VAL DI MERSE
Val di Merse is located in the western edge of Siena and in the southern border of Val d'Elsa, between the rivers Farma and Merse (from which it takes its name as well). It is famous for its beautiful landscapes, its unspoilt nature and the healing powers of the many waters of Val di Merse.
Some of the villages in this area that are definitely worth a visit are Monticiano, Chiusdino, Murlo and Sovicille, such small villages that you will have the opportunity to visit at least a couple of them on the same day.
If you look between the woods of Val di Merse you will also find a numerous amount of medieval hamlets and castels hiding between the trees.
Book your accommodation, choosing between hotel, B&B, residence, farmhouse in Val di Merse!
The river Merse originates in the province of Grosseto and flows across a tortuous path until it reaches the Siena area, passing near the villages of Sovicille, Monticiano, Murlo and Chiusdino.
The river, which in many places is only accessible by foot, is suitable for making beautiful bathrooms, fully immersed in the Tuscan countryside.
The Merse is one of the last refuges of the otter.
The Merse valley is perfect for trekking and for most adventurous, it's possible to canoe down the river from the Abbey of San Galgano to the confluence with the Ombrone.
The medieval town of Murlo
Murlo is a beautiful medieval town, built on a hill high 300m above sea level and completely enclosed by ancient walls, then overlapped by a circle of houses.
Founded by the Etruscans, Murlo shows great evidence of their civilization, as can be seen in the archaeological site of Poggio Civitate for example, where, thanks to some American Universities, lots of materials belonging to Etruscans have been discovered.
The materials found are visible in the Etruscan Antiquarium Museum of Poggio Civitate.
According to some genetic studies, the population of Murlo could be the most direct descendants of the Etruscans.
The Sword in the Stone - San Galgano
Chiusdino is a Medieval village perched on a metalliferous hill 564 mt above sea level, between Val di Farma and the upper valley of Merse River.
Its medieval walls and urban plan are intact. They are characterized by narrow streets with low stone houses concentric to the town center.
The origins are Lombard, while in the Middle Ages was a property of the Volterra Bishops, until 1215 when, after a period of struggle, was annexed to Siena. Thus began a prosperous period, that continued with the domination of the Medici Family from Florence, under which several monasteries and abbey were constructed.
Chiusdino Associations promote various fairs and festivals during the summer.
Among these in early September there's the Festival of sweet, with tasting of local wine and sweets.
Monuments to visit: Church of St. Sebastian, Chiesa della Compagnia di San Galgano, which is near the birthplace of Saint Galgano Guidotti (1148 - 1181), Castle Miralduolo, Lenzi Palaces.
San Galgano was born in Chiusdino in 1148. 30 years later, after a life devoted to luxury, he chose to retire in penance on Monte Siepi. Here, in order to show his repentance, he plunged his sword into a rock. In this same place the Romanesque church of Monte Siepi (Eremo di Monte Siepi) was built, where it is possible to see, yet, the "Sword in the Stone".
Someone argues that is precisely the Sword in the Stone of the myth of King Arthur.
A few years after the death of San Galgano, an Abbey was built by the Cistercians, in the valley of Monte Siepi. Abandoned at the end of '400 it fell into ruin in the 18th century until the late '800, when it was restored by consolidating the existing. Today it is a picturesque ceiling open ruin (as you can see in the picture), as the roof collapsed under the bell tower fall on 1786.
The town of Monticiano is located on a hill 375mt above sea level.
Founded by the bishop of Volterra, Monticiano was invaded by Siena in the late thirteenth century: after the defeat of Colle Val d'Elsa, in 1269, Sienese occupied the town and destroied the castle's walls for giving refuge to the Ghibellines traitors. In 1554, it was then attached to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, after Florence's victory over Siena. Thus began in Monticiano a flourishing period, with the erection of noble palaces.
During the Second World War it was an important area of partisan guerrilla operations, a basis for the Sienese partisan groups.
Among the most important monuments to visit: the Church of St. Augustine, Abbey of San Galgano, the Parish of Saints Giusto and Clemente, Palace Callian and Thermal baths of Petrolio.
Petriolo and its thermal baths
The Petriolo thermae (fortified thermal baths) are located in the region of Monticiano, very close to the main road that connects Siena to Grosseto. At km 27 (coming from Siena) there's a little street that brings directly both to the equipped spa and hotels and to the open air thermal baths (free). These last flow into the river Farma and the result is a fantastic place where you can experience the transition from hot thermal waters (about 43 °C - 109.4 F) to the cold waters of the river, very good for circulation.
The Petriolo thermae were known since Roman times; in 1400 was built a stone spa and the thermal baths became popular and frequented by the Medici family.
The Petriolo waters are sulfide-sulfate-bicarbonate-alkaline-earthy, recognized as mineral waters.
Sovicille is a village located just a few kilometers far from Siena, with a beautiful medieval historical center, visible for the walls and some stone houses and streets. Founded around year 1000 by the Bishop of Siena, it became a free municipality in the 13th century, but kept to be reason of conflict among the neighboring towns and was constantly invaded and besieged until 1554, when it was annexed to the Medici's family properties, finally starting a flourishing period.
After Lorraine period, the area was invaded by Napoleon's troops which remained until the Treaty of Vienna (1814) that sanctioned the return to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
In 1861 it was annexed with the entire Grand Duchy to the Kingdom of Italy.
To visit: the church of San Lorenzo with its neo-gothic architecture.
Il Ponte della Pia
The bridge known as "Ponte della Pia" has Roman origin, but was rebuilt in the Middle Ages. It joins the two banks of the torrent Rosia and in the past was a crucial bridge that united the provinces of Siena and Grosseto. The side parapets were destroyed by German tanks during the Second World War, so that it is possible to cross it just by foot today.
For the legend every night of full moon appears on the bridge the ghost of Countess Pia de' Tolomei, which was thrown by her second husband from the cliff where there was the Castel di Pietra in Maremma, today known as "the jump of the Countess".
The Lady is mentioned by Dante in the Canto V of Purgatory.
Castello di Montarrenti
The area Montarrenti was established as a village of huts in the 7th and 8th centuries and then transformed into a castle, as a center for the collection of agricultural products.
The area consisted of the castle with two palaces (because there still are two towers), the Church of Santa Maria and a village inhabited by farmers, rather populated until the annexation to the Republic of Siena in 1217.
The Castle, probably abandoned due to the closure of silver mines, went gradually to ruin, and today only two towers stand and some remains of the walls.
Today the castle houses the astronomical observatory operated by Unione Astrofili Senesi and CAI (Italian Alpine Club).
To reach the Castle: from Siena take the road 73 (statale Senese Aretina), beyond the village of Rosia almost until the junction with road 541 (statale Traversa Maremmana) from which it's possibile to reach Colle Val d'Elsa.