San Galgano Abbey
The Abbey of San Galgano was built by the Cistercians to honor Saint Galgano in the early 13th century and is one of most important examples of gothic-Cistercian architecture in Tuscany. This magnificent edifice, with its Latin cross plan, two rose-windows and 16 columns with beautifully carved capitals, truly conveys a sense of architectural lightness and elegance. The abbey was in fact extremely wealthy and powerful throughout the 13th century, controlling vast amounts of land in the surrounding area. The Abbey suffered numerous attacks and pillages in the 14th century which it never recuperated from and its decline eventually lead to the collapse of the tall bell tower in 1786 and subsequently also of its magnificent vaulted roof.
A short walk away from the Abbey is the Hermitage of Monstesiepi which houses the tomb of Saint Galgano and one of the most fascinating and mysterious relics in Tuscany, Saint Galgano’s very own Sword in the Stone. When Saint Galgano, once a ruthless soldier, decided to embrace a life of pious hermitage he drove his sword into this stone with such force that only the handle remained visible, thus turning the sword into a cross. The sword is still there and has served as a symbol of incorruptible conversion for the last 800 years, attracting pilgrims from all over the world.
The name of Siena derives from an Etruscan tribe called the Saina who settled in this territory in 900 BC. Subsequently, the Roman Emperor Augustus established on the site a Roman town which went by the name of Saena Julia, accounting for the town’s emblem, the roman she-wolf with the suckling infants of Romulus and Remus. With the Lombard invasion of Byzantine Italy in 568 AD and the subsequent invasion of the Franks in 744 AD, Siena became an important trading post, a major center of money lending and an important player in the wool trade. By the 12th century AD, Siena’s nobility had gained such wealth and civic and political influence that the Episcopal rule over the city was overthrown by the Commune in 1167. By 1179 the Commune of Siena had written its own constitution. The Siena we know today was mostly formed after this time, largely influenced by the great rivalry in the arts between the Sienese and the Florentines.
The Duomo, Siena’s cathedral was built in the late 12th century and is one of the great examples of Italian Romanesque architecture. In the Baptistery beneath, one can admire the magnificent baptismal font sculpted by artists such as Donatello, Ghilberti and Jacopo della Quercia. The Museum of the Duomo boasts masterpieces by Ducio di Bonisegna and other Sienese masters. The main town square, Piazza del Campo where the world renowned Palio horse race is held every year, is framed by the Torre del Mangia and the Palazzo Pubblico, seat of the Commune where one can still admire political frescos by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Pietro Lorenzetti and Simone Martini.