La Valdichiana

La Valdichiana

Storie dal Territorio della Valdichiana

Tag: tourism

St. Stephen’s Parish Church in Cennano

Let’s continue our journey to discover the places and the most interesting events of the Valdichiana: today we will talk about Pieve di Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Parish Church) in…

Let’s continue our journey to discover the places and the most interesting events of the Valdichiana: today we will talk about Pieve di Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Parish Church) in Cennano, near Castelmuzio, within the municipality of Trequanda, which is part of the Diocese of Montepulciano, Chiusi and Pienza.

The Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano is a small piece of history of our region. This rural church, not so far away from the village, is the result of constant changes, adjustments and reconstructions, and each of these changes carries the memory of a bygone era. Architecturally, the Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano presents a simple gable façade, with a Gothic gate; the church has three naves, with apses characterized by a predominantly Romanesque style.

The church is a place of worship of the Catholic religion, and it was completed in 1285 A.D. and it was consecrated to St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian tradition. The small bell tower was erected in the 18th century. If you think this church, made of sandstone, has kept almost unchanged its structure, throughout the centuries, you might make a big mistake: its origins are even older.

The Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano was as an Etruscan Temple; the area around Castelmuzio, in fact, was an Etruscan settlement, whose traces of tombs, inscriptions and burial urns are still present. As Rome domination expanded, the Etruscan Temple left for another pagan temple, dedicated to the goddess Isis, built inside a vicus, a rural Roman settlement; the road that skirted it connected Chiusi to Fiesole.

On the foundations of the pagan temple was then built the Pieve of Santo Stefano in Cennano, around the 4th century; in the early Christian era, this baptismal church witnesses the progress of the Catholic religion in the countryside and in rural districts. Throughout the 7th and 8th centuries the church was very important, and was the reason for continuing disputes between the Bishops of Siena and Arezzo, who wanted to exercise their jurisdiction on the church, together with a group of churches and monasteries.

In the 14th century began the slow decline of the Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano, due to the gradual abandonment of the countryside and due to social changes. Thanks to the simplicity of its Romanesque style and the integrity of its structure, it has been restored since the 18th century. The first three bays of the nave were replaced by a gabled roof supported by pillars, and it was placed a Baroque altar and it was enriched with more modern works of art. Currently the church officiates the Holy Mass on Sunday, it hosts concerts of harpsichord and weddings, and it is accessible by tourists and pilgrims.

The particularity of the Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano is made by its vicissitudes, made of continuous reconstructions, which go hand in hand with cultural and social changes throughout the ages. A fate shared with many architectural works, maybe unknown or forgotten, but worthy of being told. An Etruscan settlement at first, then the Roman one, and then the early Christian one; it began a rural parish church, then it was abandoned, then it became again a restored place of worship. The dominant culture has always made changes to its structure. The old gods have been replaced, the architectures have been changed, the functions have been updated. Whenever the dominant culture came into contact with the Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano, it didn’t only admire it as a Museum: it has constantly molded it, revisited it, claimed it for itself and its symbols. The church has been forced to evolve in some ways: perhaps this is why it survived until this time, unlike many other buildings. And maybe this is just that feeling that you feel while visiting it: a tradition that constantly evolves and changes, even in a context that seems motionless and eternal, as the places of religious worship.

To sum up: the Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano is a wonderful and significant piece of history, lost in the territory of the Valdichiana. It’s not so visited by tourists, and perhaps it is also unknown to most of the local population, though it represents a perfect stop-over while trekking or for Sunday picnics. A visit is recommended to all lovers of sacred architecture and history facts, while we are waiting for the next dominant culture.

(photo credits by Edisonblus (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

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The Lake Montepulciano

Our journey continues, in order to discover the most interesting places of Valdichiana, in the most hidden corners and among the internationally renowned excellence. We couldn’t miss an issue dedicated…

Our journey continues, in order to discover the most interesting places of Valdichiana, in the most hidden corners and among the internationally renowned excellence. We couldn’t miss an issue dedicated to the Lake Montepulciano, that is what was left of the great swamp that once characterized Valdichiana.

The Lake Montepulciano is a lake formed by the Canale Maestro of Chiana, the only affluent and the only effluent; it’s close to the Lake of Chiusi and Trasimeno Lake, and its southern shores mark the border between Tuscany and Umbria. The lake testifies to a millennial history: the swamp originated from the Pliocene Sea that invaded the depression of Valdichiana a half a million of years ago. The fossils found belonged to mammoth, hippos and deers which prove the size of the lake; when southern Tuscany was concerned by several liftings, caused by the volcanic activities of Monte Amiata, the valley became a river basin and originated the Clanis river. The diversion of its waters between the river Tiber and Arno rivers characterized the secular swampy waters which belonged to these lands and the Lake Montepulciano is a perfect witness of the recovery of the lands.

