The floodgates were ordered by Francis Stephen of Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and built in 1757 on a project by Leonardo Ximenes, mathematician and hydraulic and civil engineer, a scientist attentive and respectful of the ecosystem and of the hydrogeological nature of the area.
The purpose of the floodgates was to regulate the flow into the river Arno of the waters of Lake Bientina, the largest natural basin in Tuscany, through the canal Serezza Vecchia and the Imperial Canal, built by Ximenes himself. Two sluices enabled boats to pass near the floodgates in order to permit the continuous navigation of the Imperial Canal. In 1859 the lake was drained and turned into a new artificial emissary canal, still in function, flowing under the river Arno thanks to an underground tunnel.
These floodgates are the last vestige of the hydrogeological history of the area between Lucca and Pisa and of the reclamation of Lake Bientina, at the slopes of Mount Pisano.
The house built over the floodgates, called “Ex Casello Idraulico -Palazzo Ducale”, has a rectangular plan and three levels above ground. It has a vertical structure in brickwork and a wooden horizontal structure. It also has a fenced backyard with one part, the former water tank, located below street level.
The former house of the floodgates, named “Casello Idraulico-Palazzo Ducale” was built around the year 1760. It has a rectangular plan and three levels above ground. The front of the building is plastered and embellished with cornices and other raised elements like the grand-ducal coat of arms at the centre of the façade.
Three different elements make up the compound:
According to the building’s layout there is only one access for both buildings, from the backyard. On the west side of the building, along the street named Via dei Mezzi, there is the access to the former inspection and manoeuvre rooms of the floodgates, divided by large arches supporting the overhead floor and the huge oak-wooden hydraulic mechanism of the sluices. The original windows and the cracks of the sluices’ portals on the floor have been walled up. The rooms’ floor is paved with stone slabs, the wooden windows have shutters, the high soffits put in evidence the beautiful load-bearing wooden structure. This is the most characteristic part of the building and a unique historical and scientific testimony to the Italian high hydraulic engineering of that time.
On the back façade, reachable by a steep staircase, there is the independent access to the first floor and attic, which housed the apartment for the floodgates’ watchman and his family and later for the guard of the river Arno until year 1990.
With decree n 72 dated 26th February 2013 the Ximenian Floodgates have been declared of historical and artistic interest according to article 10, subparagraph 1, of the Legislative Decree n 42 dated 22nd January 2004. Therefore the compound is protected and any project must be agreed upon and authorized by the Superintendence.
The compound has not been subject to any maintenance for decades, except for a few little works like cutting the vegetation, removing the pigeon’s guano, shutting the windows and refurbishing of some parts of the roof and of the eaves, so it is in disrepair. It needs a massive conservative restoration or building renovation and all the projects will need the Superintendence’s authorization.
The compound is in the municipality of Vicopisano (PI), along Via Due Ponti on the corner with Via dei Mezzi, in the hamlet San Giovanni Alla Vena, about 3 km south-east of Vicopisano. Via Due Ponti, the most ancient and important street in the municipality, is located between Mount Pisano and the river Arno and owes its name to the bridges built on two artificial canals, the canal Serezza and the Imperial Canal, which carried the water from the lake into the river Arno.
Obligatory passage point between Florence and Pisa in former times, it appears in the maps already in the 15th century with the name Riparotti. Its history is bound to pottery, for which it was famous already in the 16th century. Due to the lack of arable land, in fact, the inhabitants had to search for a different livelihood and found it in the ceramic or “red earth”. Recently the hamlet of San Giovanni Alla Vena has experienced an increase in the population thanks to the many public and private facilities in the area, like schools, medical and veterinary practises, post office, police station, banks, convenience stores, lawyers, church. The estate is indeed part of an area with designated use services and public facilities.