Chiusdino is located in a magnificent location, overlooking the Merse Valley and the Metalliferous Hills amid woods and pastureland. The position and structure of the fortified mediaeval castle demonstrate an evident defensive strategy. Chiusdino was governed by the Bishops of Volterra and subsequently (13th century) by the Commune of Siena.
Here you can admire the suggestive Abbey of San Galgano, now completely ruined. The abandoned Cistercian abbey of San Galgano with the Montesiepi hermitage rise in the valley of the river Merse, between the medieval villages of Chiusdino and Monticiano. The site is made up of two major attractions: the Gothic roofless cathedral and the unusually shaped monastery of Montesiepi, and ancient hermitage, which hosts the tomb of San Galgano and the sword in the stone.
According to the tradition, in 1180 on Christmas Day San Galgano fixed his sword into the stone in order to realize a cross. Now in Montesiepi's Hermitage a plexiglass shrine with the sword into the stone is still preserved.
Do not miss to visit the Frosini castle, ancient residence of the Conti della Gherardesca (1004), Luriano, Castelletto and the Montalcinello castle.
The Monastery of San Galgano
The Monastery of San Galgano is a Cistercian Abbey built in 1324 which holds a very important place in the art and history of Siena. It was Tuscany's first full on Gothic church, and later the model for the Siena Cathedral. The abbey stood near the hill of Montesiepi where Cavalier Galgano Guidotti from Chiusdino lived a life of penitence from 1148 to 1181. A circular Romanesque chapel with a hemispherical vault was built on the spot in remembrance (12th century) decorated with frescoes of the 14th century Sienese school of painting (Ambrogio Lorenzetti).
The Monastery of San Galgano began to decline during the 15th century when it was deprived of the title of Abbey (1503). The vaults and the steeple fell to the ground in 1786 and the ruins can still now be seen in all their suggestive beauty. The church was never rebuilt; it is in the shape of a Latin cross 69 m. long, with a nave and lateral aisles, pointed arches, ribbed vaults and pillars with sculptured capitals. In the adjoining monastery, you can see the Chapter Hall; the portal is ogival and the hall is divided into two naves by rows of pillars. The refectory, too, is divided into two naves with well preserved vaults.
The Montesiepi hermitage on the hill was built 50 years before the Abbey to house San Galgano's remains and his sword which he had plunged into a rock to make a cross out of the handle.
The inside of the domed roof is constructed with 24 concentric circles of alternating white stone and terracotta.
The sword in the stone and the hands of the evil man can still be seen in the church of the monastery of Montesiepi, built at the end of the 12th century as a mausoleum for the saint. Saint Galgano is buried in the church. The church has a very peculiar shape, it is built as a rotunda and historians hypothesize that it was inspired by Castel Sant'Angelo, the Pantheon in Rome or even an Etruscan tomb as the many ones visible in Volterra, the town that once controlled this area. The church was enlarged in the 14th century with the construction of a chapel with frescoes by the Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
The rectangular side-chapel contains frescoes painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between 1334 and 1336, and some of his work has been restored and is still visible.
Dating back to the first half of the 14th century and very deteriorated, the fresco was detached during a restoration in 1966. Under that, a sinopia was discovered, quite different from the final picture.  This preparatory drawing is a typical scene of conturbatio. The Virgin looks so perturbed by the apparition of the angel, that, instinctively, her arms clasp a near column. In the finished depiction, Mary’s hands are folded on her breast, to signify a full assent to her exceptional lot. [read more]
Galgano Guidotti was a knight born to rich parents in 1148. He wanted to renounce the material world and also the arts of war. To symbolize his rejection of war, he supposedly plunged his sword into the rock, leaving only the hilt exposed to form the shape of the Cross. Later on, he performed some miracles and died in 1181. He was declared Saint in 1185.
It has been assumed that the Tuscan "sword in the stone" is a fake, made to echo the Celtic legend of King Arthur.
But a study by the medieval historian Mario Moiraghi suggests that the story of St Galgano and his sword was the origin of the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, embellished by medieval troubadours as it spread from Tuscany.
Scenes of the life of Saint Galgano by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Oratory of San Galgano
The San Galgano Abbey was Tuscany's first pure Gothic church, and it was later used as the model for the Cathedral of Siena. The abbey is built according to the typical Cistercian plan based on a Latin cross with three aisles, rich in carved capitals and rose windows, with a cloister, halls, and – atypically – a bell tower.
