A trekking between Monteriggioni and the other Val d’Elsa castles
The trekking to Monteriggioni and the other dantesque castles of Val d’Elsa is an unmissable journey through the history of a wonderful area in the province of Siena. Although two of the three stages you will see on this route can be reached by car, it is only by a walking route that you are able to enjoy the suggestive views of a landscape that has preserved unchanged, for large stretches, the appearance it had in the Middle Ages.
Although with important testimonies since the Etruscan era, it is in the middle age that the Val d’Elsa experienced significant moments in its history and of which you will see the evident signs along the way: from the Via Francigena, connecting San Gimignano with Monteriggioni, to the fortified structures that served to defend the borders of the Republic of Siena, up to the castles of the local lords whose revenges described by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy were perpetrated, this trek, lasting about five hours, is truly an exciting journey into history, however, surrounded by nature.
Abbadia Isola, a jewel of the Romanesque
Our trek will start from Abbadia to Isola, an ancient monastery founded in 1001 which still retains in its name an ancient feature of the place where it stands. We visit the abbey church of San Salvatore and Cirino, an illustrious example of Romanesque architecture in the area. Among the works of particular importance still preserved inside, we go to see a fresco by Vincenzo Tamagni with the iconography of the local cult of the Madonna della Cintola; then we see a beautiful baptismal font reminiscent of the dynamism of Giovanni Pisano.
A mysterious capital …
On the main altar of the church you then have the opportunity to observe the fifteenth-century altarpiece, painted by the Sienese artist Sano di Pietro, where the scenes of the predella feature the events of the saints particularly dear to local devotion as well as to the Benedictine order monks that for centuries have taken care of this sacred place. Before leaving the church, we still have the opportunity to dwell on two rather singular and ‘mysterious’ works: a Roman aged urn with an inscription concerning the conservation of San Cirino’s remains and finally a Romanesque capital with the presence of two men holding their hands raised, above which a spiral shape resembles that of a snake: it is an image with a strong symbolic content and that we will see together.
Once left Abbadia a Isola, we set off towards Castiglion Ghinibaldi, the second step of our Trekking to Monteriggioni and to the other dantesque castles of Val d’Elsa.
Shortly before arriving at the castle, a panel show us the place where there was a battle in the mid-13th-century: the so-called “battaglia del canneto” (battle of the reeds) involved the monks of Abbadia Isola, the community of Monteriggioni and the Municipality of Siena … we will find out more in detail about what happened.
We take an uphill road, where the difference in height is close to 30 metres over a distance of 500 metres. At the end of climb, we find ourselves facing the fascinating abandoned castle known by the name of “Castiglion Ghinibaldi“. Dating back to the 13th-century in its original nucleus, the structure takes its name from Ghinibaldo Saracini, an important businessman who married the Sienese noblewoman Sapìa Salvani in the first half of the 13th-century. If the story of Ghinibaldo is common to that of many other men of his time who made their fortune thanks to trade, it is that of Sapìa to ibe irresistibly intriguing, especially because Dante Alighieri talks about her in the 13th Canto of Purgatory, where poet meets her in the frame of the envious: the noblewoman is atoning her sentence for having plotted a revenge against her nephew Provenzano Salvani. As we reread the passages of the Divina Commedia, also reported in an inscription of the castle, you will disclose the revenge that right here was perpetrated: we will see what happened in this place in 1269 …
After having seen the outside of Castiglion Ghinibaldi (unfortunately it is not possible to visit it inside because the castle is abandoned and unsafe in some internal environments) we descend towards the plain to reach the last stage of our trekking to the castles of Val d’Elsa : Monteriggioni.
Reaching the entrance to the castle take you along another 250-metres long uphill road with a vertical drop of 25 metres. The sudden speed of the path may surprise you, but fortunately it is a matter of a few distance, because in front of you you will see the solemn medieval gate of Monteriggioni ever closer. This castle represents a unicum in the series of fortified structures found in the area: it is not simply a village that is equipped with a wall, but an articulated fortified structure, with an elliptical shape, built completely from scratch in an area where the ancient Republic of Siena needed to defend itself from the continuous incursions of the rival Florence.
Between the walls of Monteriggioni
If once you have crossed the threshold of the castle entrance, this sort of citadel seems small and quick to visit, it will surprise you instead to know its history, made up of many small but important episodes that have changed the destiny not only of Monteriggioni, but above all that of the surrounding area: it is the incredible story made up of men and women loyal to a cause, of pretentious monks, of captains of fortune willing to do anything to save honour, of many workers busily engaged in the hard work of building the walls , and finally of blacksmiths with an unlikely and amusing name.
Once you have finished visiting Monteriggioni and having told you its story, you will have some free time to bring a souvenir with you, as well as to climb the castle walls, equipped with a special modern walkway, to admire the surrounding landscape that allows you to the east. to see the town of Castellina in Chianti, while to the West it makes you glimpse the unmistakable towers of San Gimignano.
When we leave Monteriggioni, we take a path in the woods that corresponds to the ancient route of the Via Francigena, still today traveled by thousands of pilgrim and traveler every year. In the wood, mainly characterized by scrub vegetation, we can notice a peculiarity of the soil of this area: a red soil that can be seen lying on a ground mainly composed by cavernous limestone. The path in the woods also gives the possibility of finding where once there were small medieval villages with an agricultural vocation, as well as the points where in recent years some Etruscan chamber burials have been identified.
After the wood, the road returns to the level: a few hundred metres are missing to return to Abbadia a Isola, the starting point; as indication of the journey ending you will find an oak tree, already encountered on the outward leg but which you will now notice more because the time of sunset is approaching…