Monteriggioni Travel GuideIntroduction
A classic walled medieval town, Monteriggioni is located in between Siena and ColleValdelsa, with its ramparts, winding roads, and soaring towers. It sits atop a natural hill and was built by the Senesis in the 1200s to overlook Cassia Road, a position which allowed it to have control over the Elsa and Staggia Valleys at the time, which made the city rather powerful during the medieval years. It is also one of the best-preserved towns from that era, and many of the streets and structures that we can now find within it are all the original structures. This is what makes it a tourist favorite as walking inside this walled city allows visitors to be transported back in time as they walk in the same streets that people such as Dante Alighieri may have also walked upon.
Monteriggioni boasts of an intact fortified wall, parts of which have been made accessible to the public once more. The view from here is unobstructed, and allows one to gaze upon breathtaking panoramas of the area. It also illustrates as to how this small town was strategically important during the time when Florence and Siena were both fighting over territory as both cities began to expand. It resisted the Florentine attacks for centuries and would have probably done so for much longer, except that in 1554, the man who was entrusted with the garrison, the exiled Florentine Giovannino Zeti, simply handed the literal and figurative keys to the city to the incoming Medici forces as a way to reconcile with his former home city – an act that many locals still consider as an act of great betrayal to this day.
These days, Monteriggioni is a peaceful place that mostly focuses on wine production and tourism, and the local government has stepped up its preservation efforts.
What to See
Monteriggioni ‘s main piazza is known as the Piazza Roma. This public space is dominated by a Romanesque church with a simple façade, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, while the piazza’s perimeter is lined by houses in the Renaissance style. These houses were places where the city’s nobles, merchants, and gentry once lived. From the piazza, one can also easily access the public gardens which during times of war centuries ago was an important feature of the city. This was because the produce that was once grown here was what provided much-needed sustenance to the citizens during times when their supply lines may have been cut off by invading forces, thus allowing them to withstand sieges for long periods of time.
Medieval Gates and Towers
Part of Monteriggioni’s defensive structures would be the two great gates, namely the Porta Florentina and the Porta Romana. One gate faces Florence to the north, while the other faces Rome to the south. The perimeter wall is also dotted by 14 towers which are set apart at equal distances. It was these towers which allowed the locals to defend their city so well many centuries ago, and it was also a feature than tended to intimidate would-be attackers.
Monteriggioni di Torri si Corona Medieval Festival
If you’re ever visiting Monteriggioni, do your best to drop by when this colorful festival is taking place. The Monteriggioni di Torri si Corona (Monteriggioni Crowned by Towers) takes its name from a phrase that the famous poet Dante Alighieri used to describe the city in his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. In the Dante’s words, the city is described:
As with circling round
Of turrets, Monteriggioni crowns his walls;
E’en thus the shore, encompassing the abyss,
Was turreted with giants, half their length
Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from heaven
Yet threatens, when his muttering thunder rolls.
– Dante Alighieri, Hell, canto XXXI, lines 40-45″
Considered as one of the most beautiful festivals in the region, the fair takes place every year in July over two long weekends. During this time, visitors are treated with a chance to go back in time as the city goes into reenactments of its glory days during the medieval ages. There will be people dressed up in medieval costumes and walking around the city as nobles, merchants, knights, minstrels, dancers, and various other types of people you may have met in that age. There will be food and drinks that were common to the period that are available for purchase at the city’s castle, and to be able to help yourself to these treats, you will have to exchange your modern day cash to medieval coins. There will also be musical and theatrical performances, activities and entertainment for children, duels, and storytellers.
When visiting Monteriggioni, it would also do well to visit the nearby Abbadia Isola, or Abbey Island. Once surrounded by water, its main structure was the abbey of San Salvatore all’Isola. The abbey is well-known for having provided board and lodging for travelers and pilgrims who were making their way to Rome. These days, it is possible to contact the monks who still reside at the abbey, and if there are rooms available, visitors may arrange to stay a few nights at this peaceful location.
One of the main structures to see here would be the church. It is decorated in the Romanesque style, and houses many important pieces of artwork, including a polyptych above the main altar that was painted by the Sienese artist Sano di Pietro.
Tips and Advice
- There is a tourist office that can be found right at Piazza Roma if you require information or assistance.
- The easiest way to reach Monteriggioni is by taking the bus from nearby cities such as Florence, Pisa, Siena, and Volterra. There are buses that leave for Monteriggioni at regular intervals, but when making plans to visit, make sure to factor in delays as more often than not, these buses may depart late.
- It is also very easy to drive to Monteriggioni, but be aware that you cannot take your vehicle inside the town itself as its streets are very narrow. Instead, there is a parking lot on one of the sides of the hill where everyone is expected to leave their cars at.
- The town is small and very easy to explore on foot. However, since no vehicles are allowed, make sure to wear comfortable shoes if you plan to really explore its many streets where many hidden gems can be found.