Vallombrosa is a Benedictine abbey in the comune of Reggello (Tuscany, Italy), c. 30 km south-east of Florence, in the Apennines, surrounded by forests of beech and firs. It was founded by Giovanni Gualberto, a Florentine noble, in 1038 and became the mother house of the Vallumbrosan Order.
It was extended around 1450, reaching its current aspect at the end of the 15th century. In 1529, after the looting of Charles V, the east tower was built, in the 17th century followed the wall and in the 18th century the fishing ponds. Today, the monastery is open for tourists and is selling local produce.
On the 7th October 1096, Pope Urban II addressed the congregation of Vallombrosa, imploring the religious amongst them to support the cause for a crusade to the Holy Land. In particular in this sermon, he cited the need for knights, who could "restore the Christians to their former freedom"1
Largely because of his poetic reference to the 'autumnal leaves that strow the brooks, in Vallombrosa' in Paradise Lost, John Milton is supposed to have visited the monastery and, according to a plaque erected during the Fascist era, actually stayed there. Though this is unlikely, the notion that he did so encouraged many later travellers to visit the place, including William Beckford, JR Cozens, William Wordsworth, Crabb Robinson, Frances Trollope, Mary Shelley and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Partly thanks to the influence of the pioneering American ecologist and author of the 1864 Man and Nature, George P Marsh, the Istituto Superiore Forestale Nazionale was founded in the secularized monastery in 1867.
1see Riley-Smith, L&J: The Crusades: Idea and Reality (Edward Arnold Pub. Ltd, London, 1981)p39.
- Edward Chaney, 'Milton's Visit to Vallombrosa', The Evolution of the Grand Tour, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2000).
- David Lowenthal, George Perkins Marsh (Seattle and London, 2000).
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William Wetmore Story, 'Vallombrosa', Firenze: Clinamen, 2002.