Monteriggioni is an Italian town of 9.921 inhabitants in the province of Siena in Tuscany. It is part of the so-called Montagnola Senese.
Monteriggioni, with its stone crown, shines from the top of a hill and is one of the oldest, most memorable and recognizable villages in all of Italy. In fact, it seems that it has been inhabited since the eighth century BC. A true mirage for those who want to dive into the Middle Ages, the country is in fact named by the Supreme Poet Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto XXXI.
A place that has remained incredibly intact as if time had never passed, even if it was built by the Sienese between 1213 and 1219 for purely defensive purposes. The village in fact dominates the territory from the top of a hill overlooking Via Cassia, a strategic position to control the territory of the Valdelsa.
The plain at the foot of Monteriggioni was occupied by a marsh, on the edge of which Monteriggioni and the ancient Abbadia a Isola, which depended on the bishop of Volterra, faced each other. When the monks of the Abbey began the hydraulic reclamation of the swamp by digging a tunnel to drain the waters, the Sienese filled it at night because the swamp was a natural protection against enemy armies. The matter went on for a long time, until a compromise was reached in 1246: the monks completed the gallery, and the Sienese retained a substantial area close to the castle. Still today, in the reclaimed plain, an old tower emerges, located just above the underground gallery: it served as a breather and as an entrance for the maintenance of the tunnel, which is no longer practicable today, because it is clogged with debris.
The whole area of Monteriggioni is dotted with parishes, such as the ancient Pieve di Santa Maria castle, but also villas and small villages immersed in a countryside of rare beauty such as Abbadia Isola, an enchanted village, inhabited since the 9th century BC.
One of the pleasures related to the discovery of these places is certainly the possibility of discovering them on foot or by bike, through the numerous nature trails and paths including the Via Francigena, the Stage 32 from San Gimignano to Monteriggioni is certainly one of the most iconic.
A stone’s throw from Monteriggioni, you have the opportunity to visit the wonderful territories of Valdelsa and Val di Cecina and nearby Siena which preserves a unique medieval architectural heritage.
Arriving at the village in the evening, when the external walls are illuminated by yellow lights, Monteriggioni seems almost a mirage in the middle of the Tuscan hills: the wall circle and the 14 suggestive towers, tighten it as if in an embrace. They are still intact, just like when they were built in the Middle Ages to defend and protect the locals.
Let’s begin our visit in magnificent Monteriggioni!
Monteriggioni Castle was built by the Sienese, by order of the podestà Guelfo da Porcari, in a period between 1214 and 1219. The land, purchased by the Sienese Republic, was the seat of an ancient Longobard farm (the name of Montis Regis probably indicated a fund that was royally owned or that enjoyed tax exemptions from the crown)
The construction of the castle by the Republic of Siena was mainly defensive, as the village was built on Mount Ala in a dominant and supervised position of the Francigena, to control the Elsa and Staggia valleys in the direction of Florence, historic rival of Siena.
The construction of a castle practically from scratch represented a novelty in the Sienese expansionist policy: previously, in fact, the city had purchased existing castles, such as that of Quercegrossa.
The circular layout of the walls was obtained simply by following the natural course of the hill.
There is no agreement of historians on the possible presence of the drawbridge. On the other hand, the presence of the shutters is certain, that is, thick wooden doors covered with iron that were activated by pulleys. Even today the two doors show signs of hinges and holes caused by the closing poles. On the west door you can also see the signs of the ravelin, another rectangular defensive structure placed in front of the door and also equipped with a second door.
The Castle of Monteriggioni was also surrounded by the so-called charcoal kilns, or ditches full of coal and wood that was set on fire to repel the assaults. It is obvious that ditches full of water, as seen in many medieval reconstructions, on top of a hill were impossible.
After the construction of the castle the Florentines and the Sienese fought for its possession in 1244 and 1254 but the walls of the Castle always resisted the Guelph assaults.
