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The abbey and forest of Vallombrosa

Approximately 35 km southeast of Florence lays the Abbey of Vallombrosa surrounded by a large forest that stretches over 1279 hectares and ranges in altitude from 450 to 1450 meters above sea level.

In the 11th century a group of monks settled in these woods and founded the abbey that would become the motherhouse of the monastic order of the Vallombrosians.

Just like a fortress high walls surround the abbey and the building makes a severe impression that seems very befitting for a monastery. Entering through the main gate you’ll find the large courtyard where the monks also nowadays still keep a vegetable garden. In the old days the monks lived a very isolated life in these woods and they had to provide for their own livelihood. The forest was an important source of raw materials that also generated an income as the long tree trunks were sold to Florence for construction.

The abbey’s pharmacy is located in the courtyard; the shop sells a wide range of souvenirs from religious trinkets to soap, honey and chocolate.

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On this sunny day solely the natural light that came in through the windows and the occasional electric candle lighted the church. The chapels were shrouded in twilight and I lost my footing a couple of times because I just couldn’t see well enough. I had to let my eyes adjust to the dim lighting before I could fully admire the murals and statues. It did make it easy to imagine how things used to be before electric light was invented.

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The following notice attached to the entrance door of the church proved however that time has not completely stood still in this little corner of the world:

Although God can communicate with you in various ways … it is certain that He will not call you on your mobile!
So … turn it off! Thanks!

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The vast Forest of Vallombrosa is ideal for hiking and several well-marked routes are mapped out. There is a bar and a restaurant nearby to grab a bite to eat and the large meadow holds an area with picnic tables.

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Click on the photos for a larger view.

 

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