Montalcino is an Italian town of 5.920 inhabitants in the province of Siena in Tuscany. By territorial extension, it appears to be the largest municipality in the province, the 5th in the region and the 36th nationally.
It is a place known for the production of Brunello wine. It is located in the territory north-west of Monte Amiata, at the end of the Val d’Orcia, on the administrative border with the province of Grosseto.
The medieval village of Montalcino, located on a hill at the end of the Val d’Orcia and 37 kilometers away from Montepulciano.
The visit of Montalcino can start from its fortified walls, since this village was the last bastion of the Republic of Siena in the 16th century, by virtue of the 4 km of city walls, thirteen towers and six gates to access the city.
The Rocca di Montalcino is today the privileged setting for events of various kinds, such as concerts, wine tastings and dance performances: these walls host, in fact, the prestigious Jazz & Wine Festival, now in its twentieth edition, a review of jazz concerts with excellent musicians who animate the summer evenings.
Inside the Rocca, there is also the Enoteca la Fortezza, ideal for tasting the valuable vintages of Brunello, the DOCG wine that has made Montalcino famous all over the world.
From the towers of the Rocca, you can admire the Ombrone and Asso valleys on the horizon, which extend beyond the hills dotted with vineyards.
To visit the historic center, it is advisable to start from Piazza del Popolo, where the Palazzo dei Priori stands, or the town hall. This building is adorned with the coats of arms of the podestàs who ruled Montalcino and, on the ground floor, there is a statue depicting Cosimo I, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Among the churches, the 14th century church of Sant’Agostino, the neoclassical Cathedral, the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso and Sant’Egidio – the “de’ senesi “church are noteworthy. The Town Hall (from the end of the 13th century) is also unique, whose slender structure is flanked by a tall bell tower that stands almost like a lookout tower, and which is surmounted by the “Campanone”, whose chimes still mark the life of all Montalcino.
Once here, it is naturally worthwhile to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside, towards Castelnuovo dell’Abate stands the splendid Abbey of Sant’Antimo, a monumental structure from the 12th century. which is one of the highest examples of Romanesque-French found in Italy.
The territory surrounding Montalcino is characterized by a dense forest mantle interspersed with traditional cultivations of vines and olive trees, on slopes along which the gaze runs for those admirable theories of hills that have contributed to impressing the Val d’Orcia in the collective imagination.
It is thanks to these splendid views that Montalcino, together with the whole valley, was recognized in 2004 among the World Heritage Sites.
Let’s begin our visit in this magnificent medieval village!
After the middle of the 14th century did Montalcino return to Siena’s control. The construction of the Rocca dates back to this period with the aim of controlling the city center.
By now Montalcino was Sienese and in the 15th century it became one of the most important centers in the territory of the Republic. In the following century, the city and the castle resisted the siege of the Imperial and Medici army in 1553 during the war which led to the final Sienese capitulation in 1555. After this surrender, many Sienese citizens reached Montalcino where, led by Piero Strozzi, they revived in exile the Republic. The city became the capital of the territories still not conquered by the Florentines and resisted until 1559 when, now isolated from the fall of Talamone and Castiglione della Pescaia, surrender was offered and sworn allegiance to Cosimo de ‘Medici.
The construction of the fortress was started in 1361 on the southern summit of the pre-existing city walls of the 1200s, incorporating the keep of S.Martino, the Torrione S.Giovanni. The castle is still practically intact today. The appearance is the classic one of a castle-enclosure with a pentagonal plan equipped with towers at all angles. The southeast tower is flanked by the formwork.
The walls and towers are equipped with an external protruding walkway, supported by arches on inverted pyramid corbels, still fully practicable today. The northern towers are open on the inside. The castle also incorporated an ancient basilica with three naves, later reduced to one to act as a chapel to the fortification, of which the remains are still visible near the north-east tower. On the south side there is the mighty Medici bastion, added by Cosimo in the mid 1500s.
