For Christian Catholics, Holy Week is the most spiritually pregnant moment of the year, even more than Christmastime. But in Italy, this is a time...
Several years ago I spent ten glorious days in Tuscany, making Siena my hub so that I could take day trips from there easily. On the way home from visiting some wineries, I was fortunate enough to be able to stop in the small hilltop village of Monteriggioni.
This tiny commune in Tuscany is only 15 km from Siena, and is situated near Castellini in Chianti and Poggibonsi. What makes visiting this town so interesting is its fascinating history as an intact walled medieval town which looks much like it did centuries ago.
Monteriggioni is very impressive as you approach on the autostrada and catch a glimpse of it perched high on a hill like a fortress. In the thirteenth century Monteriggioni was built by the Sienna people to serve as a buffer and front line in Siena’s long-standing war with Florence. The strategic location of Monteriggioni made it useful as a fortified defense for Siena. Ultimately however, Siena lost its war with Florence.
I loved walking around this uncrowded town, where only 52 people reside today. Monteriggioni is completely encircled by well-preserved walls which are 10 meters high and measure 570 meters all the way around. Architecture lovers and history buffs find this place particularly intriguing and especially enjoy the fourteen towers which rise above the town from different points in the walls.
The town of Monteriggioni actually was a castle built in 1213 A.D. and the entrances to the town are through two gates. The northern gate faces Florence and is called Porta Fiorentina, and the Porta Romano gate faces south towards Rome. An aerial view of this town looks like an almost perfect circle with miniature houses inside its walls.
Piazza Roma is the main piazza in Monteriggioni and is very large with a simple Romanesque style church of Santa Maria Assunta which dominates the square. Other small shops, a hotel, a gelateria and restaurants occupy the square, but I wandered past the piazza and found small alleys where the local people live. Everything here is very old and I had the sense that time had stood still.
Every July during the first and second weekends, Monteriggioni proudly celebrates Festa Medievale, a Medieval Festival. Locals dress in medieval costumes, play music and put on shows using ancient instruments. The piazza suddenly is filled with people from the surrounding communes as well as visitors from other parts of Italy and Europe. It would be a great time to visit for a completely different experience.
Have you been to any hilltop towns in Tuscany? I’m always interested in hearing about your experiences, so please leave a comment.