During our Tuscan Adventure tours this year we visited Castellina in Chianti and during our 10 day tours we certainly sampled many premium Tuscan wines including many local vintners Chianti Classico wine. So, what is the history of that big black rooster statue we saw in Castellina.
Well, Castellina in Chianti is an ancient town in the Chianti Hills of about 2,800 inhabitants in the Tuscan region of Italy about 35 kilometres (22 mi) south of Florence and about 15 kilometres (9 mi) northwest of Siena. The first settlements date from the Etruscan age, between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC, and were probably devastated by Gaulish invasions during their invasions against Rome. In the early Middle Ages the town was known as Salingolpe; in the 11th century Matilda of Tuscany gave it as fief to the counts Guidi and, subsequently, to the Trebbio.
Castellina became an outpost of Florence and joined the League of Chianti and established itself as the capital of one of the "Terzieri", an ancient administrative division. Due to its strategic location between Siena and Florence, it had been at the center of the struggle between these two Republics and the village was surrounded by an impressive hexagonal wall which is still visible today.
The black rooster is the symbol that has made the Chianti region famous in the world, conveyed as a trademark of the Chianti Classico Consortium since its establishment in 1924, but this animal represents the Chianti area long before the Chianti Classico.
The legend of the Black Rooster is strongly connected to Castellina in Chianti. It dates back at least to the middle of the thirteenth century, when it was drawn on the banners of the Chianti League, the military and administrative institution which was composed by the "Terzieri" of Castellina, Gaiole and Radda in Chianti.
As the story goes, the two Republics were tired of the constant battles to define the territorial boundaries in the Chianti area, so they agreed to settle the dispute. They arranged a contest: two knights had to leave in the morning at cockcrow, each from their own city heading in the opposite direction: the Florentine towards Siena, the Sienese towards Florence. At the exact point where the two would meet, it would seal the border. So, in order to anticipate the opponent and conquer more territory, it was thought better to leave as soon as possible, but then they would need a reliable cock, ready to sing at dawn.
The Florentines entrusted a hungry and free-range black rooster, intentionally kept fasting. The Sienese, instead, chose a tame white rooster, which was, above all, satisfied by a hearty evening meal. The choice of the Florentines proved to be successful: the knight from Florence was able to leave earlier than the Sienese, covering more kilometers and annexing a larger portion of the territory.
Castellina in Chianti, is located atop a hill at the crossroads of the Arbia, Elsa and Pesa valleys, along the Chiantigiana road that still connects Florence to Siena. It's a small town but is one of the most important destinations in the Chianti area and the landscape that surrounds the town is quite beautiful and impressive, well worth a visit.
Next time you go shopping for a Chianti Classico look for the Black Rooster on the band on the neck of the bottle. A Chianti Classico with a Black Rooster on the tax band label indicates a DOCG wine (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). This is the highest classification Italian wines can be awarded and means there are (controllata) controlled production methods and (garantita) guaranteed wine quality with each bottle.
Simply said, it is not enough to be produced within the Chianti region to be called a "Classico". In fact, Classico wine has to respect specific rules. Its blend is 80% of Sangiovese, the red grape typical of this area, 20% of other grapes, which include native grapes such as Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as other international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
A Black Rooster on the label best ensures a Chianti Classico wine bright ruby red in color, well-integrated aromas of tart red cherries, tobacco, sunbaked earth, and a hint of cedar spice. On the palate, a firm structure and refreshing acidity make it a very versatile food wine. Delicioso!
Boccaccio in Certaldo
A journey to discover the origins of la bella lingua would not be complete without a stop in the very heart of Tuscany; the village of Certaldo Alto, a well-known medieval village located halfway between Firenze and Siena. According to tradition, this was the place where the third and last “Florentine Crown of the Italian Language” – namely, the great Giovanni Boccaccio – was born back in the summer of 1313.
Just as it was the case with Dante’s Commedia and Petrarch’s Canzoniere, it is really hard to underestimate the far-reaching influence of Boccaccio’s most perfect masterpiece: not only would his Decameron have a great impact on the development of Italian language and literature, it would also affect European culture as a whole (for example, by serving as an important structural model for Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales). Written in the Florentine vernacular and told by the viewpoint of ten young men and women who take refuge in a villa outside Florence to escape the plague of 1348, the one hundred novellas that constitute the Decameron offered an unprecedented use of realistic dialogue and everyday language, as well as a real slice of life in the Middle Ages. Whereas the 16th century scholar Pietro Bembo recognized Petrarch as the model for Italian poetry, when it came to prose nobody seemed worthier to him for this role than Boccaccio.
Even though Boccaccio would soon move to Naples to continue his studies, he would never forget about his Florentine heritage. On the contrary, Dante and Petrarch would become great sources of inspiration for him in the years to follow: he would not only write treatises and commentaries about the two masters’ work, he would also give the very first public lectures on the Inferno and copy down by his own hand as much as three manuscripts of Dante’s Comedy (just think that it was precisely Boccaccio who first talked about it as “Divine”). At the same time, in the year 1350 he would meet Petrarch in person for the first time and start to correspond with him.
Following a lifetime of literary achievements and public engagement between Napoli and Firenze, Boccaccio would eventually and abruptly fall from grace during the 1360s, when some people connected to him were accused of conspiring against the Florentine Republic. The writer would then spend most of his old age back in his native Certaldo, in the house on present-day Via Boccaccio n. 18, the one where – according to sources – he would eventually die of illness in 1375.
It is quite fascinating to visit this building today, after almost 650 years, but keep in mind that the casa del Boccaccio actually met the same fate as the casa del Petrarca in Arezzo. In the early 19th century, it had been purchased by the marchioness Carlotta Lenzoni de’ Medici, who renovated it and commissioned the neoclassical painter Pietro Benvenuti with the realization of a large fresco representing Boccaccio at his writing desk. In more recent times, though, the whole building was devastated by the bombings of the Second World War: only the wall with Benvenuti’s fine fresco did miraculously escape destruction. But even so, in the post-war period the entire house has been rebuilt and finally opened to the public as a museum, as well as being chosen as the official seat for the Ente Nazionale Boccaccio. Thanks to the efforts of the local community, it is now possible for everyone to step inside the casa del Boccaccio to take a look at the poet’s rooms: you can find here – among others – a series of artifacts dating back to the 14th century, commemorative badges and medals, a reproduction of Boccaccio’s first portrait ever, and a collection of modern theatrical costumes inspired by the Decameron.
Our journey ends just a few steps away from Boccaccio’s former home, in a small church in the vicinity of Certaldo’s gorgeous Palazzo Pretorio: here, under the floor of the Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo lies Giovanni Boccaccio himself. A 1503 marble bust by Giovan Francesco Rustici portrays the great Certaldese as he holds his own masterwork. Underneath we find Boccaccio’s own epitaph, but also an awe-inspiring gravestone carved by the 20th century sculptor Mario Moschi, who recreated the writer’s features by drawing from the Renaissance artist Andrea del Castagno’s series of “Illustrious People”. Needless to say, Petrarch and Dante appeared alongside Boccaccio as part of this series.
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.