The hill got its name from the swans that would flock there. The people of Florence called them “ceceri” from cecio meaning chickpea or wart because of the excrescence on their beaks.
Since ancient times this was a place famed for its pietra serena quarries which were exploited for stone to be used in all the important buildings in Fiesole, the Roman theatre, the Etruscan tombs, the Badia fiesolana and the Cattedrale… and in the 15th Century by the great Florence artists such as Brunelleschi, Vasari, Michelangelo and Cellini for the prestigious monuments and commonplace articles.
A wealthy tradition of artisan and artistic workmanship began to grow around pietra serena or Fiesole stone that lasted long throughout history. Indeed from the Etruscans to the Romans, from the Middle Ages to the present day the quarries were not only the place where raw material was obtained but also the school and workshop where craftsmen were trained and where continuity of every aspect of tradition was assured. A history of art, a history of social relations and of local economy and “industrial archaeology” blend together in this unique place.
This area, which has now become a historical naturalist park, counts 19 quarries (the most important being Cava Braschi, Righi and Sarti) which have been in disuse since the early 1900s and cannot be visited. However, the visitors can see the remains of a number of drystone storerooms built by the stonemasons to store their tools and the hollowed stone – rain-water drainage channels made by the masons by inserting stone diagonally into the ground.
Previously, Montececeri was wholly bereft of vegetation because of the quarrying but now is almost wholly green because of the plant replacement project begun in 1929 by the forestry commission.
Montececeri, however is not only quarries and pietra serena, but also a Leonardo da Vinci location. Indeed it was from the top of the hill that Leonardo tested his flying machine in 1506. The characteristics of the location, presuming they are unchanged since then, would have been the most suited – there is a sheer drop at the rock walls of the Sarti quarry. Leonardo mentions “Monte Ceceri” and drew the profile of the hills around Florence in sheet 20v of the Codex of Madrid II.
Legend has it that Tommaso Masini aka Zoroastro da Peretola, a pupil of Leonardo’s in Milan and Florence tested the machine as mentioned in a note by Leonardo himself in the Codex of Flight.
“Il primo grande uccello effettuerà il primo volo lanciandosi dalla cima del monte Ceceri, riempiendo l'universo di stupore e tutte le scritture della sua grande fama, donando eterna gloria ai luoghi dov'è stato concepito”.