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Abbadia San Salvatore | Tuscany Region

ABBADIA SAN SALVATORE | TUSCANY REGION

abbadia san salvatore tuscany

Abbadia San Salvatore is a nice town to visit on the eastern slopes of Monte Amiata, in the Siena Province. The town’s origins date back to the foundation of the homonymous Abbey of San Salvatore in the Early Middle Ages. Throughout the XII century the community of Abbazia San Salvatore was formed around the abbey, under the jurisdiction of the Benedictine monks.

The town takes its name from that of the Abbey and more precisely from the Latin “abbatial” that subsequently was changed to “abbadia”, suffering the influence of the local popular dialect.The Benedictine monks of the Abbey had many land and properties and for this reason came into dispute with the Aldobrandeschi family of Santa Fiora, who wanted to take control of the abbey away from the monks.

From 1212 the inhabitants of Abbadia San Salvatore gained a certain civic autonomy. This condition lasted until 1260, year of the Battle of Monteaperti that saw the village pass under Siennese rule. Throughout the XIV century there was a certain economic development. The main activities were connected to agriculture and artisan work in wood. In this period there were also eight working mills.

Still in the XIV century the city of Orvieto took possession of the village. Subsequently Abbadia San Salvatore was given up to the Aldobrandeschi who exercised their jurisdiction until halfway through the following century. In 1559 Abbadia San Salvatore became part of Florence’s holdings under the dominion of the Medici's.

Throughout the XVII century the first iron and copper factories were installed. In the following century the wood and agricultural products market developed towards the city of Siena. Such was the importance gained over the centuries that in 1777 Abbadia San Salvatore was named the capital town of a wide community that included many nearby villages. In 1861 Abbadia San Salvatore was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy by King Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoia.

Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore | Tuscany Region

ABBEY OF MONTE OLIVETO MAGGIORE | TUSCANY

Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

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.

Abbey of Sant'Antimo | Tuscany Region

ABBEY OF SANT'ANTIMO | TUSCANY

abbey of sant antimo

The Abbey of Sant'Antimo, considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Italy, is located only 9 km from Montalcino.

According to tradition, in 781 Charlemagne was returning from Rome along the Via Francigena. While camped near Monte Amiata, many in his court and army were struck down by plague. During the night, an angel appeared to the Emperor in dream and recommended that he pick a particular grass, dry it and then make an infusion with some wine and have it drunk by the soldiers. He did this and the army was cured. The grass is known to this day as "Carolina". In return for an end to this scourge, the Emperor promised to found the abbey.

According to historians, the foundation goes further back, to the Longobards and the Monastery of St. Savior (Salvatoris) at Monte Amiata. It is possible that the Abbey of Sant'Antimo was constructed on the site of a Roman villa and it is known with certainty that in the 4th and 5th centuries the village of Castelnuovo dell'Abate, on the hills nearby, was an important inhabited centre, endowed with a parish.

The monastery of Sant'Antimo was in existence in the year 814, as indicated by a document from one Ludovico the Pious that endows the abbey with gifts and privileges. In the 9 C, the abbey faced financial difficulty, to the point that in the 877 Charles II, "the Bald", entrusted it to the Bishop of Arezzo, with the obligation to maintain 40 monks there at his own expense. From the 10 C, the abbot of the monastery was also the Count Palatino, a public position of great importance conferred by the Emperor.

In 992, according to a deed emanating from Pope John XV (985-996), the monastery passed into the direct jurisdiction of the Apostolic See. The year 1118 saw the beginning of the golden years of Sant'Antimo. Count Bernard degli Ardengheschi surrendered his entire patrimony in goods and property, including the Abbey, "in toto I reign Italic et in tota Tuscie marks" to Hildebrand, son of Rustic. A testimony to this exceptional donation was engraved on the steps of the altar as a perpetual memorial of the event. The Abbot Guidone (1108-1128), who received the donation, immediately initiated the great era of the construction of the new church, the Abbey of Sant'Antimo. The apse of the original 9th century abbey still stands alongside, and is dwarfed by, the new 12 C. The Abbey became the most powerful monastic landowner and foundation in Tuscany, via its imperial connections and gifts from those travelling the nearby Via Francigena, the pilgrims' route to Rome. At its height, the Abbey owned large tracts of eastern Tuscany from Lucca in the north to Orbetello in the south.

Asciano | Tuscany Region

ASCIANO | TUSCANY

Asciano

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.

Bagno Vignoni | Tuscany Region

BAGNO VIGNONI | TUSCANY

bagno vignoni

Bagno Vignoni sits on a hill above the Val d'Orcia just south of San Quirico and about 20 minutes by car from Pienza and slightly further from Montalcino and Montepulciano. The name of this ancient village derives from Vignoni, already a famous castle in the 11 C, whose traces dominate the hill over the village. The thermal waters where frequented by the Romans. A porch-type bridge passes over the waters flowing from the bath towards the thermal establishments and subsequently going on to feed a series of mills situated along the steep banks of the river.

It is known that Catherine of Siena stayed in Bagno Vignoni several times, taken there by her mother in an attempt to dissuade her from taking the Holy Orders. Visits by Pope Pius II Piccolomini and Lorenzo the Magnificent, who stayed for a period in 1490, also bear witness to the popularity of the baths.

The vicinity of the bath to the Via Francigena, the pilgrims' route to Rome, persuaded the less-hurried travellers to make the acquaintance of the spa waters. Michel de Montaigne mentions this in his travel diary of 1581. During the 16 C, the waters and their curative properties inspired the Siennese scholar Lattanzio Tolomei to write the Greek verses dedicated to the water nymphs engraved on the marble table now encased on a pillar in St. Catherine's open gallery.

