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For those who are staying in a Villa in the surroundings of Siena, in 20 minutes by car it's easy to visit a unique place out of the regular routes in Tuscany, but certainly worthy. This place is San Galgano Abbey and the neighbor Chapel of Montesiepi. Located in the middle of the countryside in Val di Merse, an area in Tuscany between the towns of Chiusdino and Monticiano.
The incredible story about this place is connected to the history of a warrior turned into a saint: San Galgano, who lived in this place during the 12th century. Galgano was a brave knight and got involved in many battles which were so common ate that time. At a certain point of his life, he realized that was tired of the violence that was covering the world and decided for a religious life in search of redemption. He became a hermit and retreated on the top of the Montesiepi hill. The leggend says that Galgano, choosing to serve God, took his sword and sticked it in a rock to become a cross in front of which he could pray.
And that's the living Tuscan leggend of the sword on the rock. Living! Because the rock is still there today and so does the sword! Around the rock and the sword, after Galgano's death, when he was declared a Saint by the Pope, a Chapel has been built around it. It's the Rounded Chapel – how it's commonly called – or the Montesiepi chapel. It can be visited every day from 9 am to 8 pm (on winter it closes at 6.30 pm). The entrance is free. Every Sunday at 11.30 am is celebrated the Holy Mass in the Chapel. Right beside it there is a herbalist's shop with many local products for sale, in addition to books and postcards, opened during the same period as the Chapel. Some decades after the construction of the Chapel, the cistercian monks started the built of San Galgano Abbey, located downhill at the feet of Montesiepi. The sanctuary is composed by a huge church in Romanesque (Italian Gothic) style and the adjacent sanctuary. The plague of 1348 has strongly affected the comunity who left this sanctuary to go live in Siena, founding a new Monastery there (where nowadays is the Letters College).
This is the reason why the Abbey fell on ruin and now what remains are only the walls, but still amazing. The church has been deconsacrated on th 18th century and the property of the place passed to the local government. The Abbey became a great heritage to preserve as well as a stage to many events, specially the Italian Opera Festival. The place is really suggestive, and open air as long as there is no more roof. In the programme every year are included performances of famous operas by Puccini, Vivaldi, Verdi but also non-Italians like Mozart and Orff. There are also sinfonic concerts and contemporary concerts. Check out the official opera programme on the website.
It can be a really great idea to book for an Opera at San Galgano and arrive earlier to watch the sunset which is really magic for the colors it creates on the ground and at the walls of the Abbey. Right in front of the Abbey there is a cafe, wine bar and restaurant – “Ristorante Antico Tempio” - where is possible to have snacks, typical Tuscan food, drinks and also a good choice of souvenirs. Going uphill in direction to the Montesiepi Chapel there is another charming cafe and wine bar called “Salendo Bar”. The road from Siena to San Galgano is a spectacle itslef, passing thrgough golden hayfields, sun flower fields to pass then among dense woods and opening again to the golden and red Tuscan wide spaces. Text: Adriana Lucchesi oct 2010.