Pedals on the Francigena
Porta Camollia is one of the oldest gates of the city and its presence is attested since 1082. After several renovation, the current arrangement is reached in 1604when the famous motto “Cor magis tibi Sena pandit”
From Porta Camollia, we follow the road towards Uopini and Badesse, a village located at the end of a long descent, on the border of the Chianti area
Let’s cycle along a pleasant road with a wavy profile in direction Monteriggioni, the green woods of the Val di Merse.
Monteriggioni is an important Sienese military garrison, a disputed place between the Republics of Siena and Florence. The medieval castle dominates the surrounding area. Its beaty and charm are known all over the world, quoted by poets and writers like in Dante’s hell; Monteriggioni di torri si corona (Monterrigioni is crowned with towers). On the mighty walls,14 towers were built. Even today the castle conveys fascination and disquiet for those who see it for the first time,on the top of the hill, looking North.
If you had looked around Monteriggioni, centuries ago, you would have found the Abbey, woods and the great lake, Silva Lacus , which lapped the Montagnola, hosted hermitages of monks and paesants. The territory was bonified and woods and the lake disappeared.
The reservoir became a plain and in the twentieth Century was used as military airport: Pian del Lago. With the passing of time it turned into a huge parc where citizens came to walk or ride.
Abbadia Isola, an important monastic settlement, founded in 1001, mansio of the Francigena route described by Sigerico, archbishop of Canterbury. It owes its name to the fact that, rising on the edge of swampy land, the church seemed to rest as if on an island. The beauty of the Abbey of Saints Salvatore and Cirino, the adjoining cloister, the fortification that encompasses the whole complex make it a place of great charm, a must for a stop that restores not only the tired body but also the soul.
The next stop in Castellina Scalo and The Montagnola Senese which extends to the northern limits of Montemaggio. We pass the Petraglia farm and Casella, where it is possible do admire an original stretch of medieval pavement (CAI route 101) that leads to Pontarosso, a stone and brick bridge.
The Montagnola Senese has a marked speleological interest due to the presence of karst phenomena, such as the sinkholes in the Fungaia area, the crater” near the Castellare of Monte Maggio, caves ( about 60 explored) and sinkholes. The territory of the Montagnola Senese has been mapped Be the Cai Siena, creating a dense network of path on foot or with mountain bike. The area is listed among the sites of Natura 2000, as a special Conservation area of community interest
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.
The profile of the towers of San Gimignano in an early summer sky at nightfall could be the iconic image of this land, but there is lot more to it than searching and finding art jewellers like Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni and the well-known San Gimignano in Val d’Elsa.
Val d’Elsa is a simple, sweet and fragrant area of Vernaccia; it is a land of hard-working people who have created hills of olive trees and vineyards with their work and have given life to it over centuries and took advantage of what nature had to offer to create paper mills, precious crystals and works of art; it is the birthplace of a ground-breaking genius, Arnolfo di Cambio, an architect, sculptor and painter.
La Val d’Elsa is a gift for those who are not satisfied with travelling in a superficial manner. Moving away from the most popular corners and the ‘postcard views’, you may find yourself on dreamy paths, in a sunny and open countryside, where the hills seem to lull you and the stone of farmhouses, parish churches and small villages welcomes you, invites you to take a break, and asks you to take the time to recover lost time.