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da Filicaja family

 

The Legend

 

Legend has it that Ajone, a young nobleman from Volterra, was passing one day through this area, which was thickly forested at the time, and in the depths of the wood he came upon a small house inhabited by a woman, Ine, weeping over the sad fate of her beautiful daughter Figline who had been kidnapped by Gambasso.

Young Ajone decided to rescue Figline and left to wage war against Gambasso. Having won, he married Figline and founded the town of Monte Ajone. At the same time, he built Figline Castle just outside the town as a home for himself and his wife.

Many years later the descendants of Ajone and Figline found themselves facing an enemy army which, having besieged them for many months, successfully breached the defences and destroyed the castle. It is said that all the descendants of Ajone were killed in the battle or escaped and became monks.

After such a disastrous outcome and having lost their leader and faith, the inhabitants of Montaione, dispersed around the smoking ruins of the castle, resorted to idolatry and decided to sacrifice the most beautiful maiden in the village to the gods in return for renewed peace and prosperity. The maiden’s name was Filli.

But a brave young knight from Florence was passing by and, horrified by the thought of human sacrifice (and attracted by the beauty of the maiden undergoing martyrdom), fought the villagers and made them free the girl and sacrifice a heifer in her place. This explains why he then took the name Sire della Vitella (The Lord of the Heifer).

As a token of her gratitude, the girl gave her rescuer the red dress torn during torture which he proudly used as his banner. Filli and the Sire della Vitella married and, having rebuilt Figline castle, they lived there together for many years. He was so in love with Filli that he always called her “Filli mia bella” (my beautiful Filli), “Filli desiata” (my desired Filli), “Filli cara” (Filli my dear)… and in the end both he and the place where they lived became known as Fillicara. Their descendants were known as Fillicara or Filicaja and as their emblem they used the symbol of Filli’s dress. (In 1623 Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger, nephew of his more famous namesake, wrote a short poem entitled “L’Ajone”, giving his interpretation of the legend.)

 

Montaione and Filicaja in the Middle-age

 

What we know is that the Longobard duchy of Lucca was founded in 572 AD and the last (or penultimate) duke was called Allone. During Allone’s lifetime we also know of the existence of a place known as Mons Allonis, located where Montaione now stands. We can guess, with no certainty, that the last Duke of Lucca founded or gave his name to a village or merely an uninhabited place called Mons Allonis (Allone’s hill). It then became known as Montacone, then Montajone and lastly Montaione.

We also know that less than one hundred kilometres from Mons Allonis, which was officially called Montacone in 988, a family called Tebaldi or della Vitella or d’Aquona (after their residence, the castle of Quona) ruled the town of Pontassieve, east of Florence, at the end of the 11th century.

This family later adopted the name “Filicaja” (a fernery or area covered with ferns) from the original place name of the area where the castle stood, known as Costa Filicaia. The Tebaldi (or della Vitella or d'Aquona) family changed their name to “Filicaja” after the establishment of the Republic in Florence in order to appear non-noble and therefore be eligible for public office.

The earliest records referring to a castle called Figline, close to Montaione, in the site of the present-day Villa da Filicaja, also date from around the same period. The castle was owned by the Figlinesi family and had been rebuilt on the site of late Roman stronghold. The name Figline seems to derive from “Figulinae”, figurines, to indicate a place where the Romans found many Etruscan statuettes or figurines. A “casa colonica” (peasant house) four hundred metres south of the villa is now called Figline, a fact that causes a certain amount of confusion.

 

The arrival of the Filicaja family in Montaione

 

In the 15th century the da Filicaja family, now based in Florence, appear to have shown some interest in Montaione and by the mid 15th century Ser Giovanni di Simone da Filicaja bought Figline castle from the Figlinesi family. From then on, it was known as Al Filicaja and later, Villa da Filicaja. Considerable confusion still exists regarding the name of the place and the villa. The place was initially called Figline and the building was known as “Castello di Figline”. Then, after the arrival of the Filicaja family it became Al Filicaja and Villa da Filicaja. However, at the same time, it is strange to note that the farm was sometimes known as Fattoria S. Antonio after the church of that name and on other occasions referred to as the Tenuta Al Filicaja. Sometimes, the villa was even called Villa S. Antonio. The names of the place and the villa seem to have depended on the owners’ mood at the time. For example, during the early 20th century Count Andrea da Filicaja Dotti normally called the villa as Villa da Filicaja, the place as Al Filicaja and the farm as the Tenuta Al Filicaja; however, when writing or dealing with the Church or with the Commune, the place became S. Antonio and the villa became the Villa S. Antonio. The wine labels contain the wording “Tenuta Al Filicaja del Conte da Filicaja Dotti”, whereas the accounts were entitled “Balance of the Fattoria di Figline in Val d’Elsa”. If you think that this sounds a little bit confusing, please note that confusion has been always an italian supremacy.

