ABBEY OF MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE | TUSCANY
The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is located 36 km south of Sienna in the characteristic "badlands" landscape of the Crete Senesi. The Olivetan community traces its foundation to 1313 and Giovanni Tolomei - who took the religious name of Bernardo - along with two of his friends, from the noble families of Sienna, Patrizio Patrizi and Ambrogio Piccolomini.
The correct name for the monks of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto, who are part of a number of congregations that make up the Benedictine order, is in fact Monaci Benedettini di Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto. Their particular devotion to the Virgin Mary is visible also in their habit, which is white to symbolise purity.
The approval for the building of the monastery came with the "Charta fundationis" by Guido Tarlati, bishop of Arezzo (26 March 1319), and the monastery took the name of Monte Oliveto «Maggiore» (Major) so as to distinguish it from successive foundations (Florence, San Gimignano, Naples, etc.). Construction of the monastery began in 1393 and was completed in 1526, although the buildings were further modified during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.
An imposing square tower with a drawbridge that was part of the original defences erected to protect the entire complex stands at the entrance to the Abbey. The courtyard of the abbey opens onto a broad avenue of cypresses. To the left is the botanical garden that supplied medicinal plants for the monks. A little further on is the fish pond designed in 1553 by Pelori and used by the monks to provide fish at those times of year during which the Benedictine rule forbade the consumption of meat.
The cypress avenue leads to the impressively austere, late-gothic church of the abbey, built between 1399 and 1417 by order of the Abbot Ippolito di Giacomo da Milano. The single nave interior has a cross plan. The fine carved wooden lector is by Raffaele da Brescia and the inlaid wooden choir stalls are by Fra’ Giovanni da Verona. The transept leads to the Chapel of the Sacrament, whose altar is adorned by an early 14 C wooden Crucifix. In 1772 the church was redecorated in the late-Baroque style by Giovanni Antinori.
The abbey’s large Library comprises more than 40,000 volumes, pamphlets and parchments that have been carefully restored by the monks. The Library leads to the Pharmacy, which contains an important collection of 18 C spice vases. The abbey still produces honey and distilled herbal spirits made according to various ancient recipes.
ASCIANO | TUSCANY
The main centre of the Crete Senesi is Asciano, a well-preserved mediaeval village. The Basilica of Sant’Agata contains works by Signorelli and Sodoma, while the gothic Church of San Bernardino houses the Museo Etrusco. The ewes' milk of Asciano is provided by sheep that feed on the scented bushes of the Crete, and it is said that this adds the the excellent flavour of the local pecorino (ewes' milk cheese).
The town’s economy is principally based on agricultural and breeding activities. The metal, travertine and marble industries are also of considerable importance. The town’s name comes from the Latin-Christian name “Axius” to which was then added the suffix “-anus” referring to the agricultural terrain.
The first settlements in the area date back to the Etruscan era, as shown by the finding of a necropolis that dates back to the 5th century BC. During the Middle Ages the village of Asciano was for a long time disputed by the bishops of the powerful cities of Siena and Arezzo both of which wanted to broaden their jurisdiction to the Parish of Asciano, whose construction dates back to the time of the Longobards.
In the IX century Asciano became a fief of the Cacciaconti-Scialenga counts, whose control over the village lasted until the end of the XII century when Asciano passed under the dominion of Siena who made it the head of a Vicariate and fortified it by building the city walls.
During the XIII century the village was subjugated by the Tolomeis, but after a brief period it returned under Siennese jurisdiction, and stayed so until 1554. After the period of Siennese domination, Asciano became part of the holdings of the Medicean Grand Duchy and from then gained a growing economic importance thanks to the development of the agricultural production of cereals, oil and wine and the development of the artisan working of leather and ceramics.
The Medicean domination lasted until the beginning of the 18th century when the last descendent of the de’ Medici family was succeeded by the Dukes di Lorena, who kept control of Asciano until the French domination. In 1861, Asciano was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy by King Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoia. The most important monuments in Asciano are the Basilica of St. Agatha, the Church of St. Francis, the church of St. Agostino, the Gallic castle, the Leolina Castle, the Tower of St. Albert and the Corboli Palazzo and the Museum of Archaeology and Sacred Art.
