main road to right up in the hills, and sold them in batches for cash, and quickly dissipated his patrimony in wine, women, and song. The distraught agent, named Bacci, sadly retired with his wife and young son to the neighbouring church property of San Giovanni in Petroio, where his uncle-in-law was Parish Priest. However, Codibo soon incurred heavy debts, and in 1882 was obliged to sell the property.
The new owner was Prince Marcantonio Borghese, Duca di Bomarzo, the nephew of Camillo Borghese, (husband of Pauline, Napoleon’s sister) and he already owned the property of Cafaggiolo. This family did much to try to put the property in order, planting young oak trees and reorganizing the “poderi” but they lived at, Cafaggiolo and allowed Il Trebbio to fall into ruin, except for the rooms in the tower. Most unfortunately, after fifty years – barely two generations – the whole property was on the market again at a judiciary sale in Florence. Thus it was that Dott. Enrico Scaretti, father of Lorenzo Scaretti, acquired both the castelli of Il Trebbio and Cafaggiolo with their 40 “poderi”, and much woodland, on August 9th, 1936.
At this date Il Trebbio was a near ruin as it had not been occupied for many years and from one point on the first floor it was possible to look trough to the sky. The castello was surrounded by impenetrable brambles, brushwood and nettles, and there where some late 16th century farm buildings attached to the south side which were subsequently demolished at the restoration of the castle. The original stone quarry, though much overgrown, was re-discovered about one kilometre to the south and so, once again, low ox-drawn carts creeked up the hill with their loads of the newly cut stones. Indeed the methods of restoration were rather medieval, with wooden pole scaffolding, ropes and buckets, and shovel-mixed cement. And so it came to pass that in 1936-1937, under the direct supervision of Enrico Scaretti and Marjorie Jebb his wife, up to 70 workmen were employed over a period of eleven months for the castle’s restoration. Some of these skilled hands also repaired the disused old road which led up to the castello, making it passable for carts and cars.
The roof was entirely remade, using old tiles, and chimneys were added. All the floors, doors and ceilings were repainted but, of these, the only original ceiling is that in the room off the loggia, or veranda, with the big circular painted coat of arms of the Sforza-Medici, which in all probability had been ordered by the Grand Duke Cosimo I in memory of his grandparents. The entire restorations were completed in the space of eleven months.

The name Trebbio is derived from the Latin “trivium” or three ways. The castello is in fact on the old pack-road between Florence and Bologna and the then main road to the north. The crossways are just below the castello where the road branched off down on the village of San Piero a Sieve and to the floor of the fertile upland plain known as the Mugello. The small chapel on the Trebbio piazza is not later in date than the 12th century and was no doubt frequented by travellers of all kinds including many merchants. It was entirely restored and vaulted by Michelozzo about the same date as the building of the castello. The porch and rose window are of the 1936 restoration.

The CASA di AMERIGO VESPUCCI is the little rectangular 12th century house below the castello to the south. It was entirely restored and modernized in 1970 by Lorenzo Scaretti. Various members of the Vespucci family followed professional careers at times at the service of the Medicis with whome they also were on friendly terms. Amerigo,as a child,in order to escape the “peste” or plague in the city was sent to Trebbio to stay with his uncle who was the estate’s bailiff there . From Trebbio Amerigo wrote letters in latin to his father in Florece,letters that are still extant in the Uffizzi Archives .He grew up to become the famous explorer who charted newly found lands across the Atlantic.The german map maker Martin Waldseemüller, not knowing what to call these vast territories that had been passed onto him on Americo’s behalf, named them “AMERICA” ( in the feminine ) as in ASIA, EUROPA and AFRICA.
During the war years of 1914-1918, there were Austrian prisoners housed in the tower. During that of 1939-1944 the so called “Gothic-line” of defence ran across the Italian peninsula and right through Trebbio, and therefore the German High Command was installed there for some time before the general retreat. They used the loggia as their H.Q., but as the “line” was ultimately not defended, the Germans hurried northwards without blowing up the castello as had been their intention. Soon afterwards Field Marshal Viscount Alexander of Tunis (later Governor – General of Canada) visited the castello as it was an excellent “O.P.” or Observation Post for the allied offensive to the North.