Abbeys of Tuscany

Basilicas, Pievi, Abbeys, Monasteries and Hermitages of Tuscany

The Dark Age between the end of the Western Roman Empire and the High Middle Ages is characterised by a dearth of written records. This means that the early history of many of the Tuscan Abbeys, Basilicas, Monasteries, Hermitages and Parish Churches throughout the area now known as Tuscany is not recorded and they make their first documented appearance in the 10 C. Examination of the structures themselves together with archaeological investigation shows that some of these buildings have had a more or less continuous physical existence since the time of Roman buildings on the same sites while others originated during the dramatic population increase that occurred during the High Middle ages. (This population increase peaked around 1250 and was reversed by the Black Death that killed at least a quarter of Europe's population between 1347 to 1350 - an estimated 25 million people.) In much of Europe, buildings were constructed of timber during the Early Middle Ages, with a resurgence of stone construction for important buildings during the 9 C. However, masonry construction was not extinguished in Italy during this period so that many of the abbeys and churches of Tuscany contain elements that are extremely old. This is in large part because straight timber was scarce while stones suitable for building are plentiful: I should know - my campo is still full of them.

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Certosa del Galluzzo

Certosa (Charterhouse) del Galluzzo near Florence

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Romanesque parish churches of Chianti.

Tuscan Basilicas

Basilica of San Miniato al Monte
was built beginning in 1018 on the site of a 4 C chapel. Together with the Bishop's Palace, the fortifications and the monumental cemetery, it stands at the top of the hill called Monte alle Croci looking out over Piazzale Michelangelo and the city of Florence. It is a magnificent example of Florentine Romanesque architecture that originally belonged to the Benedictine monks and was then passed to the Olivetan friars in 1373. To the right of the church is the Bishop's Palace (1295-1320), ancient summer residence of the bishops of Florence which then became a convent, a hospital and a Jesuit house.  Highly recommended!

Basilica of San Miniato al Monte

Basilica of Santa Maria all'Impruneta, located on the main piazza of town of Impruneta, dates back to the 11C, but it has been rebuilt on several occasions and has a splendid 13C bell-tower and a 14C cloister. Inside there are valuable paintings and sculptures on display including 15C altar-steps and a 14C polyptych. The museum houses sacred ornaments made of gold, furnishings, hangings, votive vases, sculptures made of silver and a precious series of crosses, one of which is attributed to Ghiberti.

Basilica of Santa Maria all'Impruneta

Basilica of San Domenico of Perugia
was erected by Giovanni Pisano in the 1304 in the town of Perugia. Around the 1614 the vaults and pillars of the nave collapsed and after the reconstruction by Carlo Madeno of Rome, the church was re consecrated in the 1632. Inside, there are Gothic elements, renaissance windows and the tomb of Pope Benedetto XI. The Archaeological Museum of the Umbria and the State Archives are housed in the adjacent monastery and cloister.

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Tuscan Mediaeval Parish Churches (Pievi)

Pieve di San Cresci
- one of five mediaeval parish churches in the comune of Greve in Chianti.

Pieve di San Cresci

La Pieve di Sant'Appiano
near the town of San Barberino Val d'Elsa was built in early Romanesque times with a nave and two aisles with apses, a raised altar and crypt below. The original part of the church can still be picked out in the left aisle and in the small hanging arches of the external tribune. The bell tower was struck by lightning in 1171 and, in falling, destroyed almost all the right aisle of the church. It was reconstructed immediately, but in brick, a different material from the rest of the church and in late Romanesque style. Adjacent is an excellent Museum.

La Pieve di Sant'Appiano near San Barberino Val d'Elsa

La Pieve di San Miniato a Rubbiana
in San Polo.

La Pieve di San Miniato a Rubbiana

Pieve di Spaltenna
near Gaiole in Chianti.

Pieve di Spaltenna

Pieve di San Giovanni Battista
Parish Church Ponte allo Spino - dedicated to John the Baptist - near the town of Sovicille.

Pieve di San Giovanni Battista

Pieve of San Polo in Rosso
recorded since 1070 in the maps of Coltibuono.

Pieve of San Polo in Rosso

Pieve a Pacina
near the town of Castelnuovo Berardenga, with its unusual cylindrical bell tower. The majority of Tuscan parish churches date back to the period between the 9 C and the 13 C. Some however date back even earlier, like the parish church of Pacina, which was probably built in the 7 C, if not earlier.

Pieve a Pacina near Castelnuovo Berardenga

Pieve di San Leolino
nearthe  in town of Panzano in Chianti is of 8 C origin. It has a beautiful 14 C cloister, as well as a 13 C alterpiece, a 15 C triptych and two glazed tabernacles attributed to Giovanni della Robbia.

