"Nearly a millennium of history makes this property uniquely fascinating and rich in anecdotes."
"The original building included a middle age tower".
"Vallombrosa Abbey made of Casa a Rignano one of its most flourishing and rich properties".
The first official documents regarding the estate are from the end of the 1200s, although it is reasonable to imagine that the existence and importance of the manor and its land come form long before that, at least since the falling into ruins of the Rignano Castle, located nearby.
The Mozzi’s, the original landowners, were probably responsible for the building of the tower-house, made in their architectural style of a typical Florentine countryside “Casa da Signore” (Lord’s House).
One specific document stands out, from June 11th 1299, in which the Mozzi agreed to crop-share the properties; for one of these properties, il Podere “Piano” (the Flat Property) was given the provision that the sharecropper had to send half of the products harvested to the Castrum Rignani each year. The denomination Casa a Rignano was not yet born and, to designate this area in the documents, there is always a reference to the ruins of the castle. Evidently, considering that the castle had already fallen into disgrace, these documents are referring to the Torre di Casa a Rignano (Rignano’s House Tower) the only part of the original castle still intact; this fact shows its importance as the organizational centre of Mozzi’s rural home.
The original building included a middle age tower (with an area of 10.5 x 8.9 meters, equivalent to approximately 34 x 29 feet) and a lower long and narrow space, probably L shaped as the later building which nowadays represents the main structure of the house.
Soon, however, this important casata fell into abandonment and the neighbouring lands were sold to the Vallombrosa Abbey. In 1318 a piece of land in the town of San Leolino a Rignano, in a place named Aresto (Agresto in today’s denomination), was sold to Vallombrosa and the contract was stipulated “In the aforementioned town of Rignano in the place called Casa”.
The current denomination was then already used and, what is even more important, it was chosen to stipulate notary documents: it was a particularly important building for Rignano’s community. With a Florentine’s Republic act of 1371, Florence authorized the construction of Rignano’s Castle. A castle was never built, but the presence of the ancient Mozzi’s tower, possibly partially damaged, inspired the restoration and expansion of it, building a “community gathering”: a fortified place where, in case of danger, the people of the town of San Leolino a Rignano, left without any military defense for decades, could get shelter. This fortified refuge is again quoted as Casa a Rignano and becomes the community’s property in 1409. Many events of the town of Rignano took place here until around the mid 1400s, when the house became property of Vallombrosa’s Abbey.
In 1484 Casa a Rignano was sold by the Abbey to the Guardi di Firenze for 575 golden fiorini. It was a concession, in which the abbey granted the rights for total usage of the goods (the house and the terrain) to Benedetto di San Francesco Guardi and his children and grandchildren up to the third generation - after which term the property would go back to the Abbey. The document gives for the first time a description of the place, that had become an estate, with a building in its center, dedicated to agricultural activities as well as residence:
“…A terrain with a worker’s house, a lord’s part and workable land, with grapes, olives, fruit and forests in the town of Pieve di Rignano, Florence County, a place named casa a Rignano with a little property on the side with a worker’s house and workable lands, with grapes, olives and forests in such place named Ghomigliano…”
It can be reasonably deduced that the aforementioned Casa da Signore could have been derived inside the tower (maybe already reduced in height) and that the worker’s house had been placed in the lower adjacent building.
Later on, as the contract established, the property returned to Vallombrosa:
“...such acreage returned to Vallombrosa in the year 1563 in november given the death of Girolamo Guardi… Note that such acreage, already called Rignano in its original documents, as they are still conserved in Paterno’s Palace...”
From this document we gather, amongst other things, a brief description of the site:
“…An acreage with worker’s house, a tower with a courtyard, and a barn in such town, a place called Casa a Rignano comprising of 196 “staiora” (ancient measuring unit) of land, including vineyards, fruit and olive trees and forests…”
The description is very similar to the current status of Casa a Rignano, evidently the courtyard (or a very similar structure) was already built, and the barn appears to be existing as well.
All of this becomes even clearer a few years later (1585), when Vallombrosa, who had acquired many acreages from the mountains to the Arno plain, felt the need to make a sort of cadastre of its real estate properties, in order to manage them better. At that time, many maps with watercolor sketches of the buildings and their relative acreages were made, amongst which we can see the first “stereometric” representation of Casa a Rignano.
This document, under the heading “Casa a Rignano, Podere”, presents the following description:
“Peacefully it has been owned by our Monastery of Vallombrosa for a hundred years continuously and it still peacefully owns it”.
From this point onward Vallombrosa made of Casa a Rignano one of its most flourishing and rich properties, making it part of Sant’Ellero’s Farm. In 1566 the first lowering of the Tower of Casa a Rignano took place which, as we shall see, was not the only one. Almost two centuries later, another document from Vallombrosa speaks once more about the estate. From this very document we are able to know for the first time the name of the worker of the Abbey’s sharecropper: Angiolo Boggiani.
The last official document we have is dated 1820, when the Lorenese Government made a census of the whole Florentine territory. The map which includes the county of San Leolino shows the aerial view of Casa a Rignano with each of its annexing buildings in the same position they are currently in. Throughout the 1800s the property passed on to Torre a Monte’s Farm, owned by Baron Levi who continued to use it as an agricultural patrimony.
Inside the large kitchen on the first floor of the L-shaped building we can find a date, carved in stone: 1938. It probably represents the date in which a large amount of construction and renovating work had been done, which was usually carved in the “most sacred” place of the house: on the arch top of the wood-oven used for baking the bread. The reconstruction probably had to do with a new redistribution of the internal areas, without altering the overall arrangement. Towards the end of the 1950s the owners, for security reasons, decided to lower even more the height of the tower – by six meters (ca. eighteen feet) - as confirmed by Dante Sottili’s oral testimony, the latest sharecrop worker for Torre a Monte’s Farm who also took part in this procedure. A few years later the Sottili family became the owner of the whole property where they have always worked and lived until the year 1991, when they sold the whole estate and its buildings to the actual proprietor.