Among the numerous events that regularly take place in Asciano is the traditional “Market of the Natural Clays” that takes place every second Sunday of the month. It is possible to taste the gourmet cuisine specialities of the area and admire the renowned local artisan production and antique objects.
BUONCONVENTO | TUSCANY REGION
Buonconvento is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Siena in the Italian region Tuscany, located about south of Florence and about southeast of Siena in the area known as the Crete Senesi.
Buonconvento (from the Latina bonus conventus, "happy place") is mentioned for the first time in 1100. In 1313 the German emperor Henry VII died here. It was surrounded by a line of walls starting from 1371, carried on by the Republic of Siena to which it belonged until 1559, when it became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was annexed to Italy in 1861.
The local museum of art houses works by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Pietro Lorenzetti, Andrea di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni and other Tuscan painters, taken from local churches. The church of Sts. Peter and Paul has a Madonna Enthroned with Child by Matteo di Giovanni (c. 1450) and a fresco of the early-15th century Sienese school. The fortified pieve of Sant'Innocenza a Piana dates from the 13th-14th centuries. Most of Buonconvento's frazioni house medieval or Renaissance castles. The church of St. Lawrence, in Bibbiano, has a cyborium by Ventura Salimbeni.
The main economic activities of the area are all in some way connected to agriculture, in particular to the cultivation of cereals, grapes, olives, flax and hemp. Mulberry trees are also grown for silk worms which in recent years have proved to be a real gold mine for the town. The Val d’Arbia also boasts many areas where the famous white truffle is harvested. The main industry in the area is connected to tobacco manufacturing and producing ceramics for tiles.
The Museo della Val d’Arbia (Val d’Arbia Museum) has recently been opened in the centre of Buonconvento. Here, visitors will find works of art by Sano di Pietro and Matteo di Giovanni. Other sites of interest in the town include the Museo di Arte Sacra (the Museum of Sacred Art), Palazzo Ricci, the church of San Pietro e Paolo (Saint Peter and Saint Paul) and the Oratorio di San Sebastiano (the Oratory of Saint Sebastian).
There have been settlements on the site where Buonconvento is today since ancient times. The first documented evidence of human habitation here though dates back to the end of the twelfth century. It is documented as being an important town for trade, thanks to its strategic position on the two rivers, the Arvia and the Ombrone.
The pilgrims’ route that travels from northern Europe to Rome, the Via Francigena, also passes close to Buonconvento and would have brought a lot of trade to the town. The first written reference to the town appears in a document dated 1191 in which the King of France, Filippo Augusto, notes passing through ‘Bon-couvent’ on his way back from the crusades.
Buonconvento became an even more important strategic town during the period when it was under the rule of Siena in the thirteenth century. In 1289 it was invaded by Sienese Ghibellines and occupied by imperial troops led by Enrico (or Arrigo) VII of Luxembourg. It was here in Buonconvento on the 24th August 1313 that the emperor died – his death signalled the end of the hopes of the Ghibelline forces.
After having been captured for a time by the army of Perugia, Buonconvento was fortified by the Sienese between 1371 and 1385. The old town centre is still surrounded by the splendid walls built in this period to defend the town. In 1480 Buonconvento took on Sienese citizenship. When Siena fell in 1559, the town (along with the rest of Siena’s towns) became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany which was ruled first by the Medici and then by the Lorena.
CHIUSDINO | TUSCANY REGION
The township of Chiusdino is near Siena and sits at an altitude of 564m. The town is located in the Crete Senesi and part of the Siena Province and the local population is around 2000. The city is home to San Sebastian Church, Miralduolo Castle, Compagnia di San Galgano Church and the Lenzi stately homes. Before the town existed, the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria stood on the same site, built in 1004. The town slowly grew on a nearby hill top ridge and quickly became an important strategic point in the area. The town was loyal to the bishop of Volterra until 1215 when it came under Sienese rule.
The town is near to the Via Francigena pilgrims’ route that passes through the region. A river of pilgrims from the remotest corners of northern Europe used to travel along this ancient route on their way to Rome. Chiusdino naturally took advantage of the increased trade these pilgrims brought to the area. As well as making money from trade, the town also had a thriving mining industry which was fought over by many important ruling powers of the time. The town reached its modern day size in the XV century. During the Sienese War in 1554, the town was occupied by French and imperial troops and subsequently went on to become a part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany three years later. This was an advantageous change for the inhabitants of Chiusdino as in 1776 the Grand Duke of Lorena granted the town independent status.