In addition to its historical importance, the Lake Montepulciano is also one of the most important wetlands of central Italy and it is a protected natural area since 1996, when it was invested with the title of Natural Reserve by Tuscany, together with some adjoining farmland and part of the Canale Maestro of Chiana. The Natural Reserve covers about 300 hectares in the southern part of the municipality of Montepulciano.

The protection of the natural area and the path of development started over twenty years ago. Already in 1989 the municipalities of Montepulciano and Siena entrusted the management of the area to LIPU, making it a natural oasis. With the birth of the real Natural Reserve there was then an attempt at reorganization and relaunch of the protected area, whose management was entrusted to the “Associazione Amici del Lago di Montepulciano”.

Birdwatchers know this Lake very well, because it is an important staging point for birds that migrate from Africa to Europe. Within the Reserve, there are several species of birds, which use it for overwintering and nesting. Not to forget fishing, because within the lake waters there are species such as the eel, the chub and the stickleback, and some species have been introduced, such as the pike, the carp and the tench. Entire generations of Valdichiana fished in these waters, while the share-croppers cultivated the surrounding land.

The Visitor Center “La Casetta”, belonging to the Natural Reserve of the Lake Montepulciano, is located close to the lake and the trails that surround it, and it is easy to reach from Acquaviva and Valiano. In the Centre you can find educational and informative material on the territory, as well as a museum, that collects objects and artifacts found in the surrounding settlements. There is also a seminar room that hosts exhibitions, seminars, workshops and an ongoing series of events throughout the year, as well as a food court and a large parking area even for campers.

At the visitor centre you can book guided tours on the trails and excursions by boat, to take full advantage of the natural area. The trail crosses the grove of reeds ends with a watch tower, in addition to bordering with the Trail of Recovery, a hiking trail also for bicycles, that runs through the entire Valdichiana from Chiusa dei Monaci of Arezzo, to Chiusi Scalo. Whether you are birdwatchers, or lovers of protected natural areas, or simply tourists looking for a quiet place where to enjoy the memory of the ancient swamp of Valdichiana, the Lake Montepulciano is definitely a must see.

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The village of Castelmuzio

Let’s continue our journey to discover the most interesting places of this territory, which can become a surprise and a destination for both tourists and residents of Valdichiana, which are…

Let’s continue our journey to discover the most interesting places of this territory, which can become a surprise and a destination for both tourists and residents of Valdichiana, which are chasing memories of the past. Our territory is rich in beautiful landscapes, villages and artworks, which have roots in history and they form a fixed point of reference for our future.

Among the most charming and interesting medieval villages that we can find within Valdichiana municipalities, there is definitely Castelmuzio, a part of the municipality of Trequanda. The origins of the village date back to the Etruscan Era, as proved by the discovery of the remains of a temple, dedicated to the Goddess Isis near the settlement, as well as tombs, urns and Etruscan inscriptions. To find official tracks of Castelmuzio, however, we must go beyond the year 1000 A.D.. In some documents of the 9th century of the Badia Amiatina of St. Salvatore (St. Salvatore’s Abbey), the place is called “Casale Mustia”, while it was called “Castello” (Castle) by its residents. In other documents, dating back to 1213 A.D., in the State Archive of Siena, it was appointed as “Castel-Mozzo“.

During the Middle Ages, Castelmuzio was owned by Messrs. Cacciaconti della Scialenga, former Lords of Montisi and owners of the farm of Fratta in Sinalunga. In 1270 A.D., the village passed to the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, whose coat of arms is still present in some farms in the surroundings; it was bought then by Andrea Piccolomini in 1470 A.D.; the domain broke in 1559 A.D. with the defeat of the Republic of Siena and it was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, ruled by Medici. After the unification of Italy, Castelmuzio became definitively part of the municipality of Trequanda.

The hamlet of Castelmuzio was erected on the crest of a tuff hill, at the foot of Mount Lecceto. Its structure follows the model of the medieval fortified castle, surrounded by walls and ramparts to facilitate the defence of the inhabitants. At the entrance of the village, there is a monument to the fallen and the ancient stone on which St. Bernardino of Siena used to rest. Within the village, there are many notable historic buildings, such as Palazzo Fratini, which was the seat of the Court and the name of the place is probably due to this, to its cut off tower. On the main square there is the Spedale of St. John the Baptist as well, which used to offer accommodation and food to travellers and orphans, as well as provide a dowry for girls without assets, who wanted to get married. It’s worth mentioning also the Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity and St. Bernardino, founded in 1450 A.D., equipped with a small pharmacy and a hospice for pilgrims on the Via Francigena; the oratory and the Sienese church, dedicated to the Saint, host a Sacred Art Museum rich in valuable specimens.