Over the centuries the rivalries between Siena and Florence condemned the abbey to a slow but irreversible decline, and at the end of the 18th century the bell tower collapsed destroying a great part of the roof of the church. The abbey was abandoned and the bricks and stones were used by the builders of the area to build houses and other small churches. Thanks to several restorations the cathedral is now one of the most beautiful and fascinating ruins in Tuscany, and it is well worth a visit.
Many legends have been created to account for the absence of the roof. One of the most popular among the poor farmers of the Val di Merse was that Napoleon had stolen the supposedly golden roof of the cathedral.
Nosthalgia (1983) Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky shot Nostalghia in Tuscany in 1983. Sets he used for his film include Bagno di Vignoni and the Abbadia di San Galgano.
The taut, semi-autobiographical screenplay - written with Tonino Guerra - tells the story of a Russian poet, Andrei Gorchakov who journeys to Italy to research the life of Maxim Beryozovsky. Beryozovsky was a Ukranian serf who, in the 18th century, became an important composer in Bologna. Stricken by nostalgia and unable to write the music that had brought him sudden fame, he returned home to serfdom, drink, humiliation and suicide.'
There were two sets he used for his film, Bagno di Vignoni and the Abbadia di San Galgano. Both sets played a very important role in the film, Bagno Vignoni serving as the culmination scene, San Galgano being the backdrop of a marvellous dream sequence staging a small Russican cottage from his childhood in a medieval Tuscan Abbey.
Watch the abbey in the final scene of Tarkovsky's film Nostalghia
The final scene of Tarkovsky's film Nostalghia
Andrei Tarkovsky: 'The film, in fact, will deal with various problems and has many themes. The protagonist is a Russian intellectual. In Moscow, or in Leningrad, Tonino Guerra and I have still not yet specified this point, he teaches history of Italian Rennaissance architechture at a university. He is a great specialist, appreciated by everyone, even though he has never set foot in Italy because he constructed his science, his culture, solely through books. One day, for research purposes, he decides to come to Italy, assisted by an interpreter who must accompany him to all the inspections of palaces and monuments that he plans to make. He begins his visits, he looks, he studies, and very soon thereafter he enters into crisis. Everything that he knew, in fact, seems to no longer have any sense for him, it seems dead, empty. Contained in those monuments, in those palaces, is the heart and soul of those who made them, who conceived them, and around them are the people who don't see them in an abstract way but in concrete terms, because they live there or experience them, because they are part of their daily panoramas, of the rythms of their existence. And thus all meanings change, all surroundings, as if revealing different themes and measures. What did the professor know of all this? Nothing. Thus he did not know the essential, the true juice of those monuments, of that art that he had read about in books, that he had seen only in photographs.
Val di Merse is one of the regions of the province of Siena, in Tuscany. It is located on the border with the Upper Maremma and it is renowned for its unspoilt nature. The territory comprises the area between the rivers Farma and Merse and it is covered in woods which hide medieval hamlets and castles. It is an area rich in waters known for their healing powers, such as the hot springs of Bagni di Petriolo.
Val di Merse is not only nature though. There area several beautiful villages to visit, such as Monticiano, Chiusdino, Murlo and Sovicille. Montalcinello is a medieval village founded in the 10 th century, north of Chiusdino. Other surrounding smaller towns and hamlets are Ciciano, Frassini, Frosini, Castelletto, Luriano, Palazzetto, Pentolina, San Galgano and Spannocchia.
Bagni di Petriolo
Monticiano is a very old village on the right bank of the Val di Merse which dates back to the 12th century. Originally a castle property of the Bishop of Volterra, it later came under the domination of Siena. The remains of the castle are still visible and the little streets of the village are very picturesque. The village has two churches, the Romanesque church of Sant'Agostino of the late 13th century, with baroque interiors, and the older parish, the church of San Giusto and San Clemente, of the 12th century, with a neat stone façade.
The oldest part of the village is located on a hilltop, within the remains of the ancient walls. From the top of the hill the view over the valley of the river Merse is breathtaking. The atmosphere among the walls of the village is definitely medieval: stone houses, small parish churches, narrow streets. The origins of the village are celebrated every year in October, when the Palio dei Ciuchi, a donkey race in medieval costumes, brings the past back to life.
Other sights and attractions are the thermal spas Terme di Petriolo, the Castle of Belagaio, The Falcon's Cave, the River Farma valley Nature reserve, situated between Monticiano and Roccastrada.
Weekly Market is on Friday in the main piazza.
