For Impruneta, the art of terracotta is both an important heritage of great value and a primary element of its cultural identity. In this territory, the so-called cotto-civilisation has affirmed itself and, even today, it plays an active and vital role. In these last years, the activity has been diversified and specialised in two ways:
• The industrial way: with the manufacturing of high-quality brick pavements both for houses and buildings and with innovative and highly technological productions such as curtain walls, new materials for cladding (in which clay is melted with particular resins) and natural quartzes.
• The artisan way: using hand-manufacturing techniques following the tradition for “orci” (pitcher), earthenware and ornamental pieces.
The success of terracotta, in this area, is primarily due to the presence of a particular kind of clay (which guarantees positive results), the abundance of wood (that once provided the combustible for the furnaces), and the favourable geographical position of the town, which is situated on the road network which links Florence, Arezzo and Siena.
A pivotal document in the history of the kiln owners is the one dated the 23rd of March 1308 (Florentine Style): at that time orciolai e mezzinai were united in a single corporation which had the duty of protecting and regulating the production and the quality of an already thriving handicraft.
The act stipulated by the notary Benintendi di Guittone da Santa Maria Impruneta, tells us that the corporation was made of 23 members, of whom the majority (11) came from the populi plebis Sancte Marie Impinete. Since then, the production of cotto has continued over the centuries and, with the passing of time, a dynasty of kiln owners has been formed.
A visit to the furnaces enables us to take a closer look at the phases of the production process in which the four primary elements are combined: earth, air, fire and water. The route enables the visitor to become familiar with the sites of production and to observe the numerous cotto objects in the territory. Together with the traditional products, new ones can be observed. These are the results of constant research, to be used by architects such as Mario Botta, Aldo Rossi and Renzo Piano in new architectural and urban landscapes all over the world.