The municipality of Sienna always kept the thermal treatments carried out in its territory under strict control and indeed two articles of the City Constitution are dedicated specifically to the Vignoni baths, prescribing the division of the men's from the women 's baths, with the cost of the operation to be borne half by the inhabitants and the hotel keepers of the area and the other half by the inhabitants of the Val d'Orcia castles. Room prices were also established.

Among the authors who spoke of Bagno Vignoni was the physician Andrea Bacci who, visiting the bath in 1548, praised the hospitality of the Amerighi famlly. In 1592, the Grand Duke granted the Amerighi the tax rights to the bath, on the understanding that they in turn would arrange for the necessary maintenance. This agreement became permanent in 1599, on the same condition together with the obligation of keeping a bakery, a butcher's shop and a tavern in Bagno, as well as the staff required for carrying out the spa treatments. The annual emptying of the bath in May saw the Amerighi family authorised to call upon the inhabitants of the Val d'Orcia for this purpose. The small chapel dedicated to St. Catherine built in the center of the porch overlooking the thermal pool, was constructed by this family.

In 1677 the Grand Duke Cosimo III enfeoffed St. Quirico d'Orcia to Cardinal Flavio Chigi, together with the little villages of Vignoni and Bagno Vignoni. The thermal establishment, together with three mills, eight houses, a tavern and a certain amount of land thus passed into the hands of the Chigi family and their descendents to whom a part still belongs. 

Buonconvento | Tuscany Region

BUONCONVENTO | TUSCANY REGION

 Porta Senese Buonconvento

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.

Castelnuovo Berardenga | Tuscany Region

CASTELNUOVO BERARDENGA | TUSCANY

Castelnuovo

During the days of the Republic of Sienna, the territory or district of Berardenga was the area between the headwaters of the Bozzone torrent and the  Ambra river, and between upper Chianti and the Biena river as far as Taverne d’Arbia. Today, Castelnuovo Berardenga marks the southern limit of the Chianti Classico wine zone and lies within the Province of Sienna.

The name of the town derives from the County of the Berardenghi, which in turn took its name from one of the sons of Count Wuinigi (Giunigi) Ranieri, a Salian Frank who came to Italy as Legate of the Emperor Louis the Pious in 865, and then became Governor of Sienna (867-881) and Roselle (868). He was called Berardo, and over the centuries the name used by his descendents evolved into Berardenga and became the name of the territory the family ruled over.

Long before the castle of Berardenga was built, the parish church of San Giusto, located not far from Castelnuovo, was already documented among the dependencies of the nearby ancient parish church of Pacina (Pieve a Pacina). San Giusto is mentioned among the first recorded disputes between Sienna and Arezzo, dating from the 7 C and concerned with diocesan borders.

The new castle (castelnuovo) was founded by the Republic of Sienna as a surveillance point on the borders with Florence and Arezzo, according to a resolution dated 26 July, 1366, when the top of the hill was surrounded by walls under the direction of Mino Dei of Sienna (1373-1374). Today all that remains is a tower and little more.

In 1382, shortly after the completion of the walls of the castle, the notorious condottiere, Sir John Hawkwood, assaulted Castelnuovo at the head of a Florentine army, but without success. The castle was besieged by the Florentines again in 1478 and 1479 in an attempt to seize it from the Siennese. Such events forced the rulers of the Republic of Sienna to augment the fortifications, at the end of the 15 C, with a new round of walls, supported by seven towers, of which only one still exists.

In 1511, Castelnuovo was ceded to Belisario Bulgarini who held the castle until 1526 when it came under the direct rule of Sienna. In 1554, Castelnuovo Berardenga suffered the same fate as Sienna itself, and fell under the absolute dominion of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Since 1932, Castelnuovo Berardenga has been part of the Chianti wine area, its territory being divided between Chianti Colli Senesi and Chianti Classico, of which it is the southernmost municipality.

Castiglione d'Orcia | Tuscany Region

CASTIGLIONE D'ORCIA | TUSCANY

Castiglion dOrcia

Castiglione d’Orcia marks the boundary between Val d’Orcia and the Monte Amiata forests, in the Siena Province. Once the property of the Aldobrandeschi family, it was contested in the 14th century between the Salimbeni family and Siena. In the village centre there’s a piazza dedicated to the painter and sculptor Lorenzo di Pietro known as Vecchietta. In the middle, there is a travertine well dating back to 1618 and the piazza is overlooked by the Town Hall. The churches of Santa Maria Maddalena and Santi Stefano e Degna are noteworthy. The centre is dominated by the remains of the Aldobrandeschi Fortress and the magnificent Rocca a Tentennano fortress.

The Rocca Aldobrandesca of Castiglione D'Orcia is first documented in 714 when it was a possession of the Aldobrandeschi and was known as Petra. In 1252, it became a free municipality but its independence lasted no more than a century. In 1274 it became a part of the County of Santa Fiora with the breakup of the Aldobrandeschi territories. During the 14 C, it became a Siennese possession and in return for financial favours was conceded to powerful families, including successively the Piccolomini and the Salimbeni. The latter used the Castiglione d'Orcia itself as one of their bases for their revolt against the Siennese. Later, Castiglione d'Orcia passed into the hands of the Florentines who in 1605 entrusted it to the Riario, a family of Bolognese nobles.

The Piazza il Vecchietta in the centre of town is dedicated to Lorenzo di Pietro (1412-1480), called "II Vecchieta", who was a painter, sculptor and architect. At the centre of the square, there is a beautiful fountain in travertine dated 1618, and the Municipal Palace on the square houses a Siennese school fresco of a Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus and two Saints. A walk through Castiglione should also include a visit to the Romanesque Church of S. Mary Magdalena, which has been restored recently. Its facade dates back to the 13 C, while the apse is 12 C and it has a fine bell tower. The Church of Saints Steven and Degna was the most important religious building in Castiglione, based on the number of works of art that it contains, even though its interior is not particularly interesting. Its facade dates back to the 16 C and it contained a Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus (later than 1320) by Simone Martini and another Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus by Pietro Lorenzetti, both now in Siena.

