Saturday, February 9, 2013

Local Archaeology II

The long story of the other Roman bridge

What do gnocchi and chocolate cake have to do with Roman bridges?
Read on and you will find out.

We had heard that at Ponte agli Stolli, on the way to Figline Valdarno, there was a Roman bridge worth seeing. So on a dull day, after a delicious meal of home-made gnocchi and chocolate tart (my friends' idea of a light, easy lunch: recipes following) to explore for ourselves.

Ponte agli Stolli, reached from Greve in Chianti after a pleasant drive through wooded and farm land with many delightful views of restored farmhouses, drystone walls and sloping fields of olives and grapevines, turns out to be a fascinating jumble of a village perched around and over a ravine of rushing water, which eventually flows into the Arno at Figline. But the Roman bridge is not in the village.
The passageway which takes you over the village bridge upon which buildings have been constructed.
Inside the passageway we found this lovely old door, protected by a glass pane. A small enamelled sign on the door reads: Mugnaio Numero 1, Miller Number 1.

Once upon a time this building housed the village flour mill.

And on the other side we found the mill race.

A view of the bridge of Ponte agli Stolli from further on.

But still we had not found the Roman bridge.

A friendly local redirected us back out of the village onto the strada provinciale Chianti Valdarno, to near where we had already seen a simple arched bridge over the Borro (Ravine) Cesto leading to the village of Gaville. About 100 metres before this bridge (as you head back towards Greve), hidden by a tangle of branches and ivy, was a gushing waterfall and just visible above this, a perfect semi-circular or rounded arch of stone, a tutto sesto, as they say here.

first glimpse

We managed to follow a rough foot track to get quite close to the bridge and later discovered better views from the road as well. Probably a footbridge, it would have been 3 metres wide, rising very high above the torrent, evidently to avoid flooding waters.

On the far side, the river leaped and crashed down at least 10 metres in a white cascade and we could see how the bridge had once been made of 3 tall arches spanning roughly 50 metres over the canyon. From the furthest of these the water flowed into a large rockpool, then on down the ravine.

It was lucky we went in winter for in summer the sight would have been almost totally obscured by the forest.

from the Ponte agli Stolli side, with waterfall and rockpool

a better angle of the bridge's structure

What puzzles me is this: what would have been the departure and arrival points motivating the Romans to build such an impressive bridge in such a (seemingly) isolated location? 

Since I wrote the above I have received a thorough and satisfying response to my question which needs to be quoted in full here rather than as a comment:

"During the Etruscan and Roman eras, the most fertile area in all of Italy was that between Fiesole and Arezzo, where grain, fruit and any produce could grow easily.  Cavriglia, which is nearby in the flatlands, was an important Roman urban centre.  Around this centre were small settlements like Gaville (settled until the end of the Roman Empire), Gropina, Pian di Scò and Ciuffena.  Figline, another nearby urban settlement, was where figuline were located, that is manufactories producing clay for pots and dishes.  On the right side of the Arno ran the Cassia Vetus, and on the left side the Cassia Adianea or Cassia Nuova that opened in 123 AD. The Cassia Nuova ran through Gaville and Ponte agli Stolli.  These roads provided easiest access into Tuscany and to Florence and the shortest route between Italia Padana in the north and Rome.

I remember all the foot traffic travelling through the jungles of Honduras to various small markets at nearby towns and hamlets in the 1970s.  It never ceased to amaze me that so many people could pad around on foot carrying goods over long distances.. It must have been very similar in ancient times. These roads, insignificant to us now, were full of foot traffic with people carrying their wares, food and so forth to market or to sell itinerantly in tiny hamlets laced throughout the area."

Thank-you indeed, Explicit (Contributor)

tiny terrace overlooking Borro Cesto at Ponte agli Stolli


  1. How amazing! It looks like something from a Kaspar David Friedrich or Schinkel painting.

    I'm so glad, however, that you did not try to cross it.

  2. We were there in October 2015. Sadly the bridge has been brought down by a large tree.


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