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Colle di Val d’Elsa - `city of crystal’

  • Colle di Val d’Elsa - `city of crystal’

    Consider a visit to Colle di Val d’Elsa, an underrated medieval town 11 km north of Monteriggioni. Admire the moated bastions and medieval gateway that lead to the lovely upper town, with its curious tunnelled alleys. Then discover why Colle is dubbed `crystal city’ (città del cristallo). The town is home to Italy’s crystal industry and can cope with any design, from classic to cutting-edge, and offers intriguing insights into local history. Colle’s glassmaking industry supposedly dates back to 1331, when the town was an independent, self-governing entity. The real push came in the 17th-century, when the leading Usimbardi family re-introduced glass production in a systematic way. The town has never looked back. The glassmaking industry gradually switched to the production lead-glass crystal and, by the 19th century, Colle was dubbed the Bohemia of Italy for its crystal-making expertise. In 1820 the French glassmaker Francesco Mathis opened a crystal factory in the lower part of the village. Today, Colle di Val d’Elsa accounts for 95 percent of Italian crystal production and 15 percent of production worldwide. The first Sunday of every month you can see how glass is produced in an open-air demonstration. You might see glassmakers engraving wine goblets with intricate designs or see glass sculptures being moulded into the shape of a swan, snail, horse or fish, all made out of molten glass. The glass-making demonstration often takes place in the historical centre at via della Misericordia, close to the Cathedral, at around 3pm, but check with the tourist office.

    The Crystal Glass Museum, set in the lower town, displays a collection of handmade crystal glass from medieval times to the 20th-century and also explains the manufacturing techniques. The museum is housed underground, underneath a former glass factory, where the furnaces were once sited. Known as the Museo del Cristallo, the museum is closed for refurbishment until early 2019 but in the meantime some of the collection is still on display elsewhere in town. See some of the star exhibits in the Museo San Pietro (on 102 via Gracco del Secco 102) and in the Palazzo dei Priori (33 via del Castello).  After learning a bit about the story of crystal, call into local shops to buy some glassware of your own.

    Address: Museo del Cristallo
    Via dei Fossi 8A
    Colle di Val d'Elsa
    Tel: 0577 924135

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