SAN GALGANO ABBEY AND MONTESIEPI CHURCH


The roofless church at the San Galgano abbey in Southern Tuscany
San Galgano Abbey 

So where's the roof? Gone for centuries. By now San Galgano's top bit has been been off for longer than it ever was on. Even though the abbey's history started well, things weren't meant to last. The Cistercian monks began with the construction of the church in 1218 and finished it in 1288. At the same time the monks were also in charge of the construction of Siena's famous cathedral - San Galgano had quickly become one of the most influential monasteries in Tuscany. 

The San Galgano abbey is one of the first buildings in Central Italy, which was constructed following the tenets of gothic architecture arriving from France. However the unusual but beautiful combination of building material - Travertin stone and Sienese bricks - couldn't be more Tuscan. 



San Galgano abbey, ruin of cloister, side entree and palm tree
A remaining piece of the cloister
The abbey's destiny was closely linked to Siena's history. The famine and the plague that raged the city in the first half of the 14th century also initiated the premature decline of the abbey. It was still powerful in the 16th century but a 100 years later the roof started to crumble after the lead containing parts of it had been sold during war-faring times. The ultimate blow arrived in the late 18th century: a lightning bolt struck the bell tower and together with it the remaining parts of the roof collapsed.

After visiting the abbey, walk up the path to the Pieve di Montesiepi, one of Tuscany's beautiful small countryside churches (pieve = parish church). The Pieve is also known as the Rotonda di Montesiepi (because of its round mausoleum like architectural outline) and as the Eremo (hermitage) di Montesiepi. The current building was probably erected in the 14th century on the base of a pre-existing one. 


Pieve Rotonda Montesiepi, San Galgano abbey
The Pieve di Montesiepi and its beautiful round roof
It was here (on mount Siepi) that Galgano Guidotti (the later Saint Galgano) started his short life as a hermit in 1180 (he died a year later). The decision was induced by various dreams and visions that lead him stop his ruthless life. As a worldly sign of his inner change, Galgano stuck his sword into a rock on the hill Montespiepi - and therefore turned from knight to hermit, and the sword from weapon to cross.


Legend says that the sword couldn't be removed from the stone. There is in fact a sword on display inside the chapel. Some people insist it's the real thing. Yeah. Before you get carried away wondering whether you're King Arthur reborn, leave the modest sword alone and take in the chapel's stunning travertine and terracotta tile roof - the sight of it will definitely make up for the missing one further down the valley.



P.S. The name Galgano is pronounced 'Galgaano', i.e. with the emphasis on the second 'a'. Just in case you care about such matters. My Tuscan native does. He has been correcting me for the last ten years and I still get it wrong (occasionally!).


WHERE: San Galgano abbey and the Rotonda di Montesiepi are located 35km South-West of Siena (ca. half way on the road to Massa Marittima). 
April - October: daily from 9am to 7pm (till 8pm on Sundays and holidays)
November to March: daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm(6.30pm on Sundays and public holidays)
Tickets: 2€ adults, 1.50€ reduced tickets (children up to 18 years, people over 65 years and families of four and more members)

WHAT ELSE: 
Church lovers: Once you're done with admiring the monastery, move on to admire Massa Marittima's stunning cathedral
Spa lovers: drive back to the Siena - Grosseto main road (SS223) and have a splash at the Petriolo natural hot springs
Music lovers: If you travel Tuscany in July or August, check out the dates of the opera festival that takes place each summer with alternating concerts in San Galgano, San Gimignano and the Boboli gardens in Florence. And thanks to the missing roof you'll be able to stargaze whilst enjoying your Rossini or Verdi. 
Trekking lovers: There's a signed out walk (4.5km) from Monticiano to the San Galgano abbey. 
You're just a lazy bum? Drive to nearby Monticiano or Chiusdino and enjoy the lay-back atmosphere whilst slurping the first Campari in the village bar.


Couldn't make it? Watch the abbey in the final scene of Tarkovsky's film Nostalghia (which won several prices at Cannes in 1983). The last two minutes of the film are a blend over of two scenes - just so you know not to look for the house and trees inside the cathedral once you're there for real.



Looking for more wonderful churches in Southern Tuscany? Sant'Antimo Abbey will have to be your next stop then. 


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