The town was home to Saint Galgano who was born here in 1148. His head is conserved as a sacred relic in the Propositura di San Michele. Visitors can still see the mysterious knightly hermit’s house which is a small Romanesque building. Legend has it that after living quite a debauched life, Galgano was visited by the angel Gabriel, at which point he totally changed. He went on to founder the abbey that carried his name and is said to have performed a miracle around 1180. He was taunted by his old battle companions and decided to ram his sword into a rock up to the hilt, making a cross shape. He died a year later, aged 33.
CRETE SENESI | TUSCANY REGION
The area is not defined by piazzas, cathedrals or castles, but by nature, cypress trees, the smell of sheep’s-milk cheese pervading a little grocery, the relaxing warmth of spa waters, the mystical simplicity of a small Romanesque parish church. The landscape of the Crete Senesi is a triumph of harmony, a timeless image, a picture that blends the forms of an Etruscan graffito and a sign of modern art. It is a harmony that gets you and has the power to bring your energies back into balance: emotions and sensations transform and dilate in the calm of space.
Crete Senesi means "Siennese clays" and these give the soil of parts of the Val d'Orcia south east of Sienna a distinctive grey colouration. This characteristic clay, known as mattaione, represents the sediments of the Pliocene sea which covered the area between 2.5 and 4.5 million years ago. Erosion of the soil has played a major role in the formation of the landscape, with the clay laid bare and forming craggy badlands known as calanchi and clay knolls called biancane or mammelloni. This amazing landscape, dotted with Tuscan farm houses, castles and ancient villages is a photographers' paradise and should not be missed by anyone visiting southern Tuscany.
The area of the Crete Senesi consists of a range of hills and woods among villages and includes the comuni of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d'Arbia, Rapolano Terme and San Giovanni d'Asso, all within the province of Siena. Crete senesi are literally ‘ Senese clays’, and the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape an appearance often described as lunar. This characteristic clay, known as mattaione, represents the sediments of the Pliocene sea which covered the area between 2.5 and 4.5 million years ago. Nearby is also the semi-arid area known as the Accona Desert. Perhaps the most notable edifice of this area is the monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. The region is known for its production of white truffles, and hosts a festival and a museum dedicated to the rare fungus (genus Tuber).
MONTERONI D’ARBIA | TUSCANY REGION
The local economy is mainly based on the production of wines, cereals and fruit and vegetablesand the breeding of cattle and swine. There are also numerous wood and glass industries. The town’s name comes from the Latin “Mons” that means “mount”, to which was subsequently added the specific “Arbia” with a clear reference to the position of the town near the river of the same name.
In the XIII century Monteroni d’Arbia was under Siena’s powerful influence, nevertheless the actual development and consolidation of the town took place in the following century thanks to the work of the nearby Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala that built a fortified mill, around which the community of Monteroni d’Arbia built up its first inhabited settlements.
The town was fortified between 1322 and 1324 for its strategic position near the so-called “Via Francigena” and over the following years acquired a considerable economic importance, so much so that in 1382 it claimed autonomy. Despite this request, in the same year Monteroni d’Arbia was included in the Vicariate of Lucignano d’Arbia.
In the mid-XVI century the town suffered violent plundering by the Imperial troops allied with the Florence Republic, a plundering that caused the destruction of part of its fortifications. From then on Monteroni d’Arbia became part of the Florentine county under the domination of the de’ Medici Grand Dukes. During the Medicean domination the town of Monteroni d’Arbia had a noteworthy economic growth, thanks to the grand-ducal incentives given to agricultural activities.
At the beginning of the 18th century the Lorena Dukes rose to power, staying there until the beginning of the 19th century, when the territory was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army. During the Napoleonic domination, that lasted until 1814, Monteroni d’Arbia became a free commune.In 1861 Monteroni d’Arbia was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy by King Vittorio Emanuele II di Savoia. Among the most important monuments at Monteroni d’Arbia we would like to mention here the Church of St. Jacopo and St. Christopher, the Parish of Corsano and the Mill.
