Discovering Montalcino and the nearby Sant’Antimo Abbey
Montalcino and Sant’Antimo Abbey tour enables you to know one of the territories of Tuscany that made the name of this region in the world great. Through an itinerary between art, food wine we will discover the excellences of this land; Montalcino is a suggestive village in the province of Siena, rising 564 meters above sea level, home of one of the most popular wines in the world: the Brunello.
Through a tour of the picturesque alleys of the village, starting from Piazza Cavour, we will see the small shops still populating the centre. Arriving in Piazza dei Priori, you will have the opportunity to appreciate one of the ancient buildings here preserved: the Palazzo dei Priori.
Seat of the administrative offices of the town, the building stands out for being a medieval palace that preserves, on the wall of the tower, numerous coats of arms in stone which are the sign of the passage of many administrators along the centuries-old history of Montalcino.
Art and wine
Arriving then in Piazza Garibaldi, we will see a beautiful work of contemporary art made up of tiles decorated with drawings by important authors; this kind of murals is growing year by year by the presence of new tiles celebrating the editions of Benvenuto Brunello, the event where, at the beginning of each year, the bottles of Brunello wine produced five years before are uncorked – as required by the disciplinary. From Piazza Garibaldi we move on with Montalcino and Sant’Antimo Abbey tour going to visit the Sant’Egidio Church – one of the oldest and most suggestive of Montalcino – which inside preserves, in addition to works of art from the Sienese school, a very particular thing that, as we will see together, does not found in any other church in the area. From the Sant’Egidio Church, our Montalcino and Sant’Antimo tour continues with a visit to the Sant’Agostino Complex.
Sant’Agostino Museum and the fortress
The building houses the Diocesan and the Civic Museum, which preserves important examples of medieval and modern works by Tuscan artists. In the archaeological section, then, it is where the archeologic finds and the graphic reconstructions allow you to retrace – in a particularly evocative setting – the traces of the ancient settlements in the area, dating back to prehistoric times. Entering inside the Sant’Agostino Church, a building now deconsecrated, we can admire the refined fourteenth-century frescoes, some of which were made by the Sienese painter Bartolo di Fredi. From the museum we then move on to the Fortress, an imposing military construction dominating the village above a rocky cliff; today the fort is home to a refined and well-stocked Enoteca (a winery) where wine lovers can taste a glass of a good Brunello vintage. From the rooms of the Enoteca, located on the ground floor of the ramparts, it is possible to access to the upper levels, reaching as far as the rampart walk of the fortress; from here you can enjoy a breathtaking view, seeing almost the whole area of the Val d’Orcia in the east, the first hills of the Maremma in the west, up to glimpse, towards the north, the city of Siena.
After visiting the village of Montalcino, it will be time for a lunch break: what better time than this to visit one of the wine cellars located in this area, the home of Brunello? Through a short tour, from the vineyards to the rooms holding the selected oak barrels, you will get to know the fascinating story of this wine and every phase of its production.
The Abbey of Sant’Antimo, a Romanesque gem
After the break at the winery – or in any case after the lunch break –, we conclude the itinerary reaching the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, where we visit the suggestive Sant’Antimo Abbey.
Founded according to tradition by Charlemagne – who, passing through on a journey to Rome, wanted to erect it as a vow for having escaped, together with his army, an epidemic of malaria –, the Abbey is one of the most significant examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany; to characterize this complex is the presence of some elements in the construction, such as the internal ambulatory, which have been attributed by scholars to an influence of the Cluniac monastic architecture.
The mystery of the sculptor coming from France
At the entrance of the abbey church, we will already be able to appreciate the refined decorations carved on the portals with floral motifs that, on stylistic grounds, recall models of French origin. When we are inside the church, you can contemplate the majesty of the central nave, with its beautiful columns of local stone and the matroneo (women’s gallery). One of the most extraordinary things of the Abbey – which also made it particularly known to medieval art scholars – is the presence of a capital featuring Daniel in the lions’ den, a work attributed to the so-called Master of Cabestany, a sculptor coming from a place with this name in the French Pyrenees. We will discover some of the ‘mysteries’ that make this capital something unique, such as the fact that it is one of the very few reliefs of the church having human figures represented, or its anomalous location in the first half of the church. Finally, we will see why the work is attributed to a sculptor coming from such a remote locality in the Pyrenees.
In the Sant’Antimo Abbey you can still breathe the mystical atmosphere of remote time, a time when images carved in stone – like those that can still findable on the walls of this monastery – were full of meanings that partially escape us in this day. Montalcino and Sant’Antimo Abbey tour will therefore lead you to rediscover symbols of a distant Middle Ages, signs that still continue to fascinate thousands of visitors.