Pieve di San Leolino near Panzano in Chianti

Pieve di Santa Maria alla Sovara near Anghiari is one of an unusually high density of mediaeval parish churches in the vicinity of the town of Anghiari. Among the others are the Pieve di Santa Maria a Corsano, the Pieve di Santa Maria a Micciano and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmine.

Pieve di Santa Maria alla Sovara

Pieve di San Donato a Mugnana is located near the Castello di Magnana by which it was once owned. The nearest town is Chiocchio in Chianti on the via Chiantigiana between Florence and Sienna. The church is mentioned in documents dating from the 12 C, but it was built in about the year 1000 and restored in Romanesque style in the 14 C. The interiors of the church and rectory is richly decorated with frescos, paintings and reliquaries.

Pieve di San Donato a Mugnana

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Tuscan Abbeys (Abbazie, Abbadie) 

Abbey of Sant'Antimo
is one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Italy and is located in a wonderful setting 9 km fromthe  town of Montalcino in the Valdorcia. It is possible that the Abbey of Sant'Antimo was constructed on the site of a Roman villa and it is known with certainty that in the 4th and 5th centuries the village of Castelnuovo dell'Abate, on the hills nearby, was an important inhabited centre, endowed with a parish. Famous for the Gregorian chant of its monks. Highly recommended!

Abbey of Sant'Antimo

Abbazia di Spineto
(Tenuta di Spineto) was founded by a legacy of Willa, widow of the count Pepone I of Sarteano, who donated the land and the forest of Spineto, and the hill of Moaine to Rodolfo of the Abbey San Salvatore on Mount Amiata. At different times, the Abbey found itself under the protection of Orvieto, the Republic of Siena and the Grand Duchy of Florence. In 1627 was entrusted to the Cistercian Order by Pope Urban VIII. The abbey and farm houses on its estate have been restored and are now holiday homes and a conference centre.

Abbazia di Spineto

Badia a Passignano
- Badia S. Michele di Passignano founded by Sichelmo in 890

Badia a Passignano

Badia a Coltibuono - near the town of Gaiole in Chianti and now a winery, the mediaeval herb garden has been reconstructed. There are short tours from time to time that include the church and the garden.

Badia a Coltibuono

L'Abbadia of San Salvatore
- the Benedictine Abbey of San Salvatore on the eastern slopes of Mount Amiata.

L'Abbadia of San Salvatore

Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore
- the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore located in the Valley of the River Orcia, 36 km south of Sienna. Highly recommended!

Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Abbazia di Farneta
- located in the Chiucio hills of the Valdichiana, on the road between Cortona and Foiano.

Abbazia di Farneta

Abbey at Vallombrosa
- founded by the monk Giovanni Gualberto of the Florentine Visdomini family and consecrated in 1051.

Abbey at Vallombrosa

Abbadia d’Ombrone and Monastero d’Ombrone
near Castelnuovo Berardenga.

Monastero d’Ombrone

Abbey of San Galgano
is a spectacular ruined Cistercian gothic abbey located in the Valley of the River Merse, 25 miles south-west of Sienna towards the town of Grosseto. This is a wonderful place to visit at any time and especially during summer. In Addition to the aisle and naves, the chapterhouse is well-preserved and there are still romantic ruins of the cloister. Try to be here before or after the tour buses. The Hermitage of Montesiepi (below) is within walking distance and should not be missed. Highly recommended!

Abbey of San Galgano

Abbey of Saints Severus and Matyrius
(Abbazia dei Santi Severo e Martirio) located 3 km from Orvieto (and hence in Umbria, not in Tuscany) in beautiful surroundings. It is now a hotel but retains its architectural features which fall into three periods: the Romanesque-Longobard period of the 12 C (church and tower). The Countess Matilde di Canossa built the church's dodecagon crenelated tower in 1103.); Premonstratensian (Augustinian) period of around 1240 (Abbot's Palace and atrium of the church); Cistercian period from 1260.

Abbey di Conéo (Abbazia di Conéo)
is a Romanesque structure that was founded by the Vallombrosan (Benedictine) monks at the start of the 12 C and is one of the most interesting examples of religious architecture near Colle Val d'Elsa. The building possesses a number of pre-Romanesque features, with numerous external brackets in the shape of imaginary animals.

Abbazia di Conéo

Badia a Isola (Abbadia Isola)
is a Romanesque abbey located on the old Francigena pilgrims' way near the walled village of Monteriggioni. Its strange name comes from being build on the only solid piece of land in a large swamp or lake which has since dried out. The Abbey contains some frescos and a famous altar by Taddeo di Bartolo. During the summer, the surrounding flat fields are filled with sunflowers, making the walk from Monteriggioni to Badia a Isola well worth doing.