In 1269, after the battle of Colle (remembered by Dante in the 13th canto of Purgatory), the defeated Sienese took refuge in Monteriggioni, besieged, but in vain, by the Florentines.
Following the plague of 1348 – 1349 the Sienese decided to have a captain with some infantrymen reside in Monteriggioni to protect the population from the evildoers that raged in the area.
In 1380, according to what can be read in the statutes “of the commune and men of Monteriggioni”, the inhabitants of Monteriggioni were considered “Citizens of Siena”.
In 1383, a group of Sienese exiles took possession of the Castle by deception but surrendered shortly thereafter.
Between 1400 and 1500, the walls were buried to better resist the blows of the artillery. The use of charcoal burners was therefore rendered useless.
In 1526, the Florentines besieged Monteriggioni with 2000 infantrymen and 500 knights, bombing the walls with artillery. The Castle of Monteriggioni however resisted and, on July 25 of that same year, in the battle of Camollia, the Sienese defeated the papal army, ally of the Florentines, who immediately interrupted the siege.
In the mid-1500s, within the clash that in Europe pitted Charles V of Habsburg, King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Germanic Empire with Henry II of Valois, King of France, there was the episode of the Siena war where the Sienese allies of France opposed the Florentine allies of Charles V. On April 27, 1554 Monteriggioni was betrayed, without any combat, by the captain Giovacchino Zeti, a Florentine escaped, to the Marquis of Marignano commander of the imperial troops. After the fall of Monteriggioni in the spring of 1555 the city of Siena also fell. This episode is considered by historians to be the event that marks the end of the municipal era in Italy.
On 2 and 3 April 1559, after the death of Charles V (1558), the long Franco-Spanish conflict ended between the two hegemonic powers with the peace treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis. In execution of that treaty, the last Sienese bulwark constituted by the garrison of Montalcino was also released by Philip II of Spain to the Florentine duchy. Thus Cosimo I de ‘Medici imposed his lordship on the territory and the inhabitants of Monteriggioni.
Monteriggioni was then ceded by the Medici to the Golia family and through various other passages between noble families to the Griccioli family, who still maintains possessions in the castle and in the surrounding countryside.
Church of Santa Maria Assunta
The church of Santa Maria Assunta is the main Catholic place of worship in Monteriggioni, in the province of Siena, archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino.
The history of this church is closely linked to the events of the Monteriggioni castle. It was built between 1213, the year in which Monteriggioni was founded, and 10 June 1235 when, inside, the delegates of the municipalities of Siena and Poggibonsi accepted the conditions of peace with the Florentines. The new parish that was born after its foundation depended on the parish of Marmoraia and brought together the peoples of the parsonage of Stomennano and the church of San Giovanni a Stecchi.
The development of Monteriggioni increased the importance of the church, so much so that at the end of the thirteenth century it was promoted to parish church, the title of Canonica Sanctae Marie Stemennano was transferred and the baptismal font was placed there. It had incomes quite comparable to those of the nearby Sienese parishes. Until the early 14th century it was used for both religious and civil functions. In 1299 there was placed a new bell still present today; this bell probably came from the castle fortress; on 12 June 1313 it appears that the abbot of Isola, lord of the surrounding lands, habitually sat there.
In 1360 the statutes of the republic of Siena established the boundaries of the plover of Monteriggioni: it was made up of 10 suffragan churches.
In the first half of the 19th century the building was partially transformed.
The church is located in the main square of the village and consists of a building with a single rectangular nave ended with a scarsella and covered with vaults.
The facade was built by 1235 and is gabled with an eye opening placed above the portal. It has a travertine wall covering of golden hue and whose segments are arranged on very regular horizontal and parallel courses. In the portal, only the archivolt and the left jamb are original . The same portal has a growing Florentine-style extrados and an enveloping and molded ring of Pisan taste, just like in the church of Talciona, built in 1234. The eye was made with pieces of terracotta carved with leaves and is surrounded by a ring coordinated with the portal.
