Situated between Florence and Siena and near the hamlet of Barberino Val D’Elsa, Semifonte was a fortified city which was raised to the ground by the Florentine army at the end of the twelfth century.
Although situated on top of a hill, Semifonte had a plentiful source of water and hence the name which in Latin means “source of water on top of a hill”. The castle of Semifonte and then the city were founded around 1177 by Count Alberto Alberti IV who became the strongest power in the Elsa Valley and established a stronghold in the area.
This new power was immediately frowned upon by the Florentine Republic, which did not want a potential ally of Siena on its doorstep. It therefore started attacking Semifionte and eventually manged to defeat it after twenty years. In 1202, Semifonte, after a siege that began in 1198, was defeated, conquered and completely destroyed by Florentine troops and the city was raised to the ground. Some of the stones at the entrance of the medieval town of Barberino Val d’Elsa are said to have been transported from Semifonte after it was destroyed.
After the destruction, Florence decreed that hill should never to be built on again and amazingly to date this ban has been observed. This is with the exception of the Chapel of San Michele, built in 1597 on the hill top to commemorate the existence of the city. The chapel was designed by Santi di Tito and is modelled on the Cupola in Florence.
The best view of Semifonte is from Villa 3 Colli, which is situated on the hill opposite. During the siege of Semifonte, Florentine soldiers camped on this hill for 4 years and you may be able to find remnants of their stay with a little bit of patient metal detecting work.
The hill which is was Semifonte is now a beautiful and peaccefull area covered by woods, vineyards and olive groves. Staying at Villa 3 Colli we got a sense of the past.