If you love a good castle, don’t leave Tuscany without visiting Lari. This quiet little town in the province of Pisa is known for its imposing castle that has been standing in this privileged position above the Arno Valley since early Medieval times. This impressive fortress is well worth a visit both for its historical significance, and for its commanding view of the countryside from the ramparts.
Lari Castle – Castello dei Vicari, Lari
To walk up to the Castello dei Vicari, you pass a Medieval gate and carry on along ancient narrow streets. Once you get to the top, the castle’s courtyard will welcome you with spectacular views over the surrounding valley, where on a clear day you can see the sea in the distance. You get a real sense of how this fortress dominated the whole territory at a time where its main purpose was defensive.
Lari was in fact the main Florentine presidio after Florence overcame Pisa in 1406. It became the seat of the Vicari, or governors, Florentine nobles that came to live and rule here in the Arno valley. You’ll see their stone coat of arms in the beautiful courtyard, and you might recognise the the Medici family crest too. Their ‘stemma‘ can be seen all over Florence and other Tuscan towns. It has 6 balls that originally would have been coloured, 5 red and 1 blue one above.
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What to see – exploring the interior
In the main hall, Sala Leopoldo, there’s a big Florentine iris, another symbol of Florentine power, frescoed on the wall, and the Strozzi family’s coat of arms.
The rest of the interior has been used as a courthouse and prisons for centuries, but has been heavily renovated during the last century. The prison cells are quite impressive, their walls marked with the prisoners’ writing and the hard stone used as beds. These rooms occupy the northern part of the building, purposely so that the cold would really get into them. The small windows above give a glimpse of the sky but could be closed completely to keep the prisoners in total darkness.
You can visit the eerily named “sala dei tormenti” (room of torments) where, as the informative audio-guide explains, torture used to take place. It’s reassuring to know that only a “soft” version of torture was used and that the confession given under torture was not enough to condemn the accused, but needed to be repeated afterwards to be valid. Despite all of this, the ghost of a young boy killed by the fascists in 1922 is said to haunt these rooms.
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Why is it called Castello dei Vicari?
When it fell into Florentine hands in 1406 the place was given a serious face lift. Since then lots of noble families have called it home, among them the Medici, Pitti and Strozzi. It’s official name is Castello dei Vicari. The name comes from the Vicari – or Florentine governors – who vicariously represented local power in the area.
When is it open
Lari is 35 kilometres south of Pisa.
Opening times: From 1st Jan to 31st Mar (and from 1st Nov to 31st Dec): sat and sun from 10:30am – 12:30pm and 3pm-6pm
From 1st Apr to 14th Jun: mon-fri 3:30pm-7pm / sat and sun 10:30am-12:30pm and 3pm-7pm
From 15th Jun to 30th Sep: every day 10:15am-12:45pm and 3pm-7pm
From 1st to 31st October: mon to fri 3pm-6pm, sat and sun 10:30am-12:30pm and 3pm-6pm
Don’t miss – Artisan pasta in Lari
On a more comforting note, Lari is also an important centre for pasta production. Take a look at the Pastificio Martelli.
Every year the last weekend of May sees the ‘Sagra delle ciliegie’ – Cherry Festival, when the town is awash with local, freshly picked cherries.
NEARBY: Visit the spa town of Casciana Terme, a quiet and relaxing small town known for its thermal waters, located 14 Kilometres south of Lari.