Leonardo's mills

Leonardo's mills

Near Vinci there still stands a building known as Mulino della Doccia (Mill of La Doccia). It is right here, in his native village, that Leonardo had observed the operation of that hydraulic factory, depicting it on a famous map in the Codex Atlanticus. Leonardo's studies on the calculation of forces deriving from water were based largely on experience. On the hills around Vinci, a landscape familiar to the young Leonardo, there were a great number of mills powered by the rivers that flowed down from Montalbano. Some of these date back to the 16th century and are preserved even today.

  • What distinguishes the figure of Leonardo as a man of science is surely the outstanding empirical character of his knowledge. One of his papers linking him to the years of his early youthful experience in Vinci is one on which he explicitly mentions the Mill of La Doccia di Vinci, alongside sketches of mechanisms for a water wheel. The place where the ancient mill mentioned by Leonardo stood still exists along the road that goes up from Vinci to Anchiano. A little further upstream is the well-preserved weir of the mill, in masonry terraced with steps, which recalls constructed items of the same type drawn by Leonardo.

  • At the edge of the current Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, the ancient platea (courtyard) of the castle village, stood the municipal mill of Vinci. In 1478 Leonardo was called upon by his family to attend the official act of granting the public mill in perpetuity to the da Vinci family, with the proviso of increasing its value through improvements. In fact, this mill is represented in a late 16th-century map, together with a second works, alongside the village osteria and the millrace derived from the waters of Rio della Querceta. Some ruins of the millrace system are still partially visible nearby the ancient ditch used for drainage discharge.

  • Leonardo must have known well the many mills clustered in his time along the streams descending from the slopes of Montalbano. Today one of the valleys that best represents the mill-working landscape during Leonardo's time is the Forra di Balenaia, also called the Vallebuia, where very well-preserved structures from the 16th and 17th centuries can be found immersed in their suggestive natural environment. Near Vinci, in the 16th century, stood the mill of the Florentine hospital of San Bonifacio, later called the mill of the Burra, now transformed into a dwelling. From this mill, during Leonardo’s time, one could climb up to the Costareccia farm, one of the major properties of his family.

  • Leonardo must have known well the many mills that dotted the streams of Montalbano that descended toward the castle of Vinci. Rio della Querceta, for example, flowed through the lands of the communities of Faltognano, Paterno, and Santa Croce, where Leonardo’s family owned several farms. Among the mills powered by the waters of Rio della Querceta, there was also the so-called Mulino del Gatto, just above the house at Anchiano, in the place that today bears the same name. The waters of this stream were also used to power the Vinci castle mills, through a weir intake and a conduit hundreds of meters long, still partly visible.