Italy has no shortages of fortresses and castles, but perhaps Monteriggioni has the best location. Perched atop a hill between Colle Val d’Elsa and Siena in the beautiful Tuscan valley Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni is strategically placed to see approaching armies from afar, and strategically placed those touring the Tuscan countryside.
Just 20 minutes outside of Siena, the first thing you’ll notice of this perfectly preserved Medieval city are its walls and towers – 14 in all!
Dante described the particular town in his infamous novel, Inferno: “su la cerchia rotonda / Monteriggion di torri si corona.” Which is something like “upon the round circle, Monteriggioni wears a crown of towers” except of course in Italian it’s beautiful and rhymes….but you get the idea.
The walls and imposing towers were raised in 1214 and astonished people with its architecture from the start. One door into the city faced the motherland, Siena. The other, a volatile enemy in Siena’s history, Florence. Monteriggioni is a city that exists exclusively because of the centuries long war between Siena and Florence. Originally, it wasn’t built as a town, but as a fortress, and the town that stands today is an unmistakable icon of Tuscany’s history. Walk through one of those doors today, and you could be stepping right back to the 1200s, the architecture is so well preserved.
The elliptical walls of the fortress are about 560 meters long and once upon a time there were many more constructions along the fort. Wooden roofs that covered the towers, bridges and jail cells. Of course it’s difficult that these biodegradable, and flammable, things last the test of time, or the test of adversaries with heavy and always developing artillery!
Still, visit Monteriggioni today and you could be stepping right back to the 1200s, the architecture is so well preserved. Of course now there are houses carved from Medieval spaces and restaurants, but the fortress’ past is never far away. From the small size of the town, the red brick roads and carefully laid arches and the ever-present towers it’s clear this is a town in a fortress, and its development into the 21st century seems lackadaisical. Unhurried at best.
And yet the town hasn’t been forgotten. References of the Medieval castle run from Dante’s time all the way up to today’s video games. (The town is a major base of operations for a character in the Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood video games and also appears as a playable siege map in the Stronghold computer game).
Take a walk along the top of the castle walls to enjoy the panorama of the same valleys the Sienese kept watch over and visit the pieve di Santa Maria Assunta, the fortress’ small church finished just two decades after the fort itself (everyone needs a church in Italy, even soldiers) before stopping for lunch.
Small shops sell typical products from Siena, namely wines, oil, honey, soaps and jams. When we visited, a market was set up selling these same products with vendors from the entire region. Talk with them, try and understand where they’re coming from and how they make their product. Honey, for example, is so hyper-local, that only by understanding what consortium the seller was with and where he sends his honeybees to collect can you really know what you’re eating. It’s the taste of the Tuscan Sun.
You won’t need much time in Monteriggioni, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. The entire town is a proud testament to the history of the area, and an excellent addendum to a visit in Siena. Park below, climb the hill and walk into the now-open fort imagining when it was closed to all, hunkered down to protect the bold, strong leader, Siena.
Small, unique, “hidden” and historic, Monteriggioni is exactly the type of town you hope to visit on a Tuscan countryside tour!