Nearest to the summit, it is one of the most renowned tourist centres. “Nature formed there a valley of approximately eight stages, bordered by harsh cliffs. The ancients built a village there, well-defended by a trench full of running water”. This, in Pio II’s Commentaries, is one of the oldest descriptions of the site.
If you arrive from the Cassia, the first impact with Abbadia is that of a modern town, with wide, tree-lined lanes. This changes when you reach the actual abbey, one of the most important places in the complex history of Medieval Tuscany.
South of this is the Castle, crossed by three roads that run more or less parallel. Here is the church of Santa Corce (1221, rebuilt in the 19th century) and of St. Angelo (1313, today a private home). Also to be seen is the palazzo del Podestà (or of Justice), the palazzo del Popolo and other medieval buildings.
Outside the first town walls the village also has an ancient aspect, with the church of St. Leonard from the XIII century. Outside the oldest part of Abbadia is the 17th century church of the Madonna dei Remedi, with a cycle of frescoes by Nasini, and the 16th century on of the Madonna del Castagno, on the road towards Amiata.
A dirt track leads to the rustic little church dell’Ermeta, suurounded by woodland. Further down is Dante’s Cliff (so-called because the profile recalls that of the poet) and the Bowman’s Grotto.
At the gate of the town is the mine, worked from 1897 until the 1970s. Now it is a Mining Museum, dedicated to geology, the history of mine-working, tunnel working and the metallurgic installation and to the daily life of the miners.
The power of the Abbey
In its first centuries of life the Abbey of S. Salvatore only controlled the eastern slopes of the mountian including the Via Francigena (or Romea) used by the many pilgrims that came from England and France towards Rome. It was founded by the Longobard nobleman Erfo (according to tradition it was King Rachis, as told in a fresco).
The nave is still the one that was consecrated by abbot Winizo in 1035. There is a large crucifix from the XII century and a fresco (the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew) painted in 1694 by Francesco Nasini.
The crypt is extraordinary and moving, in Greek cross and built before the church. Its 36 columns are amazing for their elegance, decoration and the variety of the capitals.
The remains of the cloister are modest, from which we climb to the small but interesting Abbey museum that contains precious rarities such as the reliquary-bust of St. Mark, patron saint of Abbadia San Salvatore, created in gilded bronze in 1381. Also of interest is the anastatic copy of the Amiata Bible (the original is kept in Florence), written in the English monastery of Jarrow at the end of the VI and the beginning of the VII centuries.
After the domination of the Carlovingian kings and the Saxon emperors, and under the abbot Winizo who managed it in the first decades of the XI century, the Abbey became the most important in Tuscany, and was affirmed also as a prestigious spiritual centre.
This period saw the start of the contests between the Amiata religious and the Aldobrandeschi family, and finally, in 1299, after the abbey had passed from the Benedictine to the Cistercians in 1228, it lost its temporal power. In 1782 it was suppressed by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, only returned to the monks in 1939 and today is again occupied by the Cistercians.
Article edited by the Amiata Tourist Information Office