Monteriggioni is a medieval walled town that shines from the top of a hill with its stone crown. One of the oldest, most memorable and recognizable villages in all of Italy, built as a castle by the Sienese in 1214–19 as a front line in their wars against Florence.
A true mirage for those who want to dive into the Middle Ages, it's a place that has remained incredibly intact as if time has never passed. Today it is a tiny hamlet with just 50 people living inside the walls.
Monteriggioni preserves most of its 13th century structures, such as the city walls that embrace the top of the hill for a length of about 570 meters, built between 1213 and 1219. The castle was founded in the second decade of the 13th century by the Republic of Siena. Its main aim was to create a defensive outpost against its rival, Florence. For centuries the site carried out this function for which it was created, resisting countless sieges and attacks, one after the other.
Anyone coming to Monteriggioni cannot miss the experience of walking along the top of the castle walls. From the top of the outer walls, walkable in two different parts, one can admire the glorious countryside on all sides, looking out towards the Chianti region and the Elsa Valley, and enjoy an unusual view of the borgo itself.
During the conflicts between Siena and Florence in the Middle Ages, the city was strategically placed as a defensive fortification. It also withstood many attacks from both the Florentines and the forces of the Bishop of Volterra. In 1554 the Sienese were able to place control of the town's garrison to Giovannino Zeti, who had been exiled from Florence. In 1554, in an act of reconciliation with the Medicis, Zeti simply handed the keys of the town over to the Medicean forces— considered a "great betrayal" by the town's people.
Its military function became less important in the second half of the 16th century, when the whole state of Siena, which the borgo was part of, was annexed to the state of Florence.
Monteriggioni still today retains many of its original 13th century architectural features; indeed, it is unique among Tuscany’s medieval borghi.
The outer walls, made of stone, run all the way around the top of the hill, in an uninterrupted circuit around 570 meters long. There are 14 towers on square bases set at equidistance, and two portals or gates.
One gate, the Porta Fiorentina opens toward Florence to the north, and the other, the Porta Romana, faces Rome to the south. To the left of the arch is an inscription commemorating the foundation of Monteriggioni in the 1220s, while a plaque on the right celebrates the newly founded unified state of Italy, in 1860.
The main street within the walls connects the two gates in a roughly straight line. The walls must have made a great impression in the medieval period, too, since they inspired Dante to mention them in a famous comparison with the Giants in hell.
After passing through the gate, a short section of road brings you straight into the heart of the castle, the broad square called Piazza Roma, with the church of S. Maria Assunta on one side. This Romanesque church with a simple, plain façade, is a building that best preserves the borgo’s medieval features. Built in the 13th century, it consists of a single interior space with a rectangular termination. The very elegant facade displays a fine doorway with a stone arch, with a round window (roundel) above. The interior, renovated in modern times, has plastered walls and domed vaults. As well as a bell dating to 1299, the Church also houses a 17th century painting of the Madonna and Rosary, which the town celebrates every year in October.
Here, you can find the best-preserved traces of the town's medieval origins.
Other houses, some in the Renaissance style (once owned by local nobles, gentry and wealthy merchants) face into the piazza. Off the main piazza smaller streets give way to public gardens fronted by the other houses and small businesses of the town. In more hostile times, these gardens provided vital sustenance when enemies gathered around the walls during sieges.
Don’t miss a stroll through the lanes and little squares, where fountains and wells stand to remind us how vital it was, in times of siege, to have large reserves of water.
It's the perfect place for those who are passionate about good wine as there is no shortage of wine cellars where you can taste Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG. These are full-bodied and intense wines that perfectly match the typical products grown in the area such as saffron, cheese, honey and the production of grappa.
The village comes alive every July with the historical re-enactment titled "Monteriggioni di torri si corona". A medieval festival that's one of the oldest in Italy, it has welcomed thousands of visitors for over thirty years. During the re-enactment, you can admire people dressed in splendid period costumes and sample culinary specialties that have now been forgotten.
If you’re really curious, we suggest a stroll along the road that runs outside the outer walls, looking for ancient inscriptions, walled-up entrances, and the arrow-slits from which soldiers once fired weapons.