The northern side is opened by two double-lancet windows with brick archivolt and two portals, one of which is buffered. The southern side has only two single lancet windows identical to those on the other side, and the crowning made by means of a series of terracotta corbels where human heads are carved as in the church of San Jacopo al Tempio in San Gimignano .
The grandstand presents the volume of the square cross-shaped scarsella, a work belonging to the first phase of construction of the church as the crowning is coordinated with the corbels on the sides. The large single lancet window in the center of the room and the two niches on the sides belong to a later phase: these interventions can be dated to the end of the thirteenth century when the church was elevated to a parish church.
The bell tower, erected using ancient material, dates back to the 18th century and is located on the northern edge of the tribune.
The interior of the church is covered with barrel vaulted ceilings. The nave is divided by the presbytery, raised by three steps, by an acute brick arch. The scarsella is covered by a cross vault.
Inside the church, it is possible to admire two 15th-century tabernacles, a painting of the Madonna by Lippo Vanni, a wooden crucifix and the bell given to the church by the Republic of Siena in 1298 and the wooden choir dating from the 16th century.
Everything starts from a door. Here, there are two, one opens towards Siena (Porta Franca or Porta Romea), the other towards Florence (Porta San Giovanni or Fiorentina).
So, let’s open the Porta Franca and enter the wonderful Castle Square of Monteriggioni, one of the most beautiful small squares in all of Tuscany.
The entrance is surprising. A large space in front of us makes us enjoy the view.
The beating heart of the village of Monteriggioni, its core.
Today, as in the past, there are still gardens and vegetable gardens around the square, useful to the people especially in the past, in case of persecution. At one time this square did not have the current pavement, but was completely unpaved. What we see today was covered only in the seventies with stones from the Rosia quarries.
This huge rectangle which is represented by Piazza Roma, houses most of the things to see in Monteriggioni: the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, the Monteriggioni Museum of Arms, the town’s Tourist Office, the low stone houses scattered here and there, the inns and taverns that delight the palates of pilgrims visiting this land.
Monteriggioni Museum of Arms and Armor
“Monteriggioni in Armi” Museum is also located in the center of the Piazza di Monteriggioni, and is definitely worth a visit if you want to have a pleasant experience back in time.
Inside, it is possible to admire weapons and armor from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as well as several vehicles used during the sieges that marked the history of this fortress.
In some spaces of the museum, moreover, the experience becomes more authentic; it is possible, in fact, to handle some weapons, or try on real armor, trying for a few moments the thrill of feeling like a real warrior, ready to take sides to defend one’s country.
The Medieval Feast of Monteriggioni
Every year, in July, the Medieval Festival of Monteriggioni takes place, now in its XVIII edition.
“Monteriggioni di Torri si Corona” is now a real ritual and in those days, it transforms every inhabitant into a specific character dressed in period clothes. Friars, monks, soldiers, merchants and many others become the protagonists of this evocative temporal transfiguration that should not be missed if you are in the area in this period.
Every year inside the town walls in July a special event is celebrated: the “Medieval Festival” of Monteriggioni, one of the most beautiful and likely medieval re-enactments of the region.
The city flies back in time to the medieval era, the streets are filled with artisans, noble knights, commoners in costume to create an exciting atmosphere. Dance, live performances, music, treatro, shows for children, re-enactment of duels, tambourines, acrobats, storytellers and whoever has more more put it.
A tour in history that also offers the opportunity to taste ancient flavors of the time: taverns, taverns and restaurants open to give a food and wine sense to your journey into the past.
You will also have the opportunity to exchange your Euros for medieval coins and shop with them within the walls.
The Abbey of Saints Salvatore and Cirino di Abbadia in Isola
The abbey of Saints Salvatore and Cirino is located in Abbadia a Isola in the municipality of Monteriggioni, in the province of Siena, archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino.
