The town grew to its present size on the left bank of the Arno River, at the meeting point of important trade routes and was and still is an important trading and agricultural center. The original settlement, which was almost certainly a river port, used to be situated in the area that is still known as Empoli vecchio or Old Empoli. During the Middle Ages the town expanded eastwards and the core of modern Empoli is centered around the rural parish church of San Andrea.
Its first feudal lords where the Guidi counts, then it became part of the territory of Florence. After the Guelph party was defeated at Montaperti in 1260, Empoli became the headquarters of the famous Ghibelline Parliament which was supposed to decide how Tuscany was to be partitioned and governed and what the fate of Florence was to be. The latter was likely saved from destruction by the generous intervention of Farinata degli Uberti.
In 1530 it was plundered by the Imperial Spanish army despite Francesco Ferrucci’s attempts to defend the town. The heart of the town is Piazza Farinata degli Uberti, where one encounters the Ghibelline Palace restructured in the 16th century, and formerly the headquarters of the famous “parliament”, as well as the Collegiata di Sant’Andrea, or church of St. Andrew, rebuilt in 1093 in Florentine Romanesque style and further renovated in the 18th century. The original white and green marble façade with its five arches is still visible on the lower level, whereas the upper portion dates to the later renovation. The Museo della Collegiata to the right of the church contains 14th to 17th century works by Tuscan artists, including masterpieces such as the deposition by Masolino da Panicale. In Empoli one leaves the main Pisan road and climbs gradually up to Montalbano and San Baronto until one reaches Vinci.