The hill of Monsummano – Monsummano Alto is located on the northern slopes of Montalbano. Its truncated-cone shape rises to about 340 meters a.s.l., where the Nievole stream flows into the plain. The remains of the ancient castle on the hill include the elliptical circle walls around the town, which had a roughly two-kilometer perimeter. In addition, two of the three access gates remain: the gate of “Our Lady“, to the northwest, and the relatively intact gate known as “del Mercato” or the “Porticciola“, which looks towards Montevettolini hill.
Of Monsummano Alto castle’s numerous towers, there remain, at the western end of the city walls, the ruins of a sturdy pentagonal tower, one of the most imposing in the province. In its current form, the tower structure, partially restored in the early 20th century, can be dated to the early 14th century. The best preserved building in the village is the Church of San Nicolao, overlooking the ancient platea communis, or community square. Founded in the 11th century, it was included in the populace of Neure (or de Montecatino) in the medieval diocese of Lucca.
There is a natural panoramic terrace next to the church. It is here that the ancient Church of San Sebastiano is located to the north. Recent excavations in front of the church have unearthed the foundations of two buildings and are where pottery fragments from various periods have been found.
Half-hidden by the thicket surrounding the central castle, the ruins of a convent remain to the west, while those of the ancient Spedale di San Bartolomeo are in the eastern area, near the tower.
For nature lovers, a walk on the slopes of Monsummano Alto hill is a must-see opportunity. It is one of the most impressive places in the Montalbano chain given the hill’s morphological and orogenic characteristics plus the rare vegetation covering it.
One’s naturalistic curiosity can be satisfied by following the many possible routes along the ancient local roads or by following the Monsummano Hill geological trail, built by the Municipal Administration in 1988 that leads to the Grotta Giusti spa.
Among the most famous in Europe, these thermal caves with their natural heat are linked to the particular morphology of Monsummano hill, where the region’s geological history can be interpreted.
The conformation of Monsummano Alto hill is also associated with specific vegetational and floristic features, such as the presence of numerous spontaneous orchids with up to 24 different species being reported.
Because of its location, the Montesummano castle played an important role in the 13th-century conflicts between Pistoia and Lucca, with the boundary between the two important communes being specifically defi- ned at the end of the century. In the 14th century, Lucca recognized the castle’s strategic importan- ce by including obligations for the castle’s defense in its statutes.
Already established as a rural community in 1216, Monsummano fought against Florence in 1328 in the Valdinievole’s league of castles. The following year, it joined forces with the Florentine Signoria. In 1331, the first Florentine podestà settled in Monsummano and Florence recognized Monsummano’s communal statutes. Despite this formal recognition, the 1329 alliance with the Florentine Signoria was an act of submission.
The ancient castle’s elliptical circuit of walls has been almost entirely preserved, stretching for about two km. Its western end is marked by ruins of the large pentagonal tower that, in its present form, dates from the early 14th century.
Known as “Nostra Donna” (“Our Lady”), the gate allowed access to the castle from the northwest. On the opposite side is the almost undamaged “Porticciola” or “Porta del Mercato” (“Market Gate”) that still today faces Montevettolini, a striking backdrop for the breathtaking panorama that opens on to the valley.
Most inhabitants lived inside the castle with the houses likely clustered in the middle. There were vegetable gardens along the inside walls. There was the only parish church, the church of San Nicolao. Founded in the 11th century, it served as the parish church until 1731.
The castle began to lose strategic importance after the entire Valdinievole came under Florence’s dominion, especially following the change in grand ducal policy toward the Fucecchio Marsh, between the late 16th and early 17th century, which favored the formation of a Monsummano Basso settlement.