The History of Borgo di Colleoli
di Colleoli (meaning village of the hill of olives) is a hilltop
medieval estate close to Palaia in the Valdera
region of Tuscany, Italy. The village’s location affords
beautiful views across the hills, vineyards and olive groves in
a region famed for its varied landscape.
The Agostini Family
For most of its history (around 400 years) Borgo di Colleoli was owned
By a well known aristocratic Pisan family called Agostini Fantini Venerosi
Della Seta (I will refer to them from now on as the Agostini family for
brevity). Borgo di Colleoli was one of the numerous properties that they
owned in the countryside of Colleoli.
The first reference to the Agostini family in local records shows that
they have occupied their position in public life since 1461. They were
very much involved in the economic resurgence of Pisa in the 16th and
17th centuries when they dedicated themselves to the sale of cloths, fabrics
and valuable yarns from Italy to Fiandre. In the 16th century they managed
the firm inherited by Cosimo Fantini in order to produce silk, an industry
that greatly flourished in Pisa.
di Colleoli Estate
Originally a small farmhouse with outbuildings, the village’s use
has changed over the centuries, moving away from solely agricultural to
more recreational purposes. This has involved several refurbishments,
upgrades, building and extensions at different points over the years.
It is probable that the estate’s land was purchased in 1424 by
the Agostini family and that construction began on the first building(s)
around this time. The Agostini crest above the front door of the Palazzo
shows the date 1494 and it is probable that this date refers to the year
the main building was completed and registered.
The Palazzo building is the borgo’s luxury hotel and restaurant
The Palazzo building is characterized by an elegant sobriety, with an
underlined serried and regular sequence of windows.
The main home on the estate, where the Palazzo now stands, would have
originally been far less grand that the current building, probably originally
built as a small farmhouse. The Agostini family did not originally live
on the estate but would have hired a farmer and his family to tend the
olive groves and vineyards and to produce the wine and olive oil. In addition
to the farmer’s family residence, the farmhouse would also have
served as a shop where locals would come to buy the farm’s produce.
The estate of Colleoli
has a marked practical and functional feature which is similar to the
mostly rustic styles of the villas of Valdera.
During the Middle Ages many castles, fortresses and monasteries were in
the hills, with a privileged location, “…organizing
structures of the territory bound to countryside by economical relations
of feudal kind which are maintained transferring the potential aggregation
of a so often fragmented land property. Their conversion is gradually
fulfilled between the end of the 15th century…”
During the 17th and 18th centuries a number of changes are made to the
Palazzo building. At this time it is not only used as base of a productive
centre, but also as a summer holiday home for the family. Renovation and
extension projects in the villa were undertaken around this time to improve
the comfort and beauty of the accommodation. This transformed the original
rustic construction to a more elaborate, palatial style with frescoed
walls and ceilings. It was mostly in 1785 that, thanks to Guiseppe Muzzi,
the concept of elegance was introduced on the architecture of the rural
houses, even though it was based on the “simple beauty which consists
in the proportion and harmony of the parts”.
At the end of the 18th century extension works were carried out and the
Palazzo was renovated again modifying the original design and renovated
to include rich decors. In 1882 an extension was completed to the west
side of the building creating the ‘L’ shape the building has
basement of Palazzo, with arched roof, records the awards won internationally
for the estate’s olive oil. Dates, locations and awards won are
stencilled into the ceiling beginning with Dublin in 1865 and ending with
Paris in 1985. Other locations where they won awards include Milan, Liverpool,
Philadelphia and Melbourne. It is interesting to note that these dates
coincide with major extension and renovation work being carried out on
The main entrance hall with barrel vaults, which gives access to difference
rooms, is decorated with 19th century monochromatic geometrical motifs
and coats of arms of the Agostini family’s women.
All the rooms in the Palazzo contain original frescoes on the walls and
The Centro Aziendale includes apartments and the enoteca
Centro aziendale is located to the right of the villa. The far end of
the centro aziendale would originally have been used as store rooms and
stables for the farm. The end closest to the Palazzo still contains the
vats used to store the wine that was produced on the estate. A wing to
house farm staff was added in the mid 19th century.
The centro aziendale is composed of three floors, including the ground
floor, and of a lower one with “L” shape. Nowadays it is entirely
crowned by a brick balustrade with lengthened hexagonal openings.
The estate/farms other buildings have been converted to apartments.
Small rustic buildings and wide holdings, where vines and olive trees
were cultivated, surround the Palazzo building. It was only in 1847 that
the main part of the farm and stable were built, close to the pre-existing
Buildings in this part of the estate include the Olivaio (olive oil storage),
Granaio (grain storage – granary) and a cattle and tool shed.
From the large square of the farm, going through an avenue of lime trees
lies the estate’s chapel, with a nave and two small side aisles.
The front represents the most conventional canons of a neoclassical architecture.
The family coat of arms is found on the front façade of the chapel.
Inside it there are four other coats of arms representing further relationships
established with noble families over the centuries.
Originally just one large room, the Gatehouse was used as a school for
some of the 20th century.
The predominant rustic feature of the property is underlined by the absence
of a garden. While the entire property has been renovated, the field around,
because of the steep slope, was not converted to gardens as normally happened
in the Renaissance villas. The agricultural field had never been converted
to landscape park, thanks also to the excellent output of the olive oil
the owners had always succeeded in getting.
After the Agostini Family
At the end of the 19th century the ownership of the property passed, after
500 years, to the Ogna family. After a further several passing of the
titles, the last owners used it as a tourist and hunting farm.
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