 

Alessandro and Antonio da Filicaja

 

Shortly afterwards, two cousins, Alessandro (1429-1512) and Antonio da Filicaja (1455-1526), became particularly important in Florence and held a number of public offices. Alessandro was especially interested in local and central government, while Antonio appeared to be more attracted by war-like operations, above all naval campaigns. He was appointed on several occasions to defend the coast south of Leghorn from the Pisan invasions. In 1509 Antonio da Filicaja and Averado Salviati were dispatched by the Florentine government to besiege Pisa. On 8th June that year, Antonio da Filicaja, Averardo Salviati and Niccolò Capponi marched triumphantly into Pisa followed by their troops and their names were carved on a marble slab at the entrance to Palazzo Pretorio to commemorate their action. It is worth noting that in July six years earlier, the Florentine government had sent Leonardo da Vinci, Gerolamo da Filicaja and Alessandro degli Albizi to study the course of the Arno river in order to flood the area around Pisa. No results were forthcoming. We do not know whether this can be blamed on excessive cost, impossibility, changed political conditions or other circumstances.

 

XVI Century, the Americas!


Between the mid and late 16th century, the da Filicaja family invested heavily in trade with the Americas. They also acquired palaces and warehouses in Lisbon at this time, an investment that was aided by an agreement signed by Francesco I de’Medici and King Sebastian of Portugal whereby a number of Florentine merchants, including the Filicaja, were granted a preferential licence to import pepper and other spices. However, Philip II’s project to unite the kingdoms of Portugal and Spain, which was implemented shortly afterwards (1580), meant that Lisbon’s commercial importance diminished considerably and the da Filicaja were forced to close down their Portuguese activities.

 

Baccio da Filicaja in Brasil

 

Baccio da Filicaja (1575-1610), who had been sent as a very young man to Portugal at the height of the trading success, was compelled to find himself another occupation as an adult. He arrived in Brazil at the age of twenty and was appointed Chief Engineer by the Governor Francesco de Sousa. Among his various duties, he was expected to fortify the ports, to build a few fortresses and to restore others. He was also appointed Captain of the Artillery and it was his duty to train the gunners and to supply the military bases with arms. During this period, after the annexation of Portugal by the Imperial Crown and the defeat of the Invincible Fleet (the Invincible Armada), Brazil was subject to endless English raids and the slow spread of French colonies in the area north of Pernambuco. Over the next ten years Baccio held various positions in Brazil, ranging from the conquest of the lands between the Maranhao river and the Amazon river following Pietro Coelho de Sousa, to the construction of the church of Monte Serrat (Santos) and the attempted exploration of the mouth of the Maranhao river in a warship. The latter operation did not succeed and, owing to the bad weather, the warship was blown off course and by a stroke of good luck ended up in present-day Mexico. From there, for reasons that are unclear but perhaps through shame or simply because he was nostalgic for his house in Lisbon, Baccio set sail for Europe. During the year that Baccio was in Lisbon (1608), Philip III appointed Francesco de Sousa, former governor of Brazil, as Superintendent of Mines. The latter asked Baccio to return in order to build more fortifications and to repair others. Baccio left for Brazil but never arrived. Although there is no proof, some think that because he was travelling on a warship flying an Imperial flag, he was attacked by the English and then captured and killed. Others assert more simply that his ship was sunk in a storm. One thing is certain: he completely disappeared while crossing the Atlantic.

