The many sights and sounds of the Merse Valley

A tour of Chiusdino, Monticiano, Murlo and Sovicille

The Merse Valley is part of an uncontaminated natural landscape between the Crete Senese and the Maremma region. The countryside here is one of gently rolling green hills and valleys thick with beech, chestnut and broom trees. The Merse Valley also has a long and rich history and is dotted with places of historical interest. The highest point in the area’s history came in the Medieval period and at this time numerous churches, chapels and abbeys were built here. The most important and well-known of these is the Abbey San Galgano. There is a lovely route that visitors can take along a wide and smooth dirt track from the Abbey of San Galgano. This valley is a land of opposites: of light and of shadows, of fun and of silence, a place to discover bit by bit but which also makes its beauty known at first glance.

The historical centre of the town of Chiusdino never disappoints, thanks to its many small Romanesque churches and intimate squares. The main place of interest in the town however is without doubt the Abbey of San Galgano. The first thing to strike visitors is the stunning beauty of the countryside which surrounds the abbey. It sits in the middle of a vast green plain full of rivers and streams with no other buildings in sight. Visitors are then usually struck by the abbey’s impressive Gothic-Cistercian Italian architecture. The church here was first built thanks to a noble knight called Galgano Guidotti. He abandoned life as he knew it to become a Cistercian monk and built a chapel on Mount Siepi where he subsequently died as a hermit. Later on, the Cistercian monks constructed an oratory here and a building dedicated to the man who had become a saint. One of the most fascinating sights at the abbey is the sword that Galgano is said to have plunged into the rock as a sign of his religious conversion.
There are many places of interest to visit around the abbey and near Chiusdino, such as Frosini town/castle, the ancient home of the Gherardesca counts in Luriano and the two castles in Montalcinello.

The town of Monticiano is a short and pretty walk from the Abbey of San Galgano. The town sits on top of a small hill and is surrounded by woodland with centuries-old oak and chestnut trees. The town is home to the church of Sant’Agostino which has frescoes by Bartolo di Fresi, Giudoriccio Cozzarelli and Giovanni di Paolo in the capitulary room of the old convent. This Gothic church is one of the oldest Agostinian hermitages that exists. Visitors also shouldn’t miss the nearby small town of San Lorenzo a Merse with its ancient castle and Romanesque church. Also close at hand is the small town of Castello di Tocchi and the ruins of the fortifications of Castellaccio, Monte Quoio e Renna.

This town goes back to ancient Etruscan times. Evidence of Etruscan civilisation has been found here at Poggio Civitate and Poggio Aguzzo. The town’s castle dates back to the Medieval period when Murlo was the centre of the feudal area controlled by the bishops of Siena. The castle was modified at the end of the sixteenth century after the fall of the Republic of Siena. At this time the walls were made into small houses and the Palazzo del Vescovo, which held the town’s prison and cathedral, was built around it.
Vescovado is not far from Murlo. There is a church here which is home to a painting by Benvenuto di Giovanni showing the Madonna in trono con Santi (1475).

Sovicille and its surrounding countryside represents the best of the Merse Valley, from the hillside woodland to the rolling agricultural fields on the fertile valley floor. There are several places of historic and artistic interest here and many ancient churches and abbeys, such as San Giusto a Balli, Pernina Milli, Ponte allo Spino, Torri (with a wonderful polychrome cloister in the abbey of Santa Mustiola) and San Lorenzo a Sovicille. There are some interesting villas nearby such as the seventeenth century Villa Cetinale, designed by the architect Carlo Fontana; Villa Celsa, with an Italian-style garden and the eighteenth century Villa Linari.