Castle of Ripa d'Orcia | Tuscany Region

CASTEL RIPA D'ORCIA | TUSCANY

castel ripa d orcia

The Castle of Ripa D'Orcia, in earlier times, Ripa al Cotone, is documented as having been sold between 1250 and 1258 by the Consorteria dei Tinniosi, a political association of related aristocratic families, to the Republic of Sienna, which valued it for its strategic and military importance during their many bitter struggles with various powerful families. In 1274, the Ripa d’Orcia Castle, and much other property, was once more owned by the Salimbeni family who had taken over the Val d’Orcia and ruled it, in effect, as an independent state. The Ripa al Cotone di Valdorcia, though less valued than other property owned by the Consorteria, assumed such military significance that it appeared in the 1316 List of Property as “Roccham et fortilitiam de Ripa Cotone” owned by Niccolò and Stricca di Giovanni di Salimbene. The Consorteria consolidated its position in Val d’Orcia after having obtained the Emperor Charles IV’s recognition of their rule and in 1355 Giovanni d’Agnolino obtained “recognition and confirmation of the fiefs of Ripa with the related territory and districts and with all the rights of jurisdiction transmissible to his legitimate heirs”.

The 1410 the peace agreement between the Republic and the Salimbeni family conferred Ripa al Cotone on Antonia de’ Salimbene, yet by 1417 it was Niccolò di Cione di Sandro who, through intervention of the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital, sold the fortress and territory of Ripa del Cotone and Bagno Vignoni “with towers, tenants, houses and fulling mill” to the Siennese for 5,000 gold florins. Subsequently, in 1437, the Hospital Chapter passed a resolution for the sale to Compagno di Bartolomeo della Agazzara whose descendants, in 1484, conveyed the estate, with “its boundary on one side the Asso and on the other the Orcia, on the other the court of Sancto Quirico and on the other the court of Vignone” to Francesca, widow of Pietro di Bartolomeo Piccolomini. Thus from 1484 the castle, together with the fortified village and surrounding land, became the property of the Piccolomini family.

By this time, the invention of artillery had initiated the decline of the military importance of castles which were thus reduced to strictly productive use. Typically, only the profitable parts of the castle estates were retained and everything else was sold or rented. Unusually, this was not the case for the Ripa d’Orcia castle properties. Though its cultivable land, like much of the Val d'Orcia, was not easily worked and had been neglected during the long periods of war, the will of Emilio Piccolomini Carli in 1605 rendered it inalienable and part of the inheritance of the family’s firstborn son.

At the end of the 19 C, Count Pietro Piccolomini Clementini initiated restoration work under the supervision of the engineer Savino Cresti, and this was continued by his widow, Countess Marianna. As a result, the Ripa d’Orcia Castle today retains many of its original features.

Though it had long lost its military significance, the Castello Ripa d’Orcia continued to be the centre of production and administration for the vast properties belonging to it. This ended with the agrarian reforms following WW II and the subsequent disappearance of sharecropping. The estate was partitioned and the village was abandoned. Since that time, agriculture has resumed on the remaining property and the restored castle itself now offers tourist accommodation.

Celle sul Rigo | Tuscany Region

CELLE SUL RIGO | TUSCANY

celle sul rigo

Celle sul Rigo, a small village 4 km from San Casciano, is located on a hill that dominates the Paglia Valley, in front of the Monte Amiata. Its sweeping and fascinating views were much admired by the poet Giosué Carducci, during the years he spent there with his family. Palazzone, the other small village near San Casciano, is mainly rural and produces high quality wine and olive oil. The Castle of Fighine is a gem that shouldn't be missed. From the castle, you can see right over the Val di Chiana as far as the distant peaks of the Umbrian Appennines. Due to its historic heritage and magnificent surroundings, as well as its conservation policies, San Casciano has been awarded the Orange Flag and has been nominated one of the Most Beautiful Old Towns of Italy.

Cetona | Tuscany Region

CETONA | TUSCANY

cetona

Cetona is a well-preserved mediaeval town located the Val di Chiana in the extreme south-east of Tuscany, Italy, in the province of Sienna. It surrounds a hill where the rocca (fortress), containing a square tower (ca 900 AD) and an inner fortress wall, is located. This rocca became known as the Scitonia castle. In the 1300s, possession of Cetona frequently changed hands between Siena and Orvieto, and after a brief period under Perugia, it was annexed by Siena. An outer wall was built, containing two round towers (1458 AD) and Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici sold Cetona in 1556 to the Marquis Chiappino Vitelli, who converted the fortress into a private residence and built the piazza, today named Piazza Garibaldi. His descendants also erected Palazzo Vitelli in the late 1600s. The castle of Cetona is still privately owned.

Viewed from a distance and from any direction, Cetona looks like a cone with houses climbing up its sides and with a large group of cypresses and pines hiding the castle at the apex. The Collegiate church, which dates from the 13 C and houses noteworthy paintings, including one attributed to Pinturicchio (1454-1513), is located just below the castle. Piazza Garibaldi is quite large for a town of 3,000 inhabitants and is the location of churches (S. Michele Arcangelo and SS. Annunziata) and residences (Palazzo Vitelli, l6 C) and, at the far end, the Rivellino tower which was part of the outer walls. The "historical centre" is uphill from the piazza, and includes the Palazzo di Giustizia, now the local police station, and further up, the Palazzo Minutelli, currently the town hall. Further on, the beautiful Collegiate church has its own little piazza. The path under the Arco del Brugi leads to the Costa dell'Arciprete, a curving, initially level path, that drops steeply steeply at Capperoni and continues towards Piazza Luca Contile (Piazza Paré) and to S. Michele church.