 

Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger writes down the Legend

 

Far removed from Baccio’s Brazilian adventures, part of the da Filicaja family enjoyed the lazy life of Al Filicaja, near Montaione. It was here that Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger (the nephew of the great artist) composed the short poem “Ajone” in 1623 while staying with the da Filicaja. The poem recounts the legend of Ajone and Figline, Gambasso and Varna, Filli and the Sire della Vitella. At the end, as an expression of his gratitude, Buonarroti states that in the “palazzo” in Montaione belonging to the da Filicaja “(…)si sguazza, e mangia altro che ghiande / e d’un buon vino vi beon le pile” (you wallow in luxury, eating anything but acorns/ and drinking tankfuls of good wine).

 

The poet and the Queen. Vincenzo da Filicaja and Christina of Sweden

 

Vincenzo da Filicaja, who later became a well-known and respected poet, was born in Florence in 1642. Vincenzo lived most of life at Al Filicaja, which he jokingly called by its old-fashioned name of Figline, rather than in Florence. He composed and published his first poems in his forties. His fame also owes much to his cultural bond and friendship with Queen Christina of Sweden after she had become a catholic and was living in Rome. He distanced himself from “marinism” and showed more interest in sacred, philosophical or political subjects. Apparently in 1687 the Queen of Sweden helped the poet pay his son Braccio’s fees at “Tolomei” college. The poet’s financial circumstances were never easy because he was uncertain about accepting public office for fear of losing his freedom; Cristina was extremely generous. After Cristina’s death, Vincenzo was obliged to look for other sources of help and to arrange for his son Braccio to become a page at the Medici court. But Braccio died young and the poet decided to accept the office of senator “not because of ambition but out of need”. He was appointed Commissioner of Volterra and later Pisa. He died in Florence in 1707 from “chest pain” and was buried in the chapel of S. Giuliano in the church of S. Pier Maggiore. When the church was demolished in the late 18th century, a memorial stone was set up in the church of Santa Croce.

 

XIX Century. Vincenzo da Filicaja and Maddalena Dotti

 

In the first half of the 19th century, another Vincenzo da Filicaja married Maddalena Dotti, daughter of Conte Berardo Dotti. They had five children. One of these, Andrea (1843-1919), who appears to have been the most gifted, was left everything by his grandfather Berardo, the last descendant of the Dotti family, including his possessions, family name and title. Andrea was thereafter known as Conte Andrea da Filicaja Dotti, first Conte da Filicaja. Owing to the complex circumstances surrounding a will, which also involved an attempt to declare Maddalena Dotti incapable, and the fact that Maddalena died at the age of 107, the majority of the Dotti inheritance and that of Filicaja (all the property in S. Sepolcro, part of those in Florence and a small portion of the estate in Montaione) were removed from the appointed heir by a later inheritance and passed to one of the sons of Avvocato Geddes and Elvira da Filicaja.

 

XX Century. Conte Andrea da Filicaja Dotti and Conte Andrea Nardi-Dei da Filicaja Dotti

 

At all events, during the brief space of one man’s life while the entire estate was held by Conte Andrea da Filicaja Dotti, he made major improvements to the property in S. Sepolcro and - more importantly - to that in Montaione. The “casa colonica” (peasant house) in Morricci was built in 1889, the Villa underwent a massive refurbishment in 1903. The work included building and decorating the vaults on the “piano nobile”, adding the so-called “del Pozzo” series of rooms which were used as a private winter apartment, etc. In 1917 among other things, a dedicated telephone line was installed between the Villa and the “casa colonica” at Montanino. Conte Andrea da Filicaja Dotti, who died childless, left his entire estate (including the Tenuta Al Filicaja) and his own name to his grand-nephew Conte Andrea Nardi-Dei (1920-1993) who therefore became Conte Andrea Nardi-Dei da Filicaja Dotti.

 

Conte Alessandro Nardi-Dei

 

Between 1932 and 1944 the estate was managed by the father of Andrea’s heir, Conte Alessandro Nardi-Dei who played an active role in a number of initiatives ranging from the construction of the church of S. Cristina in Gambassi, of which he was the main benefactor, to the donation of the first motorised ambulance to Montaione and the gift, again to the municipality of Montaione, of the first cinema.

 

Today

 

The da Filicaja family is currently represented in Montaione by Count Antonio Nardi-Dei da Filicaja Dotti.

 
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