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Montalcino

Montalcino-Stemma.png
Comune di Montalcino
Name Montalcino
Region Tuscany
Province Siena (SI)
Altitude 567
Area cityproper 243
Population as of December 31, 2004
Population density 5,131
Population density metric 21
Timezone CET, UTC+1
Frazioni Camigliano,Castelnuovo dell'Abate,S.Angelo in Colle, S. Angelo Scalo, Torrenieri, Tavernelle
Telephone 0577
Postalcode 53024, 53028
Gentilic Montalcinesi
Saint
Day
Mayor Massimo Ferretti (since June 2004)
Website www.comune.montalcino.si.it


Montalcino is a hilltown and comune in Tuscany, Italy. It is famous for its Brunello di Montalcino wine.

A view of Montalcino.

The town is located to the west of Pienza, close to the Crete Senesi in Valdorcia. It is 42 km from Siena, 110 Km from Florence and 150 km from Pisa.

History

The hill upon which Montalcino sits has been settled probably since Etruscan times. Its first mention in historical documents in 814 AD suggests there was a church here in the 9th century, most likely built by monks who were associated with the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antimo. The population grew suddenly in the middle of the 10th century when people fleeing the nearby town of Roselle took up residence in the town.
Street in Montalcino.

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.

Montalcino, Tuscany

During the late middle ages it was an independent comune with considerable importance owing to its location on the old Via Francigena, 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 Montaperti in 1260, 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 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.

Castle in Montalcino.
View from the Castle
A view into the town today.


Main sights

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 di Sant'Agostino with its simple Romanesque façade, 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 Lorenzetti and a Virgin and Child by Simone Martini.

The Duomo (cathedral), dedicated to San Salvatore, 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 Matteotti. The principle building on the piazza is the town hall, once the Palazzo dei Priori (built late 13th, early 14th century) but now the Palazzo Comunale. The palace 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 called contradas. The 13th century church of 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 (historical center). As with many other similar cities, money from tourism is aiding the cause of restoration and preservation.

Other attractions

Abbazia di San Antimo

Books

The Australian Isabella Dusi has written two books on her life in the town:

  • Vanilla beans and brodo ISBN 0-7434-0411-4
  • Bel Vino: A Year of Sundrenched Pleasure Among the Vines of Tuscany ISBN 0-7434-7844-4

External links


Provincia di Siena-Stemma.png
Tuscany · Communes of the province of Siena
Abbadia San Salvatore | Asciano | Buonconvento | Casole d'Elsa | Castellina in Chianti | Castelnuovo Berardenga | Castiglione d'Orcia | Cetona | Chianciano Terme | Chiusdino | Chiusi | Colle di Val d'Elsa | Gaiole in Chianti | Montalcino | Montepulciano | Monteriggioni | Monteroni d'Arbia | Monticiano | Murlo | Piancastagnaio | Pienza | Poggibonsi | Radda in Chianti | Radicofani | Radicondoli | Rapolano Terme | San Casciano dei Bagni | San Gimignano | San Giovanni d'Asso | San Quirico d'Orcia | Sarteano | Siena | Sinalunga | Sovicille | Torrita di Siena | Trequanda