There’ s a magical place in the Tuscan countryside.
Actually, there are quite a few, to be honest, since Tuscany is one of the most beautiful regions in Italy, but there is one that is just a bit more special. It is a place that has an incredible atmosphere, in a dreamy location that takes you back in time.
This place is the Abbey of San Galgano and it is in the municipality of San Chiusdino, a small village located in the beautiful countryside around Siena. I have been meaning to visit this place for ages and I finally managed to do so a couple of weeks ago, during a weekend in Tuscany. I have to say that I had very high expectations about the place but I was not disappointed: the Abbey was even more enchanting than I thought.
the Abbey seen from afar
If you get there from Siena, you’ll drive along a curvy road, in the middle of the countryside. Actually, the scenery is a bit different from the enchanting beauty of the valley around Volterra and San Gimignano. It is less impressive but still quite fascinating. I can’t explain it properly but it has some kind of Medieval atmosphere.
While my husband was driving, I was picturing in my head pilgrims walking up and down the hills, proceeding slowly to get to the same Abbey where we were headed. And I am pretty sure that when they got there, they had the same feeling of enchantment we experienced, seeing the Abbey in the distance, in the middle of a green plain.
inside the Abbey
The Abbey of San Galgano is in Gothic style and was built between 1218 and 1288 by the Cistercian monks, who chose that location for their Abbey because they used to build their monasteries close to rivers, where woods, marshlands, and plains could be cultivated. As a matter of fact, the location is really impressive and you really have the feeling of rich soils and lush nature.
In the beginning, the Abbey really flourished: it quickly became very wealthy and helped the community around it. In those times, important personalities visited the place, but unfortunately first the famine in 1329 and then the plague in 1348 severely hit the community. Afterwards, the Abbey and its properties were devastated by mercenaries and it is said that, by the end of the 14th-century, only the abbot remained in the monastery. Then, at the end of the 15th century, the monks left the Abbey and moved to Siena.
an inside view of the Abbey
The Abbey was left in decay for centuries and in 1786 a lightning struck the bell tower, which collapsed onto the roof of the Abbey and destroyed it. The Abbey was then deconsecrated in 1789. Nowadays, you can still visit the remains of the Abbey, which consist of a perfect shell structure without the roof, giving the place a magical atmosphere.
If I were you, I’d recommend you to visit the place in the late afternoon, when the sun goes down and colors the walls of the Abbey with a golden light. However, the Abbey is equally wonderful on a cloudy, gloomy day, since such weather glorifies its Gothic atmosphere. It would also be perfect if only a few people were around – we were lucky and nobody was there – because standing in the middle of the Abbey and looking at the sky, in perfect silence with just the birds singing, is something quite close to magic.
Eremo di Montesiepi
Just a few steps away, upon a little hill, lies another interesting place. It’s the Eremo di Montesiepi (The Hermitage of Montesiepi), which consists of a little chapel with a round base built between 1181 and 1185. The hill where the chapel stands is the one where San Galgano retired to live as a hermit. What makes this place special is the fact that inside, at the center of the chapel, there’s the rock in which Galgano, who was a knight from Chiusdino, embedded his own sword as a symbol of peace, giving up with arms and beginning a new life of faith.
Galgano lived there for the rest of his life, in poverty and surrounded by animals. Inside the chapel, you can see two hands inside a glass case: the legend says that they belong to an evil man sent by the Devil to murder Galgano. It is said that the man was murdered by Galgano’s wolves, who tore him to pieces, saving only his hands. Quite frightful, isn’t it?
the legendary sword in the rock
Walking around the small place is like living in some kind of Medieval tale. Over the centuries, the legend of San Galgano and his sword attracted a lot of pilgrims and visitors alike. Many scholars have studied the myths around the life of San Galgano and some say that the legend of the sword of San Galgano might be the origin of that of King Arthur, which was spread throughout Europe by the Cistercian monks.
All these legends and myths make this place incredibly fascinating, with a certain magical aura. But if, at a certain stage, you feel the need of taking a rest from spirituality and old fairy tales, I’d recommend you a stop at the local bar – a little wooden hut with a few tables under the trees, where you can sip wine or beer and enjoy the amazing view and the tranquility of the location: the perfect ending of a contemporary fairy tale.