The city walls were built in the thirteenth century. The fortress was built at the highest point of the city in 1361, has a pentagonal structure and was designed by the Sienese architects, Mino Foresi and Domenico di Feo. The fortress incorporates some of the pre-existing structures including the keep of Santo Martini, the tower of San Giovanni and an ancient basilica, which now serves as the castle chapel.
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo is the medieval heart of Montalcino. To achieve it, around the year 1000, the steep side of the mountain had to be leveled, an operation that was anything but simple. The works were financed by the abbots of Sant’Antimo. Since then it has hardly changed its physiognomy but has often changed its name. The current one was given to it in 1945.
The square is characterized by loggias, some of which in the past served as a public chapel.
Near the town hall, there is a Renaissance structure with six round arches, called La Loggia, which was started at the end of the 14th century, and finished in the early 15th century, but which has undergone numerous restoration works during the following centuries.
The main building in the square is the town hall, also known as Palazzo dei Priori (late 13th century early 14th century). The palace is adorned with the heraldic coats of arms of the numerous podestàs who have ruled the city over the centuries.
An extremely high medieval tower is incorporated into the palace. Near the town hall, there is a Renaissance structure with six round arches, called La Loggia, which was started at the end of the 14th century, and finished in the early 15th century, but which has undergone numerous restoration works during the following centuries.
Among other architectures, there is the Teatro degli Astrusi and the former Hospital of Santa Maria della Croce.
Abbey of Sant’Antimo
The Abbey of Sant’Antimo is an already Benedictine monastic complex, located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, within the municipality of Montalcino, in the province of Siena. It is one of the most important architectures of the Tuscan Romanesque.
The current church was built at the beginning of the 12th century, but the origins of the Abbey are much older. The legend traces the foundation of Sant’Antimo to the 9th century, at the time of the Holy Roman Empire, led by the emperor Charlemagne, believed to be the founder of a chapel, called the Carolingian Chapel, corresponding to the current sacristy. Certainly, the Abbey existed in the year 814 when Emperor Ludwig the Pious, successor of Charlemagne, issued a diploma that enriches it with goods and privileges. The large construction site for the construction of the current church began in the 12th century, as evidenced by the Charta Lapidaria, an inscription placed on the steps of the main altar which recalls the donation given to the abbey by the Ardengheschi family in 1118. This year marks the beginning of the period of greatest splendor of Sant’Antimo which becomes one of the richest and most important monasteries in the region on which numerous parishes, castles and farms depend.
In the municipal era, however, the abbey lost some of its possessions, including the castle of Montalcino which, due to its strategic position, is one of the objectives of the expansionist aims of the city of Siena in southern Tuscany. At the end of the thirteenth century, the assets of Sant’Antimo are now decimated and the monastery is in a state of decay.
To remedy this deteriorating situation, Pope Nicholas IV entrusted the abbey to the Wilhelmites, a reformed Benedictine order. Despite papal intervention, Sant’Antimo lost its ancient splendor and, in 1461 Pope Pius II suppressed the abbey by incorporating it into the new Diocese of Montalcino and Pienza. In the fifteenth century the abbey was in a state of neglect: many of the cloister buildings collapsed and the stones were reused in the construction of the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate.
Only in 1870 did a long restoration campaign begin led by the architect Giuseppe Partini which brought the church back to its current appearance.
Church of Sant’Agostino
The church of Sant’Agostino is a sacred building located along the central course of Montalcino.
The construction of the imposing church dates back to the early 14th century and undoubtedly belongs to the Gothic style.
The facade is divided into two parts by a stone list: the lower one is opened by a cuspidate portal with lateral pinnacles and a frame decorated with stylized leaflets; the upper one appears to be the result of restoration, with the insertion of a large eye with rose window. The interior repeats the usual conventual scheme, with a large nave concluded by a quadrangular chapel with a cross vault.
On the left, the monastic rooms gather around the two 16th century cloisters.
The walls of the church were frescoed by various Sienese artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with scenes from the Passion of Christ and Stories from the life of Sant’Antonio Abate.
