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Montalcino, Tuscany






Art and Artists of Tuscany
detail by Jesse Andrews


Panorama of Montalcino


Art and Artists of Tuscany
Montalcino, detail by Jesse Andrew


Landscape near Montalcino,
by Jesse Andrews


Vineyards near Montalcino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Montalcino
from Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population:  5,115 (2001)
Official website:
Montalcino
Wikipedia: Montalcino
Map:
MapQuest

Montalcino is by far one of the most beautiful  towns in Tuscany.  The landscape, not to mention the wines produced here are some of the best that the region has to offer and if you have the good fortune to visit central Italy during your trip, make it a point to visit Montalcino, Tuscany. Chances are the town itself, like the many famous wines, will amaze you too. 

Sitting majestically at the height of the golden valley of vineyards and wheat, with its twisting alleys and small piazzas, sits has been settled probably since Etruscan times. The history of the town is fascinating and yet, the legacy of this magical town is continually being shaped, not only by historians, but by contemporary Tuscan and Italian artists. Every year, in February for example, various artists from around Italy like Missoni and Valentino are asked to design a label that is stamped on Brunello DOC and DOCG wines that are produced throughout this immaculate area.  The designs from year to year are showcased on the walls of the towns main piazzas. 

Contemporary art aside, the first mention of Montalcino in historical documents in 814 AD suggests there was a church here in the 8th Century, most likely built by  monks who were associated with the nearby Abbey Di Sant'Antimo.  The population grew suddenly in the middle of the 10th century when people fleeing fleeing the nearby town of Roselle took up residence in the town.

The town takes its name from a variety of oak tree that once covered the terrain.  The very high site of the town offers stunning views over the Asso, Ombrone and Arbia valleys of Tuscany, dotted with silvery olive orchards, vineyards, fields and villages.  The skirts of the Montalcino hill itself are dominated by highly productive vines and olive orchards.

During medieval times the city was known for its tanning "factories" and the shoes and other leather goods that were made from the high quality leathers that were produced their.   As time went by, many medieval hill top towns, including Montalcino went into serious economic decline. 

In the case of Montalcino ill fortune has recently been reversed by international tourism, but also because Montelcino sits in the middle of one of Italy's most important grape growing areas.  The famed Brunello vines for which the region is famous produce the grapes which are used for the production of a number of DOC vintages and a couple of DOCG, Super Tuscans wines.

Like many of the medieval towns of Tuscany, Montalcino experienced long periods of peace and often enjoyed a measure of prosperity.  This peace and prosperity was, however, interrupted by a number of extremely violent episodes.

During the late middle ages it was an independent comune with considerable importance owing to its location on the old Francigena Way, the main road between France and Florence, but increasingly Montalcino came under the sway of the larger and more aggressive city of Siena

As a satellite of Siena since the Battle of Monteaparti in 1260 AD, Montalcino was deeply involved and affected by the conflicts in which Siena became embroiled, particularly in those with city of Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries, and like many other cities in central and northern Italy, the town  was also caught up in the internecine wars and machinations between the Ghibellines (supporters of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Guelphs (supporters of the Papacy.  Factions from each side controlled the town at various times in the late medieval period.

Once Siena - and with it Montalcino -  had been conquered by Florence under the rule of the Medici family in 1555, Montalcino held out for almost 4 years, but ultimately fell to the Florentines, under whose control it remained until the Duchy of Florence was amalgamated into a united Italy in 1861.

The first medieval walls were built in the 13th Century.  The fortress was built at the highest point of the town in 1361, on a pentagonal plan designed by the Sienese architects, Mino Foresi and Domenico di Feo.  The fortress incorporates some of the pre-existing southern walls, the pre-existing structures including the keep of Santo Martini, the San Giovanni tower and an ancient basilica which now serves as the castle chapel.

Down the narrow, short street that extends from the main gate of the fortress is  the Chiesa Sant'Agostino with its simple Romanesque facade, also built in the 13th century.

The building adjacent to the church is a one-time convent, but it is now the home of the Musei Riuniti which is both a civic and diocesan museum.  The museums hold various works, including a gorgeous wooden crucifix by an unknown artist of the Sienese school, two beautiful 15th century wooden sculptures and several other sculptures in terracotta which appear to be of the Della Robbia school.   The collection also includes a "St Peter and St Paul" by Ambrogio Lorenzettia and a "Virgin and Child" by Simoni Martini.

The Duomo, dedicated to San Salvatore is nearby was originally built in the 14th Century, but it now has a  neo-classical appearance thanks to extensive renovation work that was done in the early 19th century under the direction of Sienese architect Agostino Fantasici.

The main piazza, the Piazza del Popolo, is downhill from the fortress and Duomo on the via Mateotti.  The principle building on the piazza is the town hall, once the Palazzo Priori (built late 13th, early 14th century) but now the Palazzo Comunale.  The palazzo is adorned with the coats of arms of the Podesta who once ruled the city.  A very high medieval tower is incorporated into the palazzo.  Close by is a Renaissance structure with six round arches, called La Loggia which was started at the very end of the 14th century and finished in the early 15th, but which has undergone much restoration work over the subsequent centuries.

Montalcino is divided, like most medieval Tuscan cities into quarters, or neighborhoods, called contradas.  The 13th century Chiesa San Francesco was built in the Castlevecchio contrada, but has undergone several renovations.  Some of the interior frescoes were done by Vincenzo Tamagni in the early 16th century.

There are many other medieval buildings in Montalcino that make up its centro storico.  A good day - or at least the best portion of a morning or afternoon can be spent in Montalcino, walking through its streets, gathering in its views, or partaking of a leisurely lunch at one of its great little restaurants.  Make sure you ask for one of the many fine Brunello's so you too can "get" what Montalcino and its surrounding countryside are all about.

by Vian Andrews, March 18th, 2006

This article was posted on Wikipedia as the starting article for Montalcino, on March 18th, 2006.

Region of Tuscany

Alt: 567 meters
4303′N 1129′E

Distances

Montepulciano - 37 km;
Siena - 43 km;
Arezzo - 83 km;
Perugia - 100 km;
Florence - 117 km:

Lucca - 177 km;
Rome - 205 km;
Pisa - 206 km;
Milano - 412 km

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Montalcino at night


Brunello wines of Montalcino

Tourist Office
Costa del Municipio 1 (Piazza del Popolo)
Tel: 0577-849-331

A few kilometers from Montalcino sits the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo founded by colony of monks in the 9th century.  The Abbey building one of the most beautiful Romanesque monastic churches in all Italy.

Some say the Abbey was founded by Charlemagne, but there is little evidence to support the theory.

 

Restaurants

Il Re di Macchia, Via Saloni 21 - swanky, pricey, overblown

Grappolo Blu - Via Scale di Moglio 1- welcoming, good prices and food

San Giorgio - Via Saloni - piazza!

Agrodolce - Via Matteotti 19 - traditional Tuscan food

 
 
Tell us about your trip to Montalcino. What were your favorite places to visit, stay, and dine?