Cetona became a favorite of the trendy set in the Italy of the 1960s. This happened thanks partly to its geographical location halfway between Florence and Rome on the Autostrada del Sole but also because of the attractiveness of the town itself and the beauty of the surrounding countryside. Cetona remains popular - the clothing designer Valentino owns a palazzo here - and although it is off the tourist circuit the shops are good and it's a pleasant place to visit.

Chiusdino | Tuscany Region

CHIUSDINO | TUSCANY REGION

 chiusdino tuscany

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.

Chiusi, Siena Province

CHIUSI | TUSCANY

Bike Tour Italy Chiusi Tuscany
This small hill town, once one of the most important Etruscan cities, lies near the key train junction on the Florence-Rome line. This is one of the key places you might consider as a start point or ending for your Bike Tour in Tuscany.  It is close to some of the classic routes of the Siena province and very easy to get from Roma without a lot of extra transfers.

WHAT TO SEE

Highlights include the Archeological Museum, and the Etruscan tombs just outside of town near Lago di Chiusi (€4, daily 9:00-20:00, Via Porsenna 93, tel. 0578-20177). One of the tombs is multichambered with several sarcophagi, while another, the Tomba della Scimmia (Tomb of the Monkey) has well-preserved frescoes. Visiting the tombs requires a guide, arranged through the Tourist Office or the Archeological Museum (5 people allowed to view at a time).

The Cathedral Museum on the main square provides access to the underground labyrinth of Etruscan tunnels (dark, so bring a flashlight). The mandatory guided tour ends in a large Roman cistern, from which you can climb the church bell tower for an expansive view of the countryside (museum-€2, labyrinth-€3, combo-ticket-€4, daily 9:30-12:45 & 16:00-19:00, tours 11:00-16:00).

The Tourist Office is on the main square (Mon–Fri 10:00–13:00, maybe afternoons in summer, closed Sat-Sun, tel. 0578-227-667, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

GETTING THERE

Trains connect Chiusi with Rome, Florence, Siena, and more. Buses link the train station with the town center two miles away.

Gaiole in Chianti | Tuscany Region

GAIOLE IN CHIANTI | TUSCANY REGION

Gaiole in Chianti tuscany

Historically the town of Gaiole has always been on the edge of Florentine territory, although today it is part of the province of Siena. It sits at an altitude of 367 meters a.s.l. in the Chianti Hills. Gaiole grew up on the banks of the river Massellone thanks to the trade that passed up and down the river. Many local place names have either Etruscan or Roman origins and many archaeological sites prove the existence of settlements here in ancient times, such as the remains of the necropolis at Cacchiano (I – III century) and the columns of the church of San Marcellino.

Many small settlements grew up throughout the territory in the Medieval period. Many Romanesque structures are still visible today such as the churches of San Giusto in Salcio, San Polo in Rosso, Spaltenna and San Vincenti, all of which used to be part of the powerful diocese of Fiesole except the last which belonged to the Bishop of Arezzo. Ownership of the Montegrossi fort was particularly violently contested. This feudal castle on the Valdarno road was fought over by Florence and Imperial forces.

In the XIV century, Gaiole became the region capital for ‘terziere’ within the Lega del Chianti (Chianti League). This political and military association was run from Florence. What was already a centre for trade and business became an important defensive bulwark between Florence and Siena and the town was continually rampaged through until 1555. In that year, Siena definitively surrendered and became an annexation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The Chianti League was broken up in 1776 when the ruling Lorena family turned the ‘terzieri’ towns into independent municipalities. The Gaiole region is home to many different Medieval castles. Visitors can admire Cacchiano Castle, built in the XIII century by the Ricasoli family. This castle was destroyed by the Aragonesi in 1478 and then rebuilt in 1530.

The same family also gave Gaiole Brolio Castle which was transformed into a Neo-gothic villa in the XIX century. In was renovated by the famous architect, Sangallo in 1484 after a military strike by the Sienese. Monteluco Castle sits on a hilltop just a few kilometres from Gaiole.

Montalcino | Tuscany Region

MONTALCINO | TUSCANY

Bike Touring Italy, Montalcino Tuscay

Famous for its Brunello di Montalcino red wines, this hill town, once part of Siena's empire, is worth a visit for its enoteca, housed inside the 14th-century fortezza at the edge of town (tel. 0577-849-211, www.enotecalafortezza.it). After sampling a glass of the local vino, wander down into the heart of town at Piazza Garibaldi. The TI is just off this square in the City Hall (daily 10:00–13:00 & 14:00–17:50, closed Mon in winter, tel. & fax 0577-849-331, www.prolocomontalcino.it).

WHAT TO SEE

Besides the fortezza and the Brunello, Montalcino's main sight is the Civic Museum on Via Ricasoli, where you'll find art from the late Gothic/early Renaissance period. Non-wine lovers may find Montalcino a bit too focused on vino, but one sip of Brunello makes even wine skeptics believe that Bacchus was onto something. Note that the Rosso di Montalcino wine is also good at half the price. Sweet-tooths will enjoy munching Ossi di Morta ("bones of the dead"), a crunchy cookie with almonds.

GETTING THERE

From Montalcino by Bus to: Siena (€3, 8/day, 90 min), Montepulciano/Pienza (10/day, change to line #114 in Torrenieri, 60 min plus changing time). Anyone going to Rome or Florence changes in Siena. The town bus station is on Piazza Cavour. Bus tickets are sold at tabacchi shops or the bar on Piazza Cavour — not on board. Check schedules at the Tourtist Office or the bus station on Piazza Cavour.