Abbadia Isola

Abbey of Santa Mustiola
(Chiesa della Santissima Trinità e di Santa Mustiola, first recorded in 1070) and its cloister (13-14 C) at Torri, Val di Merse. This abbey is unique in Tuscany in having preserved the Romanesque character of its cloisters despite subsequent restorations. The cloister is now the property of the Bicocchi family and may be visited on limited days of the week. It is strikingly beautiful and should not be missed by anyone visiting the Val di Merse. Highly recommended!

Abbey of Santa Mustiola - Chiesa della Santissima Trinità e di Santa Mustiola

Tuscan Monasteries (Monasteri)

Hermitage and Monastery of the Holy Saviour at Lecceto
- Augustinian, near Sovicille south of Sienna. There is some evidence of an eremitical settlement here long before the "Little Union" of 1244. However, the first written record is dated 1223. At that time, the area was called "Selva di Lago" (Lake Woods) because of the forest around it and its location near Lake Verano. The hermitage was not Augustinian at the beginning, but when the community took part in the Little Union of 1244, they then assumed the Rule of St. Augustine and began a long history of Augustinian religious life. In time, the name changed too and became 'Lecceto' because of all the ilex trees (lecce), a class of oak, that surround the monastery.

Monastery of the Holy Saviour at Lecceto

Il Certosa del Galluzzo
is a majestic Carthusian (now Cistercian) monastery located a short distance south of Florence. Although subject to extensive depredations over the centuries, it still contains many works of art, not least being an atmospheric cycle of frescoes by Pontormo. However, the measured classicism of this Renaissance architectural assemblage plus a number of works by the della Robbia family are the main reasons to visit and make a tour.

Charterhouse of Galluzzo, near Florence

Certosa di Pontignano near the Chianti town of Castelnuovo Berardenga and Sienna is a magnificent Carthusian Monastery founded in the 14 C. It retains all the elements of Carthusian architecture with large cloisters, individual monks cells each with a small garden, and a large church that still preserves 14 C features. The church, the chapter and the refectory around the cloister, the real heart of the whole complex.

Certosa di Pontignano

Franciscan Convent of Santa Maria in Prato near the town of Radda in Chianti originated in the Middle Ages, even though the main building and the adjoining convent today appear to be more 18 C. In 1415 the convent was listed among the inhabitants of the Lega del Chianti. The convent existed until 1866 when it was abolished by the government of newly unified Italy. In 1935 the complex was bought from the Province of Tuscany by the Sacre Stimmate dell'Ordine dei Frati Minori, a Franciscan order residing there until 1974.

Convento dell' Osservanza
near the town of Radicondoli in the Province of Siena. The Convent, which has been well restored, goes back to the end of the 15 C. For four centuries, it was the home of a community of Franciscan Minor Friars devoted to strict Observance. Today it  provides houses the Centro Studi Etologici and the Ethoikos Society which are engaged in ethological studies and teaching, while musical activities, including a music school, are provided by the Dulcimer Fondation pour la Musique.

Convento dell' Osservanza near Radicondoli

Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie (della Madonna del Sasso)
near the town of Pontassieve in the Province of Firenze. This oft-rebuilt sanctuary was first constructed in the 11 C on the site of a tabernacle, near to which it is said that between 1484 and 1485, the Virgin Mary appeared several times to a shepherdess. Inside, there is a 17 C Virgin with Angels and Saints by Francesco Curradi and a Crucifixion by Benedetto Velico that dates from 1600.

Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie (della Madonna del Sasso) Pontassieve

Tuscan Hermitages (Eremi)

Eremo di Santa Lucia
- the ruined Hermitage of Rosia located near Sovicille, south of Siena. From the main road, the hermitage is located across a Roman bridge over the River Rosia and along a cobblestoned Roman road surrounded by woods. It is cut into the hillside and consisted of a Gothic church, the friary, places for working and storage, a cloister roofed over on two sides and an aqueduct for bringing fresh water to the residents. Of considerable interest to keen Augustinians and enthusiasts for ancient remains.

Hermitage of Montesiepi
and the sword Saint Galgano embedded in a stone. A great many tourists visit the evocative ruined Cistercian Abbey of Galgano (above) but for those interested in truly unusual and ancient church architecture, this nearby circular church is of equal or greater interest. The chapel interior is famous for its hemispheric vaulted ceiling in concentric bichromatic rings created with brick and travertine and for the sword of San Galgano thrust into a rock. There are also traces of frescoes painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between 1334 and 1336. Highly recommended!

Hermitage of Montesiepi

Hermitage (Santuario) of Le Celle and the Celle of Saint Francis, located 5 km from Cortona is the place where, in May 1226, four months before his death in Assisi in the Region of Umbria, St Francis dictated his Will. Currently the hermitage is inhabited by seven Franciscan friars and may be visited.

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