The pleasant town of Pontassieve owes its existence to Florence. In the middle of the fourteenth century, the Signoria of Florence (i.e. the city government) decided to build a castle at this strategic location, where the river Sieve joins the river Arno. Construction of the castle commenced after a government decree was issued in 1375. It was named the Castel Sant’Angelo, a name that was later changed to Ponte a Sieve, “Bridge at the Sieve”. This name refers to the important bridge across the river that served the road between Florence and the Mugello, the Casentino and Arezzo. People gradually began to build houses around the castle, and so a settlement developed over the course of years.
Nowadays, the old castle is long gone. Only three of its gates remain. They can be found in the upper part of the town, near the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II and the Via Tanzini. These gates are:
- In the east: the Porta Aretina or Torre dell’Orologio, which gave access to the road to Arezzo;
- In the south: the Porta Filicaia and
- In the west: the Porta Fiorentina, which gave access to the road to Florence.
Also in the Via Tanzini is the Palazzo Sansoni Trombetta, now the town hall. Pontassieve was an important road and railway junction and was therefore bombed by the Allies during World War II. As a consequence, the town was very badly damaged and had to be rebuilt almost completely after the war. Not much is left of the old historical centre. The medieval Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo had already been rebuilt in the eighteenth century. The new church was consecrated in 1788 and subsequently destroyed during World War II. The building that we see today, which is notable for its somewhat peculiar facade, is the work of the architect Guido Morozzi (1909-2002).
The most interesting monument in Pontassieve is, of course, its bridge. The original medieval bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1548 and had to be replaced. Several years later, in 1555, Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici of Florence hired Stefano di San Piero a Ponti and his son Tommaso to construct a new bridge. Its design is often attributed to the more famous Bartolomeo Ammannati (1511-1592), who is known for his work on the Pitti Palace and the Fountain of Neptune in Florence. The bridge became known as the Ponte Mediceo, a name that has survived until the present day. It consists of two arches made of brick which rest on a solid stone pillar in the middle. The bridge was restored in 1788, and again in 1950, to repair the damage sustained during the war.
The commune of Pontassieve is much larger than the actual town. Many of Pontassieve’s interesting churches can be found in the rural frazioni. The Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie has already been discussed. Also of interest is the Castello di Torre a Decima. This small castle was probably constructed as early as the twelfth century. It was later acquired by the Florentine Pazzi family, traditional rivals of the Medicis. According to one tradition, members of the Pazzi family took refuge here after their 1478 conspiracy against the Medicis collapsed. Nowadays, the Torre a Decima is a private residence and a wine estate, and regretfully not open to the public.