Montepulciano | Tuscany Region

MONTEPULCIANO | TUSCANY

Bike tour Italy, Montipulciano Tuscany

Montepulciano sits between Val D’Orcia and Val di Chiana. Built along the narrow top of a limestone hill, this beautiful medieval village seems to be the natural continuation of the landscape on which it was built. Coming from the striking but more touristy city of Pienza, just eleven kilometers away, the landscape that you encounter just before reaching the village is the perfect reflection of classical Tuscany. Immediately below town’s castle walls and fortifications, you can admire the beautiful church of the Madonna di San Biagio. This sixteenth century treasure stands out in the distance welcoming anyone who chooses to spend a day strolling the streets of the village. Don’t miss a luxurious bath in the hot sulphurous waters of the nearby thermal springs. Leave your car in one of several parking lots located outside of the town’s walls and you’ll be able to visit the elegant, ancient town on foot.

Montepulciano welcomes visitors with vino and views. Alternately under Sienese and Florentine rule, the city still retains its medieval contrade districts, each with a mascot and flag. The neighborhoods compete the last Sunday of August in the Bravio delle Botti , where teams of men push large wine casks uphill from Piazza Marzocco to Piazza Grande, all hoping to win a banner and bragging rights.

The city is a collage of architectural styles, but the elegant San Biagio Church, at the base of the hill, is the most impressive Renaissance building. Most ignore the architecture and focus more on the city's other creative accomplishment, the tasty Vino Nobile di Montepulciano red wine.

WHAT TO SEE

Montepulciano centers on two streets, the steep Via di Gracciano nel Corso, and Via Ricci, but the quiet back streets are well worth a visit. The Tourist Information is on Piazza Don Minzoni (daily 9:30-12:30, 15:00-18:30, tel. 0578-757-341, www.comune.montepulciano.si.it, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  Don't confuse the TI with the more central and less helpful "Strada del Vino" office on Piazza Grande, which may not give out much city information, but does organize wine tours in the city and minibus winery tours farther afield (call for current days and times, tel. 0578-717-484, www.stradavinonobile.it).

The pleasant, lively Piazza Grande is surrounded by an architectural grab bag. The medieval Palazzo Comunale has a Florentine-style clock tower that you can climb for a windy, panoramic view (€1.50, daily 10:00-18:00). The Palazzo de' Nobili-Tarugi is a Renaissance arcaded confection, while the unfinished Duomo glumly looks on, wishing the city hadn't run out of money for the facade. Dream up a way to finish it while you enjoy a cappuccino at the café on the square.  Small and eclectic, the well-presented Civic Museum is worthwhile if only for its colorful della Robbia ceramic altarpieces (€4, Tue-Sat 10:00-13:00 & 15:00-18:00, Sun 10:00-18:00, closed Mon, Via Ricci 10, tel. 0578-717-300).

Down a picturesque driveway lined with cypress, the San Biagio Church, designed by Antonio da Sangallo,  is a great example of  Renaissance, with proportions of the Greek cross plan give the building a pleasing rhythmic quality. The lone tower was supposed to have a twin, but it was never built. The interior is impressive, with a high dome and lantern (daily 9:00-13:00 & 15:00-19:00). The street Via di San Biagio, leading from the church up into town, is an enjoyable walk.

Monteriggioni | Tuscany Region

MONTERIGGIONI | TUSCANY REGION

Monteriggio Tuscany 

Monteriggioni is located in the Chianti hills of the Siena Province. In the year 1000, Monteriggioni was a thriving town. The castle however, wasn’t built till 1213. It was built by the Republic of Siena who wanted it to be a kind of defensive outpost on the main road between Florence and Siena. It was one of the first castles built by the Siense who, until then, had always used the fortresses of weak feudal families.

The castle has two large entrances, one known as ‘romea’ which opened onto the road to Siena and another that faced Florence. The castle had several important defensive elements, such as the ‘carbonaie’ which were kept full of coal and could be set alight when needed in order to keep the enemy far from the castle walls. There are portcullises, towers and a second entrance that creates an anti-chamber for the Fiorentina Gate. Between 1244 and 1269 Florence tried many times to invade the town without success.

During the XIV century, the castle and surrounding town remained firmly in the hands of Siena, despite being weakened by the plague and an attempted invasion by a group of Sienese exiles in 1383 which failed due to lack of support from Florence. Nonetheless, the invention of gunpowder and the subsequent creation of the artillery made the castle much more vulnerable to attack. The walls were lowered and the ‘carbonaie’ were eliminated. Monteriggioni modernised its structure and was able to withstand the siege of 1554 by Papal troops who were historical allies of the Florentine Republic. However, shortly after this success, the town was betrayed by Captain Zeti who basically handed the town over to the Florentines without any kind of battle having to take place. This totally altered the balance between Florence and Siena and Florentine Medici troops were able to go on to take over the Sienese Republic.

The inhabitants of the castle were utterly humiliated and deported. The region came under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and stayed that way right up to the unification of Italy. Over the following centuries the castle belonged to various noteworthy families until it was bought in 1704 by the Griccioli family. Today, the same family still owns several properties both inside and outside the town’s walls.

Monteroni d'Arbia | Tuscany Region

MONTERONI D’ARBIA | TUSCANY REGION

Monteroni dArbia Tuscany 

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 Region

MONTICIANO | TUSCANY

monticiano

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.

Mount Amiata | Tuscany Region

MONTE AMIATA | TUSCANY REGION

monte amiata 

Mount Amiata is the largest of the lava domes in the Amiata lava dome complex located about 20 km northwest of Lake Bolsena in the southern Tuscany region of Italy. Half of the mountain area is in the Grosseto provinceand the northern slopes are within the Siena Province.

Mount Amiata (La Vetta) is a compound lava dome with a trachytic lava flow that extends to the east. It is part of the larger Amiata complex volcano. A massive viscous trachydacitic lava flow, 5 km long and 4 km wide, is part of the basal complex and extends from beneath the southern base of Corno de Bellaria dome. Radiometric dates indicate that the Amiata complex had a major eruptive episode about 300,000 years ago. No eruptive activity has occurred at Amiata during the Holocene, but thermal activity including cinnabar mineralization continues at a geothermal field near the town of Bagnore, at the SW end of the dome complex.