The fourteenth-century frescoes in the choir with Stories of St. Augustine, Evangelists and Doctors of the Church are attributed to Bartolo di Fredi.
The fourteenth-century frescoes in the choir tell the Stories of Sant’Agostino, Evangelists and Doctors of the Church and have been attributed to Bartolo di Fredi. Annexed to the church is the Convent of Sant’Agostino which has been brought back to public utility as the Civic and Diocesan Museum of Montalcino. The collection that is preserved is one of the most important in the province of Siena and offers a complete overview of the artistic production of this region of Tuscany. There are masterpieces from the school of Duccio di Buoninsegna, Bartolo di Fredi, Lorenzetti, Simone Martini, Luca di Tommè, Sano di Pietro, Vecchietta and others.
From the Renaissance period, there are works by Vincenzo Tamagni, Marco di Pino pupil of Beccafumi and Giovanni di Lorenzo direct collaborator of Sodoma. Considerable is the number of painted wooden sculptures, including those of the great Francesco di Valdambrino.
The sixteenth-century Robbians by Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia are also splendid, a collection of vestments and sacred goldsmith’s art ranging from 1500 to 1700 and extremely precious illuminated volumes.
The Episcopal Palace
The Episcopal Palace, commissioned by Pope Pius III Piccolomini (1439-1503), was built in order to offer the Bishop of the Diocese of Pienza and Montalcino a residence in the Ilcinese area; in spite of the intentions, however, it was inhabited only in the seventeenth century, when Pienza and Montalcino became two autonomous dioceses.
In fact, since the erection of a single diocese in 1462 and throughout the sixteenth century, the bishops lived in Pienza (the small village of Corsignano built as a city at the behest of Pope Pius II) by virtue of their belonging to the Piccolomini family.
The palace was the episcopal seat until the death of Msgr. Ireneo Chelucci (1882-1970), the last bishop of the Diocese of Montalcino.
After the union of the latter to the Diocese of Siena and Colle di Val d’Elsa, the episcope was the seat of the Diocesan Museum until 1994, when it was joined to the Civic Museum, determining the birth of the Civic Museum and Diocesan of Sacred Art of Montalcino, currently housed in the former Seminary of Sant’Agostino.
The Bishop’s Palace is located in the historic center of Montalcino at the crossroads of Via Spagni and Via Cialdini.
The elegant building is characterized by a brick cornice. Inside, all the reception rooms with frescoes are located on the second floor. On the ground floor, however, there are the refectory and the internal chapel.
The Civic and Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art
The assembled Museums (Civic and Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art) are the art museum of Montalcino.
The union of the civic and diocesan museum dates back to 1997, when the collections from the town hall and the church of San Francesco were placed in the premises of the ex-convent adjacent to the church of Sant’Agostino. It is part of the Circuit of the Sienese Museums.
The three floors of the exhibition consist of around 200 works of art divided into twelve rooms. Medieval painting is documented starting from the Crucifix of Sant’Antimo, a triumphans crucifix dating from around 1190 which is among the oldest in the entire Sienese territory. A triptych and a polyptych document the school of Duccio di Buoninsegna, while an autographed Madonna is exhibited by Simone Martini, as are Saints Peter and Paul by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
The season following the black plague of 1348 is represented by works by Luca di Tommè (Madonna and Child), Maestro di Panzano (Madonna and Child with Saints) and Bartolo di Fredi (Polyptych of the Coronation of Mary of 1388 and other works ). The late Gothic is testified by two Madonnas of the most important Sienese painters of that season, Sano di Pietro and Giovanni di Paolo.
As for the Renaissance, the museum displays a Maestà del Vecchietta, and sixteenth-century works by the followers of the Mannerists Sodoma and Beccafumi: Giovanni di Lorenzo, Vincenzo Tamagni and Marco Pino. A valuable group of Robbia terracottas, by Andrea della Robbia and workshop also dates back to the sixteenth century.
