It was a cold and rainy night when a traveller knocked on a door to ask for a place to stay, but he was refused. From this point on, versions of the legend differ: there are those who tell of a poor pilgrim who froze to death not far from the house and those who maintain that he found shelter in a shepherd’s hut.
The story does, however, have a precise location, the Rocca di Cerbaia, owned by the Alberti family, and also a protagonist who was, according to some, noteworthy. The tale could, in fact, be talking about Dante Alighieri who, exiled from Florence, may have sheltered here. It is certain that the poet made Cunizza Alberti, one of the daughters of the family that owned the fortress, a sentimental and lively heroine in his Divine Comedy (Paradise IX, 13-36). The fortress is still there, on a rocky spur overlooking the Bisenzio Valley.
The history of the Bisenzio Valley is linked to the contact between the cities of Prato and Bologna, in Tuscany and Emilia respectively. Here, thousands of years of history intertwine in a well-travelled stretch of land that has been of strategic importance since antiquity. Many have left their own mark: from the Romans, Byzantines and Lombards through to the Etruscans, who arrived in Marzabotto from Gonfienti. Over the centuries, the valley and the centre of Cantagallo have maintained their strategic importance; above all in the Middle Ages, when watchtowers and forts were built and churches and abbeys were used to welcome travellers and pilgrims. This is a land marked by connections and borders. If the direct Florence to Bologna trainline, which crosses the valley, serves as a sign of union and sharing, then the Gothic Line, a stretch of which was here, makes it a sadly crucial place.
It’s at least 200 years old and is looking good despite some natural aches and pains. The Luogomano Beech Tree, a centuries-old tree in the Acquerino-Cantagallo Reserve is a true symbol of resistance. In January 2013, following a heavy snowfall, an enormous part of the tree collapsed. It was after this incident that the affection that so many attributed to the tree became clear. Indeed, promoted by the Acquerino Cantagallo association, a collection of photos to remember the beech as it used to be was started. Hundreds of photos arrived and were kept by the association. Thanks to the collaborative spirit of the population, the “guardian of the reserve” can be remembered for how it was, a giant whose foliage covered 600 metres of ground.