The main economical resources of the Amiata region are chestnuts, timber and, increasingly, tourism (ski resorts include the peak area, Prato delle Macinaie, Prato della Contessa, Rifugio Cantore and Pian della Marsiliana). The lower areas are characterized by olive trees and vines. Other vegetation include beech and fir. In ancient times cinnabar was extracted here. The region is included in the comuni of Abbadia San Salvatore, Arcidosso, Castel del Piano, Piancastagnaio, Santa Fiora and Seggiano, all located between 600 and 800 metres of altitude.

Murlo | Tuscany Region

MURLO | TUSCANY REGION

murlo tuscany 

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.

Pienza | Tuscany Region

PIENZA | TUSCANY

Bike Tour Italy Pienza, Tuscany
Set on a crest, surrounded by green, rolling hills, the small town of Pienza packs a lot of Renaissance punch. In the 1400s, locally born pope Pius II of the Piccolomini family decided to remodel his birthplace in the current Renaissance style. Propelled by papal clout, the town of Corsignano was transformed — in only five year's time — into a jewel of Renaissance architecture. It was renamed Pienza, after pope Pius.

The plan was to remodel the whole town, but work ended in 1564 when both the pope and his architect, Bernardo Rossellino, died. The architectural focal point is the square Piazza Pio II, surrounded by the Duomo and pope's family residence, Palazzo Piccolomini.

The culinary focal point is Pecorino cheese, a pungent sheep's cheese, which can be found at almost any shop and can be eaten fresh (fresco) or aged (secco).

WHAT TO SEE

The Tourist Office is on Piazza Pio II, across from the Duomo (Mon–Sat 10:00–13:00 & 15:00–19:00, closed Sun, tel. & fax 0578-749-071). They rent audioguides for self-guided hour-long town walks (€5). The Tourist Office will normally let you leave your bags there. Market day is Friday.

GETTING THERE

From Pienza by Bus to: Siena (6/day, 90 min), Montepulciano (8/day, 30 min). Bus tickets are sold at the bar just inside Pienza's town gate.

PLACES TO VISIT IN THE SIENA PROVINCE

PLACES TO VISIT IN THE SIENA PROVINCE

Poggibonsi | Tuscany Region

POGGIBONSI | TUSCANY REGION

poggibonsi castel tuscany

Poggibonsi is in the province of Siena and has a population of about 27,000 inhabitants. What is today’s town centre was the ancient “Borgo Marturi”, a holding of the abbey and of the Marturi castle, already established in the XII century. Its position is in fact enviable, being an unavoidable point of passage for the pilgrims on the Via Francigena, on their way to Rome, as well as a zone of boundary between the states of Florence, Siena and Volterra. Its enviable position was obviously at the cost of peace, as on many occasions the three cities didn’t hesitate in resorting to violence in order to take possession of the village.

For example, in 1115, the Florentines attacked and destroyed the Marturi castle. Such an event convinced Count Guido dei Guidi to build a new city, on the “Podium Bonitii” (Poggio di Bonizio), reserving possession of a part of this for the Siennese. And so, a centre of strong Ghibelline and Siena-loving connotations was born, immediately coming into conflict with Florence. In 1270, after the victory of Colle Val d’Elsa against the Siennese, the Florentine Guelphs attacked and razed the new city to the ground, prohibiting reconstructio.

Having returned to the settlement, re-named Poggiobonzio, the conflicts once again prosper and draw the attention of the Emperor Arrigo (or HenryVII ) who, in 1313, started up the reconstruction of the ancient castle that was to be called Poggio Imperiale, a project that was destined to fail following the Emperor’s early death. So a new era tormented by the wars with the Florentines and by the plague, opened for the people of Poggibonsi. The accession of the Medicis further compromised the fate of the city. Siena having fallen, Poggiobonzio first suffered a hard attack in 1529 by Clement VII’s Papal troops, and then surrendered to the Grand Duchy in the mid-16th century, subjugating itself to Florence together with the rest of the Siennese territory.

Modern times saw Poggibonsi slide from one occupation to another. After the Spanish, the Lorenas, then the French and finally the Italian royal troops, all take over control of the territory. In the 20th century, nevertheless, the town’s urban and social structure were greatly shaken up. The flourishing of the industrial and commercial activities, thanks to glass and the exportation of Chianti wine, provoke a demographic expansion of considerable proportions. The bombings in ’43 and ’44 definitively change the physiognomy of the town, quickly rebuilt but never restored to its ancient structure.

Radda in Chianti | Tuscany Region

RADDA IN CHIANTI | TUSCANY REGION

radda in chianti tuscany

At a height of 530m above sea level, Radda in Chianti has a population of about 1,700 and located in the Siena Province. Radda’s history is documented from the IX century BC, thanks also to the numerous archaeological findings, but the first reference to its castle dates back to the XI century, when it was listed in an inventory compiled for Emperor Ottone III which summarises the territories included in the Florentine abbey.

In 1220 the territory was purchased by a family of the Tuscan feudal aristocracy, the Guidi Counts, under authorisation of Frederick II. Already from the end of the XIII century, however, the territorial extension of the Council of Florence, at the end of its bitter struggles with the Guidi Counts, incorporated the area of Radda into its confines.

Radda was first the capital of one of the three districts of the Chianti League, and then, from 1384, the podestà jurisdiction of the League itself. The leagues represented at the time the highest autonomous institutional organ of the Florentine county, supplied with an autonomous statute and very precise defensive dispositions. Only with the reforms required by the Leopoldo Grand Duchy, Radda was definitively transformed into an autonomous commune.

