Maestro di Signa, Madonna con Bambino in trono

The Sant’Appiano Antiquarium in Barberino Val d’Elsa

Etruscan tombs and chambers found by local farmers

Sant'Appiano, 1
Between 1907 and 1910 several Etruscan tombs and chambers were unearthed in the area by local farmers. Even though it seemed that these tombs and chambers had been robbed centuries ago, they still contained many interesting archaeological finds that have been dated from the eighth to the second centuries BC. Many of them are highly artistic and not all are locally made. They include ancient black and red ceramic figures from the sixth and fourth centuries BC and alabaster funerary urns that date back to the Hellenistic age, as well as some with drawings showing Greek myths. The reason for such a rich and diverse selection of finds in one place is because this was an important crossroads and a lot of trade was done here, both in Etruscan and Roman times and even more so during the medieval period when many people travelled along the nearby Via Francigena (the ancient pilgrim’s route to and from Rome).

The archaeological finds that date from the first to the second century BC and later are fewer and lower quality than the earlier pieces found. This shows that during the imperial era there was a general decrease of the population and of cultural life in the area. This decrease coincides with the decline of the nearby Etruscan settlement in Volterra which was never taken over as a Roman town. These hills were nonetheless always inhabited to one degree or another and in fact, there used to be pagan temple on the same spot where Sant’Appiano church now stands. The pagan temple eventually became used for Christian worship and then a primitive octagonal church was erected on top of the temple. That octagonal church now makes up part of the modern day baptistery, although of the original construction only the four large pillars remain on the grass in front of the façade.

The Longobard era brought life back to the region and during the Carolingian period the population rose in the whole area due to the general exodus of people from the towns to the country following the barbarian invasions and also due to the flux of people travelling on the nearby Via Francigena. The old church structure was no longer enough for the blossoming population and between the ninth and tenth centuries and new church was built. The new church included a cloister and rectory.

The church itself was built in the Early Romanesque epoch with three naves, an elevated altar and a crypt beneath. The church today is the result of a stratification of different types of architecture which are clearly visible. The original parts of the construction can be seen in the left nave, where four archways rest upon solid quadrangular pillars and also under the external gallery where there is a square alabaster window that is in the same place as the old crypt. In 1171 the bell tower was struck by lightening which almost completely destroyed the right nave when it collapsed. This part of the church was rebuilt with different material and using a later Romanesque style. The arches, which are narrower, are supported by cylindrical pillars. The style of the stone carvings used here indicates a Piacentine-Romanesque style.

In 1476, the quadrangular chapel in the left nave was opened up to harmonise the proportions of the church. This was meant to balance out the bell tower in the right side. Further alterations were made to the church’s structure in the first half of the nineteenth century. For example, Moggi had the bell tower raised by altering the top part and had both the inside and outside of the church repainted. The last badly thought out alteration was undertaken at the start of the last century when two round windows were opened in the façade and the Romanesque windows on the west side of the central nave were enlarged. Unfortunately, these changes could not be undone in the 1960s by the State group responsible for the protection and conservation of country’s cultural heritage.
Barberino Val d'Elsa
A beautiful land off the beaten track, with places worth discovering
Barberino Val d’Elsa, despite being in Chianti, is slightly off the usual tourist tracks, which makes it perfect for those wishing to explore a more authentic, uncrowded Tuscany with places worth discovering and stories worth knowing. ...