Mulino Camillino

Balenaia is the name of the river Vincio at its highest part, the one that descends from the ridge of Montalbano toward the town of Vinci. The valley of the gorge of Balenaia is characterized by the presence of numerous mills fed by millraces exploiting that stream and that date back, in some cases, to the time of Leonardo. This area was certainly very well known by Leonardo: the Rio Balenaia, in fact, runs along the elevations of Santa Lucia and Anchiano, where the da Vinci family owned several properties. The most striking part of this environment, where the industrial works were integrated perfectly into the water system feeding them, is located just upstream from Anchiano. It can be easily reached by taking the road that leads from the Birth House of Leonardo to the molino Baldassini (Baldassini Mill), one of the most beautiful of the mills, where a path begins in the greenery of the Balenaia gorge, called the Via dei Mulini (Road of the Mills). Or, choosing a second route, the Sentiero di Balenaia (Balenaia Path), we can admire the mills fed by the waters of the Rio di Balenaia, when it arrives farther downstream, to the west of the castle of Vinci. Among these, the molino di bonifazio (Bonifazio Mill, today, the Burra farm) that formerly belonged to the Florentine hospital of San Bonifacio

Along the path that continues into the gorge of Balenaia, there are several mills that are still quite recognizable in their general layout, even if they have parts that have deteriorated or definitively collapsed, and are sometimes covered by vegetation. In general, the structures of the basement area are very well preserved, where the mechanism was located for transformation of the water force into mechanical energy. The water, harnessed upstream from the mill, arrived with force into the lower room through a conduit called La Doccia (the term refers to an inclined channel for the rapid descent of the waters to set in motion the blades of a mill wheel, and in fact, this also describes the geographical conformation thus named) where it actuated the blades of the horizontally positioned mill wheel, with its vertical mast hinged at the ceiling. The rotary motion of the mill wheel was thus transferred to the stone mill that was located on the upper floor. This was the grinding space (for grains or chestnuts) for producing flour. The water that operated the mill wheel then emerged from the mill structure through large arched openings, such as very often can be seen on the facades of mills depicted in historical maps. The number of water outlet openings corresponds to the number of mechanisms for transmission of motion, and therefore to the number of milling mechanisms inside the mill works. In some cases, archival research and historical cartography analysis has made it possible to identify the name of the mill (toponym or name of property) and a general dating of the structure.
One of the oldest and best preserved mills is the Baldassini Mill, consisting of three buildings, with the first along the Via dei Mulini, not far from Leonardo's Birth House in Anchiano. In addition to the mill, there was probably also an oil press and service rooms for the miller. On the surface of one of the corner blocks of the building next to the access road, we can read perfectly the date engraved, 1581, and the name of the owner, Baldassini. The name on the corner block, in all likelihood, indicates the identity of the person commissioning the factory. This family also owned other properties in the area, as can be seen in one of the maps of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa, showing the western slope of the Balenaia gorge, with three mills not far from each other. The largest, where we can distinctly read mulino dei Baldassini (Mill of the Baldassini), is fed by the water from a millrace, water that then comes out of the plant through two large arches that are very easily recognizable on the main facade of the architectural complex. The map of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa is almost contemporaneous with the date engraved on the mill stone, and represents a sort of 'snapshot' of that corner of the Balenaia gorge around the end of the 16th century.
The first is located at the first crossing of the Via dei Mulini. The arched opening for the outlet of water from the mill wheel space is perfectly preserved. The next hydraulic works, the Camillino Mill, has recently been the subject of a restoration project rendering the various components visible. The elements of the main building, consisting of the millstone room on the upper floor and the vaulted room that housed the horizontal mill wheel on the lower floor, are well preserved and recognizable. On the back side the stone structure of the mill pond is preserved: the reservoir for collection of water fed by the millrace. A staircase external to the wall of the mill pond, still partly preserved, allowed access to the large basin for regulating the flow of water.
The source of the Rio di Balenaia, which in the highest part, already in the 16th century, was called acqua santa (holy water), flowed near the ridge of Montalbano, just below the tower of Sant'Alluccio, depicted by Leonardo on map RLW 12685. The first part of Acqua Santa, with its springs, and the tower of Sant'Alluccio, were incorporated during the early 17th century to a point interior to the perimeter of the Barco Reale, the Medici estate that occupied a large sector of Montalbano. The two mills of the deepest part of the ravine of the Rio Balenaia-Acqua Santa, at the end of the Via dei Mulini, are located inside the Barco Reale: a passage through the wall that delimited the vast estate allows access to the two 17th-century waterworks: the Nannini mill—which in the pages of the 19th-century land registry was called the mulino del Barco (Mill of the Reserve)—and the mulino dei Poveri (the Mill of the Poor).
Along the asphalted road that leads from Leonardo’s Birth House at Anchiano to the beginning of the Via dei Mulini, there is another very well preserved building, also referred to at the end of the 16th century. It is perfectly recognizable in the map of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa, where it is registered as molino dei Bellocci (Mill of the Bellocci). This family name also appears beside the drawings of several of the farms on the 16th-century map. This also was fed by the Rio di Balenaia, which continued toward the valley under the name Vincio.
The middle part of the Rio di Balenaia-Vincio can be visited along the Balenaia Path. On the course of the Vincio at the end of the 16th century, there were many mills, some of which are indicated on the 16th century map in connection with the name of the Florentine family Ridolfi. At that time the Ridolfi also owned the Mill of La Doccia of the castle of Vinci, which Leonardo would depict on one of the folios of the Codex Atlanticus, and the village tavern-butcher shop, near the Androne Ciofi, which would be rented by Giovanni di ser Piero da Vinci, the youngest of Leonardo's half-brothers.
Among the mills of the Ridolfi fed by the waters of the Vincio depicted by the Capitani di Parte Guelfa, we see one indicated as molino di bonifacio (Bonifacio Mill), which belonged to the Florentine Hospital of San Bonifacio. At the end of the 16th century, it was registered as "Hospital of Bonifazio on the Rio of Acqua Santa, the place called Il Burro". Through the toponym Burro/Burra, which at the end of the 16th century, indicated the locality of the mill of San Bonifacio, it is possible to identify this factory works as the beautiful complex represented in a 17th century registry for the Florentine Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. The 17th-century mill of La Burra was accessed through a vaulted passage that overlooked the farmyard. Here an external staircase led to what appears to be the residential part of the complex. The actual mill was located in the adjacent building, the tallest. On the upper floor of the "turret", the mill room must have been located, while the waterwheel was below, where we can see the water outlet channel. The beautiful 17th-century drawing shows the details of the water intake on the Vincio, the path of the millrace that fed two delightful artificial lakes surrounded by vegetation at the back of the complex. The two lakes communicated through a small narrow channel of water, surmounted by a bridge, behind the mill, from which the local road started, leading to the Costareccia farm, in the community of Santa Maria a Orbignano, one of Leonardo's family’s farms. What was, during Leonardo’s time, probably the molino di bonifacio has now been restructured and entirely transformed as a private home. It can be seen along the Balenaia Path.
Texts by
Silvia Leporatti / English translation by John Venerella