Today Castelmuzio is a part of the comune of Trequanda, with less than 300 inhabitants. Situated near Petroio and Montisi, it is definitely a suggestive part of a visit through Valdorcia and Valdichiana and Val d’Asso.

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The Thermal Baths of Chianciano

In our journey through Valdichiana, today we stop in Chianciano, which owes much of its fame to the thermal waters, still appreciated for their therapeutic properties by hundreds of visitors….

In our journey through Valdichiana, today we stop in Chianciano, which owes much of its fame to the thermal waters, still appreciated for their therapeutic properties by hundreds of visitors.

The history of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano has its roots during Etruscan times. The ancient inhabitants of Etruria and the King Porsenna had already occupied the area with residential areas around Chiusi and Monte Cetona. The Romans as well knew the beneficial properties of mineral waters, which led to the construction of shrines dedicated to the divinities of water, including the Temple of Fucoli. The thermal waters were considered magical, with powers of healing, and for this reason were protected by following civilizations in the area, up to the present. The Thermal Baths of Chianciano, originally called “Fontes Clusinae“, had their own station on the Via Cassia, between Arezzo and Chiusi, dating back to the Roman Empire.

The importance of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano does not decrease even during the Middle Age, when they were occupied by the Goths and Longobards. The name of Chianciano clearly appears in 1171 A.D., through a deed of donation, together with “Acqua Santa and Sellene”; while a document dated 1287 A.D. confirms the presence of citizens which deal with the maintenance of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano. In 1349 A.D. the town passes under the protection of Siena, after many years of struggles against Montepulciano and Orvieto, and even in the following centuries there are frequent references to the healing properties of its thermal waters. A legend says that even St. Agnese Segni did several miracles in the Thermal Baths of Chianciano, and the pagan name of Bagno Grande di Sellene is called “Acqua Santa” (Holy Water).

The real spas were built by a private company (led by Angelo Banti), that was allowed, by the town of Chianciano Terme, to use the Thermal Baths; the building process was started in the ‘20s, with neo-classical style establishments, and the opening of new sources and a plant for bottling. Some structures were torn down after a town plan in the ‘40s, which returned the thermal baths to the State property. The projects of the establishments in a fresher and more modern version, done by architects Loreti and Marchi, built thermak parks and a Hall, as well as the creation of the Institute of Biological and Chemical Research, to undertake research on the water and its therapeutic properties, and on the correct application of therapies.

As a result of these studies, the waters of the Thermal Baths of Chianciano were divided into five types, which have several beneficial effects on organisms:

Acqua Santa and Acqua Fucoli: they have to be drinked as they pour from the sources, good for the liver and the gastrointestinal tract;

Acqua Santissima: used for inhalations against diseases of the breathing apparatus;

Acqua Sillene: used for mud baths, thermal baths and cosmetic products;

Acqua Sant’Elena: a water with low mineral content, for the treatment of diseases of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract;

Thanks to the therapeutic properties of its thermal waters, throughout the 20th century, Chianciano has been a significant tourist attraction. The organization of the spa and a world-class healthcare management have led to an urban and structural continuity between the old town and the modern spa area, represented by the great Viale della Libertà, lined with hotels, pensions and villas.

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The Burg of Montefollonico

Let’s continue our travel across Valdichiana main places of interest, by paying close attention to castles and burgs. Today is the turn of Montefollonico, a small burg in the municipality…

Let’s continue our travel across Valdichiana main places of interest, by paying close attention to castles and burgs. Today is the turn of Montefollonico, a small burg in the municipality of Torrita, on the border between Valdichiana and Valdorcia.

Montefollonico rises up on the top of a hill, a few kilometers away from Torrita di Siena: it’s a striking burg made of stone, inhabited by 500 people, and it can be easily reached from Montepulciano and from Pienza. As you can see on the signs, Montefollonico has the orange flag, that proves it’s a quality tourist hub and a quality environmental place. This flag is given by the Italian Touring Club: as a matter of fact, the burg stands out for its well preserved old town centre, made of narrow and contorted streets which twist and turn among Medieval buildings. It also offers high quality food services and it has a rich network of roads, in order to enjoy the landscape.