As for sculpture, the nucleus of wooden examples is remarkable, with works by Giovanni d’Agostino (small Crucifix) and other anonymous masters. The rare San Giovanni Battista by the Sienese goldsmith-sculptor Giovanni di Turino and two works by Francesco di Valdambrino (San Pietro in chair and Crucifix) are to be attributed to the early Renaissance.
Among the applied arts, the archaic majolica cores (end of the XIII-beginning of the XIV century), the sacred vestments, the goldsmith’s (XVI-XVIII century), the illuminated manuscripts are worth mentioning.
Modern works are two paintings of the early twentieth century by the Montalcino purist painter Arturo Luciani.
Separately, there is an archaeological section (under construction), with excavation materials from the municipal area, with Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron, Villanovan, Etruscan (funeral objects with buccheri) and Roman, up to to the barbarian age (6th-7th century).
Brunello di Montalcino
The village of Montalcino owes its wealth and its reputation to Brunello, a wine classified among the best in Italy and among the most appreciated all over the world. Already in the fifteenth century, the village of was known for the fine quality of its wines. Brunello wine was born in 1888 from an idea by Ferruccio Biondi Santi; man decided, for the first time, to eliminate the vines of the traditional Chianti recipe using only the Sangiovese variety. How do you drink Brunello to its full potential? He must have aged at least five years, two of which in an oak barrel.
Although the “modern” Brunello di Montalcino is an invention of the noble Biondi Santi family, the vocation of the Montalcino territory to produce high quality wines has been known for many centuries. Already in the Middle Ages the municipal statutes regulated the starting date of the harvest, while during the siege of 1553, wine was never lacking and Biagio di Monluc, to defend the Montalcino walls, to cover up the sufferings “the face with the robust wine”. According to the Bolognese Leandro Alberti (1550-1631), Montalcino is: “very named for the good wines that come from those pleasant hills.”. In his visit to Montalcino in 1676-1677, the grand-ducal auditor Bartolomeo Gherardini signaled the production of 6050 some of wine described as “vigorous wine, but not in large quantities”. Charles Thompson in 1744 says that “Montalcino is not very famous except for the goodness of its wines”.
Until the second half of the nineteenth century, the best known and appreciated wine of the area was a sweet white wine, Moscadello di Montalcino. Clemente Santi, a pharmacist and renowned author in the field of natural sciences, began to experiment with the production of a red wine in the mid-nineteenth century. He presented two bottles of “pure red wine 1852” at the “Exhibition of Natural and Industrial Products of Tuscany” in Florence. The first written mention of a wine called Brunello however took place in 1869, when Clemente Santi won two silver medals for his “chosen red wine (Brunello) of 1865” at the Agricultural Fair of Montepulciano.
Following the example of Saints other local families began to produce Brunello. In 1893, the Ministry of Agriculture rewards a wine by Raffaello Padelletti and at the beginning of the twentieth century the Brunello by Riccardo Paccagnini won many national and international awards (Franco Italian Exhibition in Rome in 1910), and international (Grand Prix for Brunello 1894 and Medaille d’Or for one of 1899).
Professor Martini of the School of Viticulture and Oenology of Conegliano Veneto, in 1885, in a conference on “The future wealth of the Sienese province”, highlights that the Sienese “is now known on all national wine markets and also in the main foreign markets. , for various types of wine including Brunello di Montalcino “.
The grandson Ferruccio Biondi Santi inherited the estate from Clemente Santi in 1885 and his passion for viticulture and oenology took shape in long years of collaboration with his grandfather, after having fought, only seventeen, by Garibaldino in the battle of Bezzecca in 1866 . Its role and importance for the development of the new wine was such that in 1932 the Ministry of Agriculture wrote a detailed report on Tuscan viticulture where it declared that Brunello wine was “a recent creation by Dr. Ferruccio Biondi Santi di Montalcino. ”
However, Brunello remained for many years a well-known and appreciated wine but produced in very limited quantities.