Since ancient times, wine (and also oil) storage and transport was carried out by using specific terracotta and wood containers: jars and barrels. In early modern times, in Tuscany, we experience a real “revolution”: terracotta and wood containers are gradually abandoned and replaced by glass bottles and jugs.
The widespread use of glass containers – more hygienic, lightweight and easy to transport than terracotta and wood ones – was made possible by improved glass melting techniques used in some of the most important centres of the Val d’Elsa area: many popular glassmakers had their workshops in Montaione, Gambassi, Empoli and they were often in much demand from the Grand Ducal Court of Florence.
Our tour starts in Empoli with the visit of the Glass Museum (MUVE). The museum is located inside the Salt Warehouse, built in the very centre of Empoli in the second half of the XIV century, to stow and transport all the salt coming from Volterra‘s salt pans.
The Glass Museum is a must-visit for those who want to understand Val d’Elsa’s history, an area crossed by the famous Via del Sale (Salt Road) and rich of all the raw materials required for glass making. Wine and Glass are two inseparable elements in Tuscany: the production of green glass – the so called “buffato”, a word coming from the verb “buffare” which means “to blow” – typical of the Val d’Elsa area, is strongly linked to wine production and trade. In effect, it developed in a timespan between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, when the most important Val d’Elsa’s glass-workshops were born and grew; the evolution of the glass techniques, in turn, contributed greatly to wine quality improvement (e.g. with the invention of the “spigot”) ensuring a longer lasting conservation and an easier portability of such a precious liquid. The glass history covers the period from the end of WWII to the economic booming years in which the Empoli’s glass-workshops started to export their products worldwide.
Modern history, well represented by the Glass Museum, is placed side by side with Empoli’s oldest history. A few steps from the Salt Warehouse there is Farinata degli Uberti Square dominated by the beautiful Romanesque façade of the Collegiate Church of Sant’Andrea: with its white marble and green stone geometric inlay coating, Empoli’s Collegiate Church has something in common with two of the most beautiful and ancient Florence churches: the Baptistery of San Giovanni and the Church of San Miniato al Monte. Not far, there is the Collegiate Church Museum, which preserves valuable artworks that once decorated the Collegiate Church’s altars and chapels: these works, made by some of the leading figures of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Giovanni Pisano, Lorenzo Monaco, Masolino da Panicale, Filippo Lippi, Antonio and Bernardo Rossellino) make us realize that in the past the city of Empoli was considered anything but insignificant.
Farinata degli Uberti Square is also known as the “Lions Square” because its center is marked from a marble fountain with 4 lions crouched down at its foot. The fountain was built in the early XIX century by Giuseppe Martelli and Luigi Pampaloni, two Florentine sculptors.
We remind you that the visit of Empoli can be matched to a guided tour of some of the most charming villages of the Val d’Elsa area such as San Miniato al Tedesco, Vinci, Certaldo. We suggest you to visit also the Cantina Colli Fiorentini where you will be able to see for yourself how wine is produced, stored and transported..