Situated halfway between Florence and Siena amid fertile hills covered with vines and olives, the commune of Barberino Val d’Elsa is set in a lush and splendid landscape. The ancient walls, which have retained two turreted towers, still surround the center of the community and testify to its past as an important Florentine outpost, beginning in 1054.
The zone covers an area of 65.88 square kilometers (25.4 square miles) and is perched on hills separating the valleys of the Pesa and Elsa rivers. The land slopes gently down toward the Elsa and the peak altitude is no more than 400 meters (1,310 feet). Slightly less than half the communal territory is situated in the Chianti zone. Barberino Val d’Elsa has 3,500 inhabitants and 21.2% of the population is involved in agriculture and primarily in the cultivation of grapes and olives.
Archaeological finds in the zones of San Martino ai Colli, Barberino, Sant’Appiano and Petrognano, which date to the Etruscan epoch and the period of the Roman Empire, bear witness to the antiquity of human settlement in this area. The succeeding feudal system produced a proliferation of castles among which Semifonte, in the vicinity of Petrognano, has an interesting history. Constructed by the Albertis in the final decade of the 12th century during a period of restoration of imperial power, Semifonte experienced rapid development until 1202 when the Republic of Florence decreed the destruction of the fortress. The razing of the castle of Semifonte increased the importance of Barberino, which already benefited from its geographical position. In the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the rural areas in the immediate vicinity of Florence were organized as leagues and Barberino became the administrative center of one of these units. It bore the community’s name and consisted of more than 30 villages situated in the area between the Elsa and Pesa valleys. The center of Barberino has retained its medieval layout of an elliptical pattern and traces of its fortifications. The Palazzo Barberini, once the residence of the family of Pope Urban VIII, is located within the walls, which have preserved much of their original structure. Among the various castles scattered over the area, Linari deserves special mention, along with the remains of the medieval fabric of the Church of Santo Stefano; Vico d’Elsa, which has lost its fortifications but not the characteristics of a medieval village, and Tignano, which has preserved most of its encircling walls with a gateway flanked by a large keep.