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Loggiata del Madonna del Pozzo, Empoli

The tower of Santa Brigida, Empoli

Fontana del Pampaloni, Empoli
















Welcome to Empoli
from Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population:  44,012 (2001)
Official website: Empoli
Wikipedia: Empoli

Empoli is an interesting mid-sized Tuscan town about 35 kilometers southwest of Florence sitting in a plain just a little south of the Arno River.  In pre-Roman and Roman times a tributary of the Arno used to flow through the city, but it has long since dried-up.  The river system was used for trade of agricultural products, ceramics (mostly amphorae) and the colored glassware and fine crystal for which Empoli was - and remains - famous.

Important roads also passed through Empoli, including the via Quinctia connecting Florence, Fiesole and Pisa, and the via Salaiola which connected to Volterra and the salt mills located there.

The city was walled during post Roman times, but the walls were destroyed in 1333 when the Arno overflowed.  These were quickly rebuilt, but in the latter part of the 15th century, a wider circle of walls were built to accommodate the growing town.

Empoli and the surrounding area were undoubtedly settled long before the rise of the Roman Empire, possibly by the Etruscans, but the first mention of Empoli in historical documents refers only to an 8th century castle, known as the Emporium or Empolis, dating to the 8th century. The next extant records refer to Empoli in 1119 AD as a town organized around the parish church of Chiesa Sant'Andrea, now the Collegiata. By then Empoli was within the lands controlled by the powerful Guidi family. 

In 1182 the town came under Florentine rule, where it remained until 1530, when the Florentine Republic lost its independence.  However, during that 400 year period, when Empoli became an important  Florentine fortress town, Empoli was repeatedly sacked by Florence's many enemies, the worst occurring in 1530, despite the heroic resistance of the Empolese.

The city was taken by French forces under Napoleon in 1777, but the French were forced-out during the revolt of the Viva Maria in 1799.  The independent-minded Empolese were bloodily repressed by the Fascists under Mussolini, particularly in 1921.  The town was bombed by the Allies in December 1943 and a few months later, in July 1944, the Nazis shot 100 Empolese, a reprisal against the  persistent underground resistance that took root there. By the end of the war, the town was in ruins, but the citizens quickly put things right.

When you visit Empoli, we recommend you start your exploration in the Piazza Farinata degli Uberti, where, along with the other principal medieval buildings, you will find the Collegiata  di Sant'Andrea, the Palazza Ghibellino, built by the Guidi counts in the 11th century and totally rebuilt in the 16th, and the Pallazo Pretorio, which up until modern times served as Empoli's town hall. The Palazzo Ghibellino now houses an auditorium and the Museo Paleontologico (Paleonotolgy Museum) and the Archivo Storico (Historical archives).

The original church that is now the Collegiata Sant'Andrea was likely built during the 5th century.  It was rebuilt in the 11th century and sometime during the 12th century, its current facade was added.  The facade of dark green and white marble that exemplifies the particular Romanesque style of nearby Florence, where it manifest in such buildings as the Chiesa San Miniato.  The Collegiata underwent further major renovation in 1735 at the hands of Ferdinando Ruggeri.  Inside you will find paintings by Francesco Botticini and Lorenzo di Bicci, and sculptural and carving works by Luca Della Robbia and Zanobi del Rosso.  The building was badly damaged by Allied bombing in World War 11, but it has been fully restored.

Next to the Collegiata is an important ecclesiastical museum, created in 1859.  Upstairs is a gallery with works arranged in chronological order.  The earliest is dates from 1336 and the latest is 17th century.  Most importantly, there are paintings by Filippo Lippi and Della Robbia.

In the Piazza itself is an interesting marble fountain, the Fontana del Leoni, built in 1827 by Luigi Pampaloni, with lions at the four corners of its lower basin, and a trio of naked maidens supporting the upper basin.

Not far from the Piazza is the Chiesa di Santo Stefano, dating to the very late 14th century.  Adjacent to the church is a 16th century convent, the Convento degli Agostiniani.  Inside the church, there are important frescoes and paintings by Masolino da Panicale, and a marble statue of the Annunciation by Bernardo Rossellino.

Empoli's other museum of note, near Chiesa San Stefano, is dedicated to the Italian musician Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) who was born in Empoli.  The museum, the Casa Natale Ferruccio Bussoni also houses a study center dedicated in his name.

If you travel to Empoli, make time for a stop in the nearby village of Pontorme, birth place of the painter Jacopo Carrucci, known as Il Pontormo.  The parish church, Chiesa San Michelle contains two very good paintings, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Michael the Archangel.  Close by is the Chiesa Santo Martini, with its semi-circular Romanesque apse and stone and brick facade.

Travelers, especially those who find the hill towns difficult, will enjoy the centro storico - historical center - of "old" Empoli, but it is also a modern Italian town with the usual assortment of businesses, light industrial establishments, apartment buildings, and modern houses.  There are good hotels, restaurants, parks, and other amenities.

Empoli is a good place to make a base camp from which one can visit Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Volterra, and of course, the birth place of Leonardo, the town of Vinci.

by Vian Andrews, December 31st, 2005

Region of Tuscany

4343′N 1057′E
Alt: 28 meters


By car: 35 km southwest of Florence. By train:  Empoli is on the main railway line from Florence to Pisa, and is the point of divergence of a line to Siena





Coat of Arms, Empoli

Collegiata di San Andrea, Empoli

Empoli is home town to the Empoli Football Club, a Series A team,  enthusiastically supported by the soccer-mad Empolese.
Farinata degli Uberti was a 13th century Italian aristocrat who supported the Ghibelline's against the Guelph forces ensconced in Florence.  In 1260, at the Battle of Montaperti near Empoli, the Ghibellines defeated the Guelphs.  A council of victors was held in Empoli where, but for Farinata's opposition, a decision would have been made to destroy Florence.  Farinata declared himself a Florentine first, a Ghibelline second.  For more see Wikipedia.