Monteriggioni and its turreted crown
“Monteriggioni di torri si corona” (Monteriggioni is crowned with towers), wrote Dante in the XXXI canto of the Inferno. It looks exactly like a crown of towers that surrounds the hill of Monteriggioni, one of the most spectacular and best-preserved mediaeval villages in the whole country, just 15 kilometres from Siena.
It appears to be a vision, so perfectly preserved is its circle of walls studded with 14 towers and two gates.
The walls saved from betrayal
The walls of Monteriggioni were built between 1212 and 1219 by the Republic of Siena to defend itself from its eternal enemy: Florence. The elliptical layout of the walls was designed by following the natural altimetric course of the hill. The strategic position is noteworthy: from its hill you can monitor the Elsa and Staggia valleys.
The list of epic battles that have been fought beneath the walls is remarkable. From that of Colle in 1269, mentioned by Dante, when the Sienese, initially defeated, managed to resist the Florentine siege inside Monteriggioni; to that of 1526, when Florence bombarded the walls in vain.
It was only the betrayal of the commander of the Sienese troops that caused Monteriggioni to fall, without any struggle, in 1554. And this explains how its walls have survived so intact. The fall of Monteriggioni led to that of Siena. The Florentine Medici family triumphed across the board and the episode ended the era of the Communes in Italy.
A walk through the village
The entrance to Monteriggioni is through Porta Franca, or Romea, the nearest to the car parks, which overlooks the charming Piazza Roma, the heart of the village.
The tour of the village is soon over: along Via Primo Maggio you reach the opposite door, the Porta di Ponente, the smaller one, in the direction of Florence. Just one more alley and you come to a small square with a garden of olive trees along which you can walk back to Piazza Roma. Today about 40 people live permanently in Monteriggioni, mostly in the buildings overlooking the garden.
The walkway on the walls
After exploring the village, visitors can climb the splendid walls of Monteriggioni, like the sentinels on patrol who for centuries have guarded this strategic outpost.
The walkway, built with overhead gangways flanking the top of the walls, allows you to enjoy both the overall view of the village and the splendid panoramas of the Chianti countryside and San Gimignano.
The walls underwent major restoration work in the 1930s, involving the reconstruction of some towers that had collapsed in previous centuries.
The sounds and colours of the mediaeval festival
Since 1992, Monteriggioni has held a highly popular mediaeval festival over two weekends in July, one of the highlights of summer in the Siena area. It is a historical re-enactment of its past that allows visitors to relive the atmosphere of a 14th-century village with live shows, concerts of ancient music, dances, jousts, mediaeval tournaments and the revival of ancient trades and craft techniques that have never really faded away in the area.
It is a very colourful festival, thanks to the traditional costumes and flags, with the soundtrack provided by the roll of drums and the notes of the clarions, ancient natural trumpets.
The festival is also an opportunity to sample dishes that have their roots in a distant past that is still alive within the walls of Monteriggioni, both at the stands and in the village restaurants.
Abbadia a Isola, the pilgrims' hostel
Just 3 kilometres from Monteriggioni is another very picturesque village, the monumental complex of Abbadia a Isola. The name derives from the fact that the Benedictine monastery that formed its nucleus emerged, albeit slightly, from the marshes of the plain, like an island (Isola). The church of Saints Salvatore and Cirino contains works by leading artists of the Sienese school, such as Sano di Pietro and Taddeo di Bartolo.
Today, after careful restoration, the abbey houses the Contessa Ava dei Lambardi hostel, one of the most striking on the Via Francigena, because it allows modern pilgrims to sleep in a complex that dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries, with double rooms, dormitories and special services for pilgrims. Definitely a stop to keep in mind if you are venturing along the Via Francigena
Also worth seeing is the ancient fortified village of Strove, whose centre dates back to the sixth century. Following the Francigena towards Siena, and walking through the woods, there is also the unique Chiocciola castle and the villa of Santa Colomba, mentioned by Giorgio Vasari because of its harmonious architecture.