Among the numerous events that regularly take place in Monteroni d’Arbia of most interest is the traditional “Festival of Ponte a Tressa” which is held every year from the 6th to the 9th of September and which includes an exhibition of typical, gourmet products and local artisan crafts.
MONTICIANO | TUSCANY
Monticiano is a town and comune on the right bank of the Val di Merse, Tuscany, Italy, administratively part of the Province of Siena. The town is situated on the Colline Metallifere and part of the Crete Senesi area. One of its frazioni, Bagni di Petriolo, is popular for its thermal waters.
The first written evidence of the town goes back to 1171 when the feudal rule of the area fell to the bishop of Volterra. During the Medieval period the forests represented an incredibly important resource. Not only did they provide wood but also several important food stuffs such as wild game and chestnuts. A system of agriculture quickly grew up around Monticiano, the principal product cultivated being wheat.
Siena soon made it clear that it wanted to lay claim to the small town. After the defeat of Colle Val d’Elsa in 1269 the Sienese invaded and took over the town, which was guilty of having provided refuge for Ghibelline traitors. The Sienese destroyed the castle walls.
In the middle of the War of Siena (1554 – 55), the Grand Duchy took over rule of the town and Monticiano fell under the power of Florence. Less than a century later Ferdinando II de’ Medici offered the town to Orso Pannoccieschi d’Elci. His family held feudal power over the town until 1749.
Last century, the town played an important role for the Resistance. The town was the base of the ‘Spartaco Lavagnini’ brigade, one of the first partisan organisations in Italy, and provided a backdrop for several battles. The night time battle between the partisans and the Germans between the 3rd and 4th of June 1944 which took place in the town’s central piazza is particularly remembered.
MURLO | TUSCANY REGION
Murlo is an ancient Medieval small town in the Metallifere Hills and near the river Crevole. There are many monuments and historical buildings to visit in the municipality of Murlo such as Murlo Castle, San Fortunato Church and the Palazzone. The archaeological site of Poggio Civitale where many Etruscan finds have been unearthed is nearby. The Museo Civico Archeologico (Civic Archaeological Museum) in Murlo houses many locally found Etruscan artefacts. Murlo was ruled over by feudal lords for many centuries until the feudal powers were over turned by the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Like many other towns in the province of Siena, Murlo was occupied by Carlo V’s imperial troops during the XVI century. The troops robed the town of all its riches and left it totally devastated. Fortunately, the town’s connection to the bishop saved it from total decline like so many Sienese towns. Leopoldo II’s reform in 1749 which abolished feudal rule gave Murlo equal standing with the surrounding municipalities. Murlo has rich surrounding woodland and countryside and has also mined its mineral resources since the start of the XX century.
Brown coal, manganese, chalk and other minerals are mined here and the industry became so important that at one point there was a railway line built to transport the minerals away from the area. The area is also home to the rock that was used to construct Siena’s Duomo. The mining industry only went into decline when the population of the smaller rural towns started moving to the region’s cities which were undergoing their own process of industrialisation.
RAPOLANO TERME | TUSCANY
Rapolano Terme is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Siena in the Italian region Tuscany, located about southeast of Florence and about east of Siena in the area known as the Crete Senesi. Until 1949 it was known simply as Rapolano. The municipality includes several minor towns, among which the village of Serre di Rapolano.
RAPOLANO TERME | TUSCANY REGION
The town of Rapolano Terme is located near Siena and is well known for its mix of history, culture and natural resources. Founded by the Romans, the area boasts two ancient thermal baths—Antica Querciolaia and Terme di San Giovanni—both open year round.
Rapolano Terme is also known for its travertine, a stone deposited in the fresh waters surrounding the area, first discovered in 1597. It subsequently became one of the most important aspects of the town and has influenced more than just architecture and the landscape. It is a fundamental part of the economy, the social structure, history, language and artistic genres. Many of the Renaissance's most famous churches were built with travertine from the Rapolano caves, including San Biagio in Montepulciano, the facades of the Duomo di Pienza and the Chiesa di Provenzano in Siena. Today, the travertine is used for everything from urban landscaping to sculpting and is highly valued for its physical and aesthetic properties.