The history of Montefollonico is very old. Thanks to the finding of some tools in a place called “Il Tondo”, the presence of the Neanderthals is confirmed, around 60.000 years ago. Moreover, there are some traces and signs from around the Etruscan and Roman age. The true developement of the burg had place after 1.000 A.D., thanks to the foundation of the parish church by the Cistercian monks; the monks were dedicated to fulling wool (hence “fullones” in Latin, which was kept in the etymology of Montefollonico).

The strategic position of the fortified burg was used in 13th century by the Republic of Siena, as an outpost against Montepulciano, allied with Florence. This was a prosperous period for the burg and most of the buildings – still there nowadays – go back to that period. Its independence last until 1552 A.D., when it capitulated to the Spanish imperial army, and then it passed into the possession of House of Medici two years later.

The walls of Montefollonico are a distinctive feature of the burg: they are well preserved and there still is a castle and many towers. The tree gateways, which give access to the old town centre, are still clearly visible: they are called Porta a Follonica, Porta del Triano and Porta del Pianello. Inside the burg there are the Church of St. Leonard and the cloister of Saint Mary, which go back to 12th century, in addition to the early Christian church of St. Bartholomew, that goes back to 7th century. Another interesting place is the natural park called “Il Tondo”, on the top of the hill, near Montefollonico, made of cypresses and holm oaks set out circularly.

One of the main reasons why visiting Montefollonico is the tradition of the Vin Santo. It’s also knows as the “Burg of the Vin Santo”, the sweet white wine matched with the Tuscan specialty of the cantucci (almond biscuits). The production of the Vin Santo in Montefollonico is not limited to agricultural businessmen, but it’s also made by amateurs who inherited the typical techniques to be able to produce that sweet white wine in their basements. This tradition is celebrated every December in the event called “Would you like a bit of Vin Santo?”, related to hospitality towards the tourists.

To sum up: Montefollonico is not only suggested to tourists, for it’s an interesting place for its venues, or it’s a cool place where to spend an afternoon, maybe in its old town centre, or walking through the paths of the natural park. You can still breathe a very Medieval atmosphere within its walls!


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The Montepulciano Fortress

Welcome to the first piece of our new cultural section, “Tourism“, which will discover for you the many treasures hidden within our beautiful territory, the senese Valdichiana. Today’s article will…

Welcome to the first piece of our new cultural section, “Tourism“, which will discover for you the many treasures hidden within our beautiful territory, the senese Valdichiana.

Today’s article will be about the Montepulciano Fortress, the gorgeous structure that overlooks the town. From its windows it is possbile to admire the landscapes of Valdichiana and Valdorcia, even catching sight of the Trasimeno lake in Umbria.  The fortress has been used for the most diverse purposes trhoughout its long history, and its structure went through several architectural alterations according to the needs of each age.

The most ancient informations we have are from the 8th century and they talk about the Castrum Politianum, placed in a strategic location to defend the city and to control enemy activity in the surrounding valleys. It is very likely that, already before the Longobardic age, the castrum was used as part of the city fortification. A legend has it built on top of the ruins of a roman temple, probably devoted to Mercury or Janus, but there’s no official source to confirm this.

The actual structure of the fortress, similar to what we can see today, was only built in 1261. It was erected by the seneses after the Monteaperti victory against Florence, used as military outpost and repeatedly rebuilt for military necessity during the whole period that saw the cities of Siena and Firenze waging war at eachother. Its military function has slowly decayed after the 1614 earthquake and after the end of the war.

The 19th century restoration gave the fortress the appearance we can see today. By the end of  1800 it hosted the Stabilimento Bacologico of Francesco Saverio Melissari, who used the building to grow silkworms.


In 1935 the property of the fortress went back to the municipality of Montepulciano, which decided to requalify the structure as a public school. For over sixty years, the fortress rooms housed the local gymnasium, attended by students of Valdichiana and Valdorcia.
When the highschool was moved to a new building, outside the historical center, the Montepulciano fortress changed its function once again. In virtue of its artistic and archaeological value, it is presently used as a cultural center: within its walls are hosted art exhibitions, conferences and advanced cultural initiatives, oriented to both the local population and the tourists.

Further and more recent restorations allowed the municipality to re-open of all the three internal floors, which have been modernized, strengthening the public cultural spaces and the accomodating opportunities.

Thanks to its location, its history and its value, the beautiful Fortress is quickly becoming the new main cultural center of Montepulciano.

For further informations, we recommend the book “Fortezza e Liceo Classico a Montepulciano”, Editori del Grifo, 1999.

For the ongoing cultural initiatives taking place in the fortress, we remind you of the Luci sul Lavoro festival and the art exhibition dedicated to the great metaphysics painter Giorgio de Chirico.

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