For as upon its circular defencese, monteriggioni
crowns itself with towers
This is how Dante Alighieri in the 31st canto
of the Inferno compared the towers of the extraordianry boundary
walls belonging to one of the best preserved walled lands
in Italy to giants.
Monteriggioni does not appear very differently from the Dantean
vision to the pilgrim of our times. Standing as rampart against
Florence in the aerly years of the 13th century, between 1213
and 1219 it was enclosed by a powerful oval-shaped walled
circuit based on an almost costantly leveled bend, keeping
the curved hilltop inside.
Fourteen projecting quadrilateral towers were later added
to the outside at regular intervals along the 560 meters of
the perimeter and were equipped with openings high on the
sides to allow the movement of patrols. inside, the very simple
village correspond to the integrity of the walls in its arrangement
along the axis that join the only two openings: Porta Franca
or Romea turned towards Siena to the southeast, and Porta
Fiorentina or Saint John's to the northwest.
The church of Santa Maria Assunta faces Piazza Roma, built
in late Romanesque style of 1235, later restored several times.
The bell tower was built in the 17th century and its top is
the only architectural element of the ancient village perceptible
from the outside, above the powerful turreted walls.
In the whole area there are many castles. Besides the Monteriggioni
castle there are Castiglion Ghinibaldi (Castiglionalto) to
which the owners added a hospital in 1265 and the castle of
Rencine which the Florentines used to protect their territory
and of which a tower is remained.
ABBADIA A ISOLA
The ancient stopping place for pilgrims
along the hilly variations of the Francigena in the Val d’Elsa,
is mentioned as Borgenuove (Borgonuovo) in the famous Memoir
of Sigeric, archbishop of Canterbury, during his journey to
Rome in 990.
It was here that the noble Ava, of Longobard descent, founded
a Benedectine monastery in 1001 dedicated to Saint Salvador.
The name Abbadia a Isola is related to the swampy state of
the land around the abbey, which seemed to emerge as if it
were an island.
For a period of time the Abbey of Isola, with the founding
family’s power in decline, tried to keep itself equidistant
in the struggle between Siena and Florence and united with
the noble owners of the nearby Staggia castle in order to
be protected by them.
This situation ended in 1215, when an oath of loyalty that
tied the destiny of Abbadia a Isola’s community to that
of the Republic of Siena was signed.
In the 14th century it was equipped with defensive fortifications
(of which scanty traces remain), but, beginning from the 1400’s,
the monastery began to decline to such as point as to be joined
with that of San Eugenio at Costafabbri near Siena.
The church, a facility with three naves each ending in an
apse, is dedicated to Saints Salvador and Cirino and dates
back to the 12th century.
On the façade at the sides of the portal, the remains
of two twin portals have been brought to light, element with
often characterized the churches built along the Via Francigena
in the Tuscan area; blind arcading above the double lancet
windows in the central wing and small wall arches in the sides
lighten the façade as a whole.
The cloister, which is on the side of the church,
is built according to overlapping schemes and has recently
been restored. The interior shows the effects of Romanesque-
Lombard tastes in the alternating pillars and partition columns
in the naves.
The art works displayed are very interesting. Attached to
the entrance wall there is a christening font in alabastrine
marble created in 1419 by a sculptor from the Sienese area
with a style reminiscent of the modelling drama of Giovanni
Two frescoes by Vincenzo Tamagni (1520), the larger one representing
the Assumption of the Virgin and, on the same left
wall, Saint Blaise, can also be seen. on the entrance
wall there is a detached fresco, almost completely ruined
but of great interest, by Taddeo di Bartolo from the late
1400’s, with Madonna on the Throne with Child, Cherubs,
Angels and Saints.
On the altar we find an important polyptych, a later
work by Sano di Pietro, 1471. In addition, we must not forget
that one of the most important testimonies of Sienese painting
in the late 13th century comes from this church. Majesty
by the so-called “Master of Badia a Isola”, is
currently kept at the Diocesan Museum of Colle Val’Elsa
following careful restoration.
• D’Atti Monica e Franco
Cinti, Guida alla via Francigena, 900 chilometri a piedi sulle
strade del pellegrinaggio verso Roma, supplemento al numero
120, dicembre 2004 di “Terre di mezzo”, Cart’armata
edizioni srl, Milano.
• Corinna Bagatti and Marta Brignali, The Pilgrim’s
Guide to the Siena Region, Six itineraries, Edizioni AL.SA.BA.
Grafiche, Siena, 1999.