This vast asymmetric construction stands next to the San Lorenzo Gate. Before being the fortified grange for the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital it was an Imperial Palace. It was originally built during the era of Barbarossa who felt that he needed a lot of fortified Imperial castles for when he travelled down the peninsula.
The oldest part of the palazzo is the great tower and a lower part of the construction against the castle walls. Two other large towers were added several decades later on, as well as the encircling defensive walls. Even though the palace is outside the walls, it is still a fortified stronghold, able to withstand any attack. This palace used to be home to the administration of the imperial judges and was also a garrison for German mercenary soldiers.
The palace was property of the emperor until 1234 when it passed into the hands of the Cacciaconti family. It still belonged to the emperor in name, but the family were allowed to live there. Once the Cacciaconti family had left, the palace became a hospital (which it still was during the 1318 census). The staff of the hospital were all monks or nuns who, on entering the hospital, had to surrender all their worldly goods in exchange for board and lodgings. The hospital was largely maintained by donations from rich people hoping to win religious grace. Even the rector had to give everything he had to the hospital.
The first houses and land were donated to the hospital around 1270. In 1297 an enormous donation was made by Bernardino D’Alamanno Piccolomini and the hospital could really consider itself an estate, a grange. Bernardino D’Alamanno was a speculator and usurer from Siena who decided to use a large part of his earnings to buy a farm. He picked the Serre Castle and its fertile land. He then decided to become a lay helper and consequently donated everything he had to the hospital.
At the start of the sixteenth century, the Serraia ‘Cassero’ had been seriously damaged by the Sienese during military operations against the rebels of Ugo de’Rossi. The government of Siena subsequently allowed the hospital to build a new cassero, they didn’t want Serre Castle to be weak and open to attack without a decent fort.
Next to the south facing façade of the palace, where the museum entrance is today, is the great gate covered with a very high wall from which boiling oil used to be thrown on invading forces. The door dates back to the early fifteenth century (to the time of the rector Paolo di Paolo Serfucci) and was decorated in 1629 while Filippo Tondi was rector.
Inside this door is a courtyard which provided access to the granary, the stables and other areas where food was either produced or conserved. Today, at the end of the courtyard is a wall which shows evidence of an arched brick portico which once stood here. Next to the portico is a chapel dedicated to Santa Maria Maddalena. There is some evidence of a cellar with traces of frescos from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries. There is also a second courtyard with a well.
In 1555, during one of the last episodes of the war of Siena, Count Santa Fiora had part of the defensive walls and the Poggio Tower knocked down. Other constructions were built in its place in the sixteenth century.
In 1790, the whole farm complex was sold and divided between three different owners. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was used a granary and store room but part of it was also split into small apartments that were rented to local poor people. More recently, it has become property of the state who have began restoration work. The most evocative area of the interior is the Rector’s Room which was first renovated in the sixteenth century (the date 1531 is etched into one of the wooden beams) and again in 1629.