With so many museums to visit in Florence—from the famous art galleries to cultural institutions, gardens, villas, chapels and historic homes—one might be forgiven for not venturing beyond the city limits. And yet, each town or city in Tuscany has a space devoted to something unique, something its people are proud of, something that helps them tell their story. One of the most innovative and exciting of these regional museums is the Museo della Lana in the small town of Stia, in the Casentino valley, province of Arezzo. Housed in a former wool mill built in 1838 that once produced the iconic fabric known as ‘panno Casentino,’ the museum tells the story of the valley’s people, their industriousness and creativity.
The mill—which ceased production in the 1990s—opened as a museum in 2010. It not only illustrates the importance of the textile industry for the area but it invites visitors to imagine how a mill operated.
The renovated space has been artfully planned so that visitors start their tour on the upper floors and walk their way down ramps and staircases back towards the entrance and shop. One of the first rooms holds a vast collection of looms dating back to the seventeenth century. Panels with clear, well-translated texts are minimally invasive and highly effective. In a hall filled with huge carding machines, baskets of wool by their side, visitors can press buttons to experience the deafening sounds the machines once made. Another area houses two jacquard looms, mechanical masterpieces first used in the early nineteenth century, their rolls of punched and coded cards reflecting early automation of another era.
There is even a collection of the equipment used to repair the machines. A large, bright studio space for visiting children sits in the middle of the museum. Here, kids can see how it all works by doing their own weaving on tabletop looms. The museum is owned and operated by the Lombard Foundation, which oversaw the extensive renovation of the mill, and museum director Andrea Gori, a textile historian who also runs the education department at Florence’s Galileo Museum, has worked hard to make the Lombard Foundation’s vision a reality. Mild-mannered but dynamic, he is proud of the museum's visitor numbers and is hopeful for its future. He’d like to make use of some of the additional spaces in the mill for education and outreach, possibly for an arts program.
As Gori takes steps in that direction, he organizes temporary exhibits that bring an international, culturally dynamic feel to the museum. For example, an exhibit of a wide range of nineteenth-century tradesmen’s bicycles is currently installed on the top floor, under a roof of skylights. From July 4 to October 18, the museum will showcase the textile designs of Alice Stransky, an American designer from the Czech Republic who created fabric for stylists such as Dior, Balmain and Judith Leiber. In September, the museum will offer exhibition space in another wing to blacksmiths taking part in the Biennial International Forging Competition. The museum also offers special full-day workshops such as a recent one on making tapestry.
Via Sartori, 2, Stia (AR)
Open Tuesday–Sunday; 3 euro; guided visits available.
Lunch suggestion: Da Filetto in piazza Tanucci in Stia
Also worth visiting in and near Stia:
Santa Maria della Assunta in Piazza Tanucci (its Baroque exterior hides beautiful Romanesque interiors)
the Casentino National Forest
the castles of Porciano, Romena and Poppi
the Sanctuary of La Verna