San Giovanni Valdarnohas maintained its medieval appearance, with the typical urban shape of the so-called “new lands”: at the centre is a large piazza, and all around are shaded porticoes delimiting the streets. San Giovanni offers are lovers more than a few attractions, including churches, museums and cultural centres. Of course, good cuisine is also in abundant supply. Strolling through the city, starting perhaps in the central piazza Cavour, you’ll pass by Palazzo d’Arnolfo, which gets its name from the fact that it was built by Arnolfo di Cambio.
The building is striking thanks to its façade dotted with hundreds of coats of arms, but inside, there are also traces of history and lives lived. This is where the recently-opened Museum of the New Lands is located, established to introduce visitors to the phenomenon that led to the foundation of new towns. The exhibition centres on innovations in Tuscany, with special attention focusing on San Giovanni Valdarno, once known as Castel San Giovanni.
Also in the historic centre of this characteristic town, you’ll find Casa Masaccio, where the famous painter, a precursor to the Renaissance, lived in his youth. Like a cradle of creativity and skill, today the house has become a centre for contemporary art, which doesn’t just host exhibitions but also organizes conferences, research opportunities and workshops.
Close by is the fascinating Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which with its facade overlooking the nearby palaces, seems to want to protect the piazza out front. The church dates to the 1400s and its construction is linked to a miracle related to a plague. It’s said that a grandmother, thanks to her prayers, was able to feed her grandson, whose parents had died. Inside the building, the Miracle of Monna Trancia is depicted in a fresco. Next door, the Museum of the Basilica conserves a collection of priceless paintings, including an Annunciation by Fra Angelico and works by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, known as “Lo Scheggia,” that were located in the equally interesting 14th-century Church of San Lorenzo.
The cuisine here is also an art, which the stufatari know well enough, masters who compete every year in the Stufato alla Sangiovannese Palio, a delicious excuse to taste this local delicacy.