The territory of Sovicille, crossed by a hill chain that culminates in the Montagnola, is largely covered by forests and has conserved its native beauty. To the south, where the Merse River flows, a nature reserve protects the rich and varied land and water fauna.
In the Middle Ages, Sovicille was a border land, first a center of the disputes between the bishoprics of Siena and Volterra and later for the conflict between the Sienese State and the Ardengheschi noble family, whose dominion extended from the Maremma to just a few miles outside Siena. Its flourishing economy is evidenced by the large number of medieval buildings that have outlived it: castles, hamlets, farms and country homes that are by now isolated but which were once part of a village.
The historic center of Sovicille, located atop an elevation at the base of the Montagnola and encircled by a 15th-century wall, was the home of a castle owned by the Bishop of Siena in the 12th century. A short distance away sits the Medieval parish church of Ponte allo Spino, one of the most interesting Romanesque rural churches in Tuscany: in the adjacent courtyard, the remains can be seen of a 13th-century cloister and Sienese-style mullioned windows of a building where the bishops spent their vacations.
In Rosia, on the village’s medieval street, visitors can admire another Romanesque parish church, with a bell tower embellished by a vertical series of single, double, triple and quadruple-lancet windows. In the forested and uninhabited valley around the Rosia creek, the evocative Ponte della Pia recalls the story of the Sienese noblewoman Pia de’ Tolomei, immortalized in Dante’s Purgatory: it is said that her ghost sometimes appears on moonlit nights.
Many other Romanesque churches across Sovicille’s territory still survive to this day. Among those that have better maintained their original aspect are the parish church in San Giusto a Balli, with a 10th-century apse; the parish church in Molli, the center of a medieval commune that included a large part of the Montagnola; the parish church in Pernina, the center of another commune from the same period; and the rectory of Trecciano, unaltered since the 13th century.
Among the villages, Torri stands out for its intact medieval elements. Once celebrated for its wealthy abbey, it’s possible to see the 14th-century basilica and an incredible cloister with three layered orders, the first in stone, from the 1300s, the second in terracotta, from the 1400s, and the third in wood, from the 1500s. But other small villages have their attractions as well: Stigliano, with its three hills dotted with similar towers and fortresses; Brenna, brushed by the Merse River and a summer destination for swimmers; Orgia, once the home of a fearsome castle belonging to the Ardengheschi family, of which only a small tower remains today; Ancaiano, with a beautiful church attributed to a design by Baldassarre Peruzzi; and Simignano, with its small Romanesque church.
There are also many castles: Montarrenti, of which only two towers and fragments of its once-mighty walls remain; Castiglion che Dio sol sa, hidden deep within the woods, as its name suggests; Capraia, also in the middle of the forest, built on a hill; Celsa, with its fairy-tale appearance and elegant Renaissance garden; Palazzalpiano; Poggiarello; and dozens of other fortresses and defence towers.
Among the villas once home to Siena’s most illustrious families, the one belonging to the Cetinale family stands out, built in the second half of the 1600s by cardinal Flavio Chigi and which includes a garden from the same period and a park, called Trebaide. Looming over the villa, atop a hill, is the Romitorio, a building from the following century that can be reached by a long and steep stairway through the forest and from which visitors can enjoy a spectacular view.
Cover image credit: Comune di Sovicille