Castles and hermitages
Porta di Fontebranda, built in the 13th century, takes its name from the famous Fonte, built under the Basilica of San Domenico; in the opposite side, along a steeply slope, the houses of the city, clinging to each other as if to support each other, dominated by the monumental construction of the Duomo, descend in disorder to the valley.
From this gate we begin our itinerary that will lead us to visit castles, medieval villages and Romanic churches.
Arriving to Palazzo Diavoli (diavoli in italian means demoniac), take the road that leaves Siena and continues to Florence. Palazzo Diavoli is a particular shape building; close to it in 1526 a battle between the Sienese and the Florentines took place, with the victory of Siena. Legend says that the Florentine troops run away from Palazzo Diavoli because of “demonic visions” so frightening as to escape.
The Strada di Petriccio and Belriguardo is a continuous of ups and downs until you reach Pian del Lago, foothills of the Montagnola Senese. There you can find two important Augustinian hermitages, the Hermitage of Lecceto and the Hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago, immersed in the thick wood of oaks and holm oaks (Silva lacus), on the edge of Pian del Lago.
Lecceto was born from the will of a group of hermits who chose this place, and since the 11th century the hermits lived in the caves of tuff that surround the Selva di Foltignano, or Selva del Lago, and which in 1228 consecrated their small church. Today it is a Convent of Augustinian Nuns.
After Lecceto we continue towards the Augustinian hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago, documented since 1119. The remains of the walls and two towers, one rounded and one squared, attest that in 1366 the hermitage was fortified to give shelter and hospitality during the war to the nearby inhabitants of Santa Colomba. The choir was frescoed by the famous Sienese painter Lippo Vanni, with the cycle dedicated to the life of the Virgin. The painting in the apse is very particular: besides the Virgin Mary are depicted only female. On the ceiling there is a choir with a lot of musical instruments. It is possible to visit the complex from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9.30 to 15.30.
Quenching and tempering of Pian del Lago. The so-called Pyramid is the obelisk that recalls the eighteenth-century quenching and tempering of Pian del Lago. The Pyramid also marks the beginning of the Canale del Granduca, a tunnel about two km. The Canale del Granduca was built to drain the waters of Pian del Lago which in winter stagnated there for 156 hectares with a depth of up to 3 meters, while in periods of drought they formed a perennial lake of 93 hectares.
Santa Colomba, a small village of medieval origins whose castle suffered serious damage in 1364 due John Howkwood, an English leader in the pay of Florence. The church and a defensive tower remain from that period, later used as a bell tower in the same religious building. Other remains of medieval walls can be seen in the bases of the villa which today dominates the village. But the most imposing structure is Villa Petrucci (15th-16th century), a building resulting from the renovation of an old manor, probably designed by the Sienese architect Baldassarre Peruzzi.
The Castello della Chiocciola probably owes its name to the helical staircase that was built inside the tower where the steps become lower and lower, reducing the effort for those who walked it. In the basement at the beginning of the Twentyth century were found prehistoric finds dating back to the Neolithic, some of which are in the British Museum in London. La Chiocciola owes its notoriety also to a battle fact: it is said that it resisted the attacks of a battalion of a thousand infantry and a hundred Spanish-Knightsustrous in 1555, and that it surrendered under payment of 700 old coin.
Many authors have written about Siena and its harmonious beauty throughout history, and it is difficult to invent new words to describe its charm, especially if you are not a poet. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
José Saramago, a Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner, fell in love with the city and dedicated words to the town, describing it with brushstrokes of deep emotion and passion:
‘And here is Siena, the beloved, the city where my heart is truly pleased’. ‘The three hills on which it is built make it a town where there are no two identical roads, all of them are bound to no geometry. ‘This wonderful colour, the colour of the burnished body, is also the colour of the cornbread crust, this wonderful colour goes from stones to the road and roofs, softens the sunlight and wipes away anxieties and fears from your face.
‘There is nothing more beautiful than this town’. Piazza del Campo ‘a sloping and curved square like a shell that the builders did not want to pave and it remained so, as if it were a lap’.
‘I look at the old palaces of Siena, ancient houses where I want to live one day, with a window of my own, overlooking the coloured clay roof tiles, over the green shutters of the windows, as if in an attempt to decipher where this secret that Siena murmurs and that I will continue to hear, although I do not understand it, until the end of my life.
The Val di Merse is the breath of the Terre di Siena, it is sap, it is rest, rest. It is Mediterranean and yellow scrub of brooms, bed of rivers, sometimes torrential at times placid, kingdom of wild and free animals.
In the woods, small villages that have stood still in time, that have not allowed modernity. In the green the treasures of water: remains of mills that in the Middle Ages made the economy of this land, thermal waters where centuries of generations and peoples have bathed, places where they have left traces, even in the DNA of the inhabitants, mysterious civilizations like the Etruscan one, small Romanesque churches, ruined castles. Surprising architectures at these latitudes: stately villas and Italian gardens, cloisters of monasteries with oriental charm as illustrations of “the thousand and one nights”, walls of powerful abbeys that, still, in silence, dominate the territory and radiate mysticism, hermitages where legendary knights laid down their weapons and changed their lives leaving traces that appear to us full of symbology.
Expanse of colors that rest the eyes, sounds of water and silence, smell of earth and smell of salt in the breeze that comes from the sea not far away, taste of fruits of the forest.