Culture also plays a large roll in Rapolano Terme. There is a literary prize, an olive oil festival, a rich theatre program and the Festival di Rapolano each July. A open-air travertine theatre is set up to host multicultural events such as Egyptian concerts, Maghrebian music festivals and song and dance routines for cinema.
SAN GIOVANNI D'ASSO | TUSCANY
The area around San Giovanni d’Asso, which is the oldest hamlet in the entire Crete Senesi region, produces black truffles as well as the sought-after and costly white truffle. A truffle market fair is held here in November and the cellars of the ancient castle house a Museo del Tartufo (truffle museum).
The village takes its origins from an ancient Longobard parish, built in the dawn of Christianity in Italy, on which was erected a castle. Its building work, between the XII and the XIV centuries, was on the project of Agostino and Agnolo di Ventura. At the beginning of the XII century the village was attested as a fief of Count Paltonieri of Forteguerra. In 1551 it was donated to the council of Siena, but subsequently a large number of noble families alternated at power. Still under Siennese sovereignty, the village passed to Ugolino Scolari, then to the Aldobrandeschi of Civitella.
In the same way, another village in today’s council’s territory was developed, that of Montisi, firstly autonomous, then during the last years of the 14th century annexed to the property of the Ospedale della Scala, that organised it as a “grangia”, or fortified farm. Halfway through the XIII century the castle of San Giovanni was purchased by the Buonsignori, then passed to the Salimbeni and finally to the Petroni. In fact a rural reality was consolidated, dominated by the various noble citizens of Siena. Only towards the middle of the 15th century did Siena place San Giovanni under its direct administration.
A century later, together with the whole of the Siennese territory, San Giovanni became a part of the Medici’s Grand Duchy of Tuscany, who were succeeded by the Lorenas in the XVIII century.The economic life of the territory, still on the margin of the main commercial roads, has always been based almost exclusively on agriculture, especially after the drainage of the Asso Plains in the 13th century by the Siennese. To the classic cultivations (cereals, vines and olives) the last few centuries have seen the additional cultivation of mulberries and, consequently, the breeding of silk worms. The lacking industrial development of the post-war years provoked depopulation, a fairly common phenomenon of the rural towns of Tuscany.
TORRITA DI SIENA | TUSCANY REGION
Torrita di Siena is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Siena in the Italian region Tuscany, located about southeast of Florence and about southeast of Siena. Torrita di Siena borders the following municipalities: Cortona, Montepulciano, Pienza, Sinalunga, Trequanda. The most important event in Torrita di Siena is the "Palio dei Somari", a race among donkeys, the Sundays after 19 March (Torrita's patron saint).
Even though it shows evidence of Etruscan and Roman passage, the centre of Torrita is only mentioned in historical documents from 1037 onwards. Originally today’s capital town was a small village, to then become, throughout the course of the Middle Ages, a “castrum” - a fortified village. Under the protection of the Siennese Republic, in fact, the little village became one of the defensive bastions of the Florentine front, represented by the castle of Montepulciano. The castle of Torrita at the time was closed by a powerful city wall with three gates (Porta a Gavina, Porta a Pago and Porta a Sole), to which a fourth was added in the 19th century.
In the final centuries of the Middle Ages many battles were fought under Torrita’s walls. Some of the more memorable exploits are immortalised in the frescoes in the Sala del Mappamondo, in the Town Hall. Lippo Vanni’s able brush has committed to history the episodes that saw the involvement of Torrita and the Val di Chiana in the centuries-old struggle between Siena and Florence. In 1528 the town’s defence required strengthening works to repair the many damages suffered throughout the continual attacks.
With the invasion of Charles V’s Spanish troops the Siennese area was completely submitted to the Medicis, Spanish allies. Torrita then became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1557. Its surrender was one of the most important facts in the campaign for conquest of the Siennese Republic’s territories. In the 18th century, thanks to the improvement works of the Val di Chiana ordered by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, the “granary of Siena” (Torrita’s centuries-old nickname) became a very rich and productive agricultural centre. In the 20th century a flourishing industrial activity was added to the agricultural one. There are around 7,000 people who live here today.