“Villa di Meleto” – a locale steeped in history
Villa di Meleto is a historic nobleman’s estate acquired by the House of Ridolfi in 1569, and it remains in the possession of the family even to this day. It became famous through marquess Cosimo Ridolfi (1794-1865), one of the leading figures of the “Risorgimento” (Resurgence) unification movement in Tuscany in the 19th century. He was a member of numerous societies and academic circles, was minister of state during the revolution of 1848 and, from 1859 to 1860, Tuscany’s foreign minister.
In 1834, Cosimo Ridolfi founded Italy’s first agricultural institute at his country estate Meleto. Agricultural innovations, in terms of new equipment and methods of cultivation, were researched, tested and promoted here. Up to 30 students were enrolled in the “Scuola Agraria di Meleto” (Agricultural School of Meleto), where they could obtain a degree in theoretically and practically oriented modern agricultural studies. In 1840 the agrarian institute was relocated to the University of Pisa. There, Cosimo Ridolfi was appointed to the first professorship for agricultural sciences in Italy.
It was in Meleto in the 1820s that Cosimo Ridolfi and his estate overseer Agostino Testaferrata invented a new irrigation method, the so-called “sistemazione a spina”. It involves a systems of canals that prevent the erosion of the hilly ground and evenly distribute water over the fertile soil. The name ? “sistemazione a spina” ? is derived from the herringbone pattern that can be recognised in the hills from afar. An example of “sistemazione a spina” has been restored in Meleto and can be seen there (see the picture below).
Between 1837 and 1853 agricultural conferences were held regularly in Meleto, which were attended by large, medium-sized and small property owners and academics from the region. New agricultural equipment and machinery were presented, speeches were held on new methods of cultivation and exhibitions of agricultural products were organised. For one thing, these conferences contributed to ensuring that new agricultural knowledge was put into practise. For another, they served the purpose of maintaining social harmony and stability in Tuscany.