For the spatial organization and for the decorative choices, the abbey church was the model they later used to build the parishes of Scola, Ponte allo Spino, Pernina and Casole and as a model for the casolana parish, completed in 1161, it is a building dating from the mid-twelfth century but no later than 1173 The church was built on the Via Francigena at the foot of Monteriggioni
The Abbey of Saints Salvatore and Cirino di Abbadia in Isola, the small village at the foot of Monteriggioni, was founded in 1001 by the will of Ava, noblewoman of the Lambardi di Staggia family.
The monastery, as the name suggests, was then surrounded by water and in a strategic position for the control of the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage road that led to Rome, on which Borgonuovo (later Abbadia Isola) was already a stopping point from the end of the 10th century: the Abbey was thus not only a church but a hospitable one that gave welcome and care to travelers.
The Romanesque church with three naves and three apses preserves important works of art, among which stands out the beautiful polyptych of the high altar made in the fifteenth century by the Sienese painter Sano di Pietro.
The Abbey is surrounded by a small village and the remains of medieval fortifications, around which you can still see the monastic premises, which have been recovered and house the municipal hostel “Contessa Ava”, for all those who today travel on the Francigena.
Hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago
The hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago is a religious building located near Santa Colomba, in the municipality of Monteriggioni, in the province of Siena, archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino.
The titular saint is Leonardo del Limousin, a hermit very revered in the European Middle Ages and celebrated for his strong bond with nature, especially trees and woods (main festival November 6th).
Since December 2014, the site has been managed by the Tuscany museum complex. In 2016, it registered 2 852 visitors. Admission is free.
The church and the premises were rebuilt between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, reusing the right side of the ancient building in a transition style between Romanesque and Gothic. In 1366 the entire monastic complex was fortified.
In the facade of the church opens the splayed portal with the round arch.
The interior is divided into three covered spans with a cross vault. The church was the subject of heavy decorative works of neo-Gothic taste: however, in the apse area there are frescoes by Lippo Vanni, depicting Stories of the life of the Virgin, angels and saints, datable between 1360 and 1370.
In the former refectory, one of the masterpieces of Sienese painting of the fifteenth century: a fragmentary but very valuable fresco with the Crucifixion, by Giovanni di Paolo del Grazia, made around 1445.
The hermitage rises along one of the paths of the Via Francigena, among holm oak and oak woods, and is thus remembered for the presence of a lake dried up in the eighteenth century. The first certain information, which testifies to the presence of a hermit community, dates back to the year 1119, but following archaeological excavations carried out around 1975-80, which brought to light a square-shaped cistern inside the courtyard and a cave in the area below the current church, it can be assumed that its foundation dates back to previous times. This primitive oratory was later transformed and decorated with frescoes, now disappeared, small chiaroscuro figures were still visible in 1897, already attributed to the school of Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
In 1239 the hermitage passed to the Augustinians. The presence of notable local religious personalities, including Blessed Agostino Novello, who spent the last years of his life there and died there in 1309, contributed to transforming San Leonardo into a pilgrimage destination. The remains of the walls and two towers, one round and one square, attest that in 1366 the hermitage was fortified to accommodate the nearby populations of Santa Colomba during the war.
The architectural development of the monastic complex was affected by the adhesion of the first hermits to the Augustinian order: a quadrangular plan with buildings articulated around the cloister. The monastery experienced a period of great prosperity in the fourteenth century, thanks to the donations of lands and the offerings of the devotees, as well as the direct intervention of public institutions, such as the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala and the Republic of Siena, with the construction of the new Gothic church with a single nave, divided into three bays and a rectangular apse.
In 1516, Pope Leo X established that eight or nine friars lived there with the assignment of two farms and a vineyard. The convent was suppressed in 1783. The complex was acquired by the state through the exercise of the right of first refusal in 1957.