The territory of Radda, in the Middle Ages, was characterised almost exclusively by the agricultural economy, centred on the production of oil and especially wine, even though there was no lacking in pasture activities and artisan production linked to the spinning of wool, hemp and linen. Later on, the share-cropping system was diffused, bringing about the construction of farms and estates in the Radda countryside. Today agriculture has specialised in the production of quality oil and D.O.C. (guaranteed quality) wine, while artisan work has evolved into a mechanical and wood-working industry.

Of the numerous castles that rose in the Radda area only that of Volpaia was brought to a good level of expansion. Its walls with towers and bridge house are still, in a large part, visible while other fortresses, such as Albola and Monterinaldi, are today in advanced states of ruin. Still others, such as is the case of Castelvecchio, have been transformed into noble houses or farms. Other examples of this type are the castles of Castiglione, Trebbio and Paterno. Furthermore it is still possible to find numerous fortified medieval residences that the council has inherited from the ancient lords of the warrior aristocracy.

OTHER THINGS TO SEE NEAR RADDA IN CHIANTI

In Radda’s surrounding countryside it is also possible to visit the parish of Santa Maria Novella which, despite having undergone numerous renovation works, has succeeded in conserving its original Romanesque installation, as well as numerous works of art. Among the many Romanesque installations scattered around the territory, of great importance is the convent of Santa Maria in Prato that still today holds a 15th-century “Madonna with Child” by Neri di Bicci.

Rapolano Terme | Tuscany Region

RAPOLANO TERME | TUSCANY REGION

rapolano terme tuscany

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.

Rocca d'Orcia | Tuscany Region

ROCCA D' ORCIA | TUSCANY

rocca dorcia

Rocca d'Orcia is located in the Siena Province and sits on the eastern slopes of Monte Amiata.  The Rocca d'Orcia, more correctly known as the Rocca di Tentennano, is a fortress standing on a pinnacle high above the Val d'Orcia with the small village of the Rocca d'Orcia just below, and the valley spreading out on all sides. The Rocca is constructed of limestone and, like so many other castles in the area, played a role in the interminable territorial conflicts between Florence and Sienna, and was also a strong point on the Via Francigena, the pilgrim's road leading from Canterbury, through France and Italy, to Rome.

Most of the Rocca was built between 1250 and 1258, but the peak on which it stands was used as a military lookout and defensive point from the 10 C onward. The Rocca is also famous as a refuge of Saint Catherine of Siena in 1377 who was miraculously taught to read and write here. The Saint's writings make reference to this and the Rocca is thus a destination for religious, as well as of military and historical, pilgrims.

The Rocca di Tentennano was abandoned in the early 20 C. The last owners, the Scotto family, donated it to the country and it is now restored and open to the public.

The defense systems of the Rocca di Tentennano were closely integrated with the village of Rocca d'Orcia. The walls of the town contained the entrance courtyard of the fortress, and part of an ancient door is still extant. To visit both Rocca d'Orcia and the Rocca di Tentennano, it is best to park in the area that lies at the foot of the steep slope leading up to the fortress. One can then walk along the cypress-lined hill that leads to the main entrance and afterwards stroll down into the village.

Although structurally much as it was in the days of Siennese military glory, the restoration of the Rocca di Tentennano was carried out in 1975. The views are even more striking here than from the nearby ruined fortress of Castiglione d'Orcia. At the top of the village is the Chiesa di San Simeone which was built in 1200 AD. This ancient church once housed art treasures that were stolen in the 1980s. A cobblestone walk leads from San Simeone through the main part of the village, the Borgo Maestro, and to the Chiesa di Madonna del Palazzo, which is now a private home. Nearby lies the Piazza del Cisterna, a tiny but rich Folk Art Museum, and the ruins of the Palazzo Comunale.

San Casciano dei Bagni | Tuscany Region

SAN CASCIANO DEI BAGNI | TUSCANY

San Casciano dei Bagni

San Casciano dei Bagni is located in Tuscany on the southern border of the province of Sienna and has been famous since the earliest times for its abundant thermal springs. The 42 springs within its territory were discovered by the Etruscans and developed by the Romans. The feudal aristocracy of the Middle Ages also made great use of them. The waters were at the height of their fame in the period between the Renaissance and the middle of the 18 C. Today, the same sources feed the ultra-modern Fonteverde Spa centre. The mediaeval centre of San Casciano is composed a maze of narrow streets, alleys and squares that wrap themselves round the hill and wind upwards towards the Collegiate and the Town Hall. All that remains of the ancient "suburbium" is the church of Santa Maria della Colonna, standing in the countryside and dating back to the 4-5 C.
 
San Casciano takes its name from the ancient church dedicated to Saint Casciano, to which the specification "Bagni" (baths) was added to indicate the presence of the thermal baths of the territory. The origins of the village of San Casciano dei Bagni go back to the Etruscan and Roman periods, when the first thermal baths were built here. During the Roman Age, the locality was known not only for the beneficial properties of its sulphuric and alkaline springs but also for the flourishing trading activities that took place here, due to its location close to the Via Cassia.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the whole area was depopulated as a result of the recurrent Barbaric invasions and only repopulated during the Early Middle Ages around an already-existing castle that was under the jurisdiction of the The Abbey of Saint Salvatore. During the first years of the 13 C, the castle passed to the Visconti family of Campiglia, as testified by an imperial act issued in 1226 by Federico II. At the same time the ancient Via Cassia was diverted to San Casciano dei Bagni which consequently profited greatly.