Chiusdino is situated on a hilltop overlooking both the valley of the river Merse. The village has the structure of a fortified castle and dates back to the 9th century. In Chiusdino you can visit the Church of San Martino, the Prepositura di San Michele next to the house where Saint Galgano was born and the church of the Compagnia di San Galgano where there is a beautiful bas-relief depicting the saint cutting the stone with his sword. Near Chiusdino, the ancient castle of the Della Gherardesca Counts, the 11th century hamlet of Frosini, is well worth a visit and so are Luriano, Castelletto and the Montalcinello castle.
The Farma Nature Reserve, situated between Monticiano and Roccastrada, incorporates the middle stretch of the beautiful, wild valley of the river Farma, the main tributary of the river Merse. The whole Farma valley, especially the part within the reserve, preserves a number of natural features which are unique to the province of Siena and among the most interesting in the country.
Osho Miasto, the biggest Osho center in Italy, is located in a very quiet position, in the wild and beautiful nature of Montagnola Senese.
OSHO Miasto - il più grande centro di Osho in Italia, situato lontano dalle città, in una natura incontaminata - è un Istituto per la Meditazione e la Crescita Spirituale aperto ai soci del CONACREIS.
Istituto Osho Miasto
Loc. Podere S. Giorgio, 16, Chiusdino di Casole d'Elsa Siena | www.oshomiasto.it
Sovicille is approximately 10 km west of Siena on the old via Maremmana, the road which linked Siena with the coast of the Maremma. This area has been inhabited since the Stone Age and archaeologists have found remains of prehistoric, Etruscan and Roman settlements. Sovicille and its surrounding area are rich in historic-artistic treasures: abbeys and Romanesque parish churches such as those of San Giusto a Balli, Pernina, Molli, Ponte allo Spino, San Lorenzo a Sovicille and Torri where visitors can admire the beautiful polychromatic cloister in the Abbey of Santa Mustiola (13th century). There are also some remarkable villas such as Villa Cetinale (17th century, designed by Carlo Fontana),Villa Celsa with its beautiful gardens and Villa Linari (18th century).
Sovicille and its surrounding area are rich in historic-artistic treasures: abbeys and Romanesque parish churches such as those of San Giusto a Balli, Pernina, Molli, Ponte allo Spino, San Lorenzo a Sovicille and Torri where visitors can admire the beautiful polychromatic cloister in the Abbey of Santa Mustiola (13th century). There are also some remarkable villas such as Villa Cetinale (17th century, designed by Carlo Fontana),Villa Celsa with its beautiful gardens and Villa Linari (18th century). [read more]
Sovicille, Pieve di Ponte allo Spino
Murlo is a very old castle-village, located on a high hill which overlooks the wooded valley of the river Crevole. This part of the Val di Merse is on the border with the Val d’Arbia in the Crete Senesi area. From the village, visitors can enjoy the view over the valley of the river Ombrone up to the hill of Montalcino. Murlo is of Etruscan origin and remains of the Etruscan settlements were found at Poggio Civitate and Poggio Aguzzo.
The castle was built in the 12th century and it underwent remarkable changes in the 16th century after the end of the power of the Republic of Siena. Buildings of note include the Bishop’s Palace, which houses the Archeological Museum, the cathedral and the old prison.
The excavation at the Etruscan site of Poggio Civitate, a hill near Murlo, has brought to light the extraordinary remains of a princely residence that show two different phases of construction (orientalising and ancient), dating back to the VII-VI centuries BC, and document the importance of the Etruscan presence in the Valle dell'Ombrone.
Among the most important findings there are terracotta slabs depicting banquet scenes, assemblies, processions and a horse-race. These have been displayed in their original function of architectonic friezes in a reconstruction of the pitched roof of the building, on the top of which is collocated the most famous piece of the museum – a human statue with beard and hat, accompanied by a sphinx, which represents a unique example of a fictile or clay acroterion.
Antiquarium of Poggio Civitate | Archaeological Museum, in Castello di Murlo
The museum is housed in the Palazzo dei Vescovi and keeps various archaeological material from Poggio Civitate, a settlement dating back to the 7th-6th century BC. Remarkable exhibits: a collection of architectural fragments and decorations, the famous acroter statues, which have become the symbol of Murlo, and a fronton from a 5th-century BC Etruscan building. As well as other pieces from the prince's residence, including other fictile acroterions, the Antiquarium exhibits findings from tombs and from a laboratory of local handicraft, thus offering the visitor a rare and detailed insight into the Etruscan civilisation of that period.
Opening time: Tues. to Sat. 10-12, Sun. 10-12 and 14-17, closed Mon. (in Jan., Feb., Nov. and Dec.); Tues. to Sun. 9.30-12.30 and 15-19, closed