After various political events involving the Visconti of Campiglia, in the middle of the 14 C, the family divided into two different branches and the new Lord of San Casciano dei Bagni gave the village to the Republic of Sienna. The period of Siennese domination coincided with the beginning of a series of bloody conflicts for control of the village, which was invaded and devastated first by the troops of Niccolò Piccinino and then by those one of Vitellozzo Vitelli. This situation contributed to the collapse of the Republic of Sienna that occurred as a result of the 16 C onslaught by the troops of the Medici of Florence allied with Imperial troops. By the middle of the 16 C, all of the domains of Sienna, among them San Casciano dei Bagni, became the possessions of the Republic of Florence, under the Medici Grand Dukes. During the domination of the Medici, the thermal baths were restored and promoted. During the next century the reforms acted by the Dukes of Lorraine gave an additional impulse to the economy of San Casciano.

San Giovanni d'Asso | Tuscany Region

SAN GIOVANNI D'ASSO | TUSCANY

San Giovanni dAsso

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.

Siena | Tuscany Region

SIENA | TUSCANY REGION

siena 1

The city of Siena is located in the central part of the Toscany region of Italy. The city was built in the middle of a vast hilly landscape between the Arbia river valley (south), Merse river valley (south-west), Elsa river valley (north) and Chianti hills (north-east), Montagnola senese (west) and Crete senesi (south-east). It is the capital of the province of Siena. The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of Italy's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international arrivals in 2008. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year.

According to a legend Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus. When they fled Rome, they took the statue of She-wolf to Siena, which became a symbol of the town. Siena, like other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (900–400 BC) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. The Etruscans were an advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land, and their custom of building their settlements in well-defended hill forts.

A Roman town called Saena Julia was founded at the site in the time of the Emperor Augustus. The first document mentioning it dates from AD 70. Some archaeologists assert that Siena was controlled for a period by a Gaulish tribe called the Senones. According to local legend, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus and thus nephews of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Supposedly after their father's murder by Romulus, they fled Rome, taking with them the statue of the she-wolf suckling the infants (Capitoline Wolf), thus appropriating that symbol for the town. Additionally they rode white and black horses, giving rise to the Barzana, or coat of arms of Siena with a white band atop a dark band. Some claim the name Siena derives from Senius. Other etymologies derive the name from the Etruscan family name Saina, the Roman family name Saenii, or the Latin word senex "old" or its derived form seneo "to be old".

Siena did not prosper under Roman rule. It was not sited near any major roads and lacked opportunities for trade. Its insular status meant that Christianity did not penetrate until the 4th century AD, and it was not until the Lombards invaded Siena and the surrounding territory that it knew prosperity. After the Lombard occupation, the old Roman roads of Via Aurelia and the Via Cassia passed through areas exposed to Byzantine raids, so the Lombards rerouted much of their trade between the Lombards' northern possessions and Rome along a more secure road through Siena. Siena prospered as a trading post, and the constant streams of pilgrims passing to and from Rome provided a valuable source of income in the centuries to come.

The oldest aristocratic families in Siena date their line to the Lombards' surrender in 774 to Charlemagne. At this point, the city was inundated with a swarm of Frankish overseers who married into the existing Sienese nobility and left a legacy that can be seen in the abbeys they founded throughout Sienese territory. Feudal power waned however, and by the death of Countess Matilda in 1115 the border territory of the Mark of Tuscia which had been under the control of her family, the Canossa, broke up into several autonomous regions. This ultimately resulted into the creation of the Republic of Siena.

The Republic existed for over four hundred years, from the late 11th century until the year 1555. During the golden age of Siena before the Black Death in 1348, the city was home to 50,000 people. link In the Italian War of 1551–1559, the republic was defeated by the rival Duchy of Florence in alliance with the Spanish crown. After 18 months of resistance, Siena surrendered to Spain on 17 April 1555, marking the end of the republic. The new Spanish King Philip, owing huge sums to the Medici, ceded it (apart from a series of coastal fortress annexed to the State of Presidi) to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to which it belonged until the unification of Italy in the 19th century. A Republican government of 700 Sienese families in Montalcino resisted until 1559. The picturesque city remains an important cultural centre, especially for humanist disciplines.

Torrita di Siena | Tuscany Region

TORRITA DI SIENA | TUSCANY REGION

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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.

Val di Cecina | Tuscany Region

VAL DI CECINA | TUSCANY REGION

val di cecina tuscany

The Val di Cecina of Tuscany, Italy, extends from the coast, where the town of Cecina and other tourist resorts are located, as far as the famous hill top town of Volterra, perched on a rocky spur at 500 m. The Cecina Valley is still today among the most remote areas in Tuscany and well of the beaten track for tourists. The Valley extends along the River Cecina in the south of the Province of Pisa and takes in parts of the Provinces of Sienna and Grosseto. It also extends a short distance into the central portion of the Province of Livorno, near the final stretch and mouth of the river.

The Val di Cecina is hilly in the hinterland but mostly flat near the mouth of the Cecina. It is quite famous for the steep ravines, known as Balze di Volterra, which are found near Volterra. The area is also rich in geothermal activity including geysers, hot pools and steam outlets in the area around the village of Larderello near Pomarance.

The Val di Cecina as a whole includes the municipalities of Castellina Marittima, Riparbella, Casale Marittimo, Guardistallo Montescudaio, Montecatini Val di Cecina, Volterra, Pomarance, Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina and Monteverdi in the Pisa inland, some portions of the municipalities Radicondoli and Casole d'Elsa in the province of Sienna and the town of Cecina Livorno along the coast.

The part of the Val di Cecina that extends along the foothills sloping down to the Maremma Livorno and the central part of the Etruscan Coast is also called the Maremma Pisana and includes the municipalities of Castellina Marittima, Riparbella, Montescudaio, Guardistallo, Casale Marittimo and Monteverdi Marittimo.

The Upper Cecina Valley, in the southern part of the Province of Pisa, comprises the districts of Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, Montecatini Val di Cecina, Pomarance and Volterra. The area is bordered to the west by the Cornia Valley and the lower Cecina Valley, to the north by the Era Valley, to the east by the Upper Elsa Valley and to the south by the Colline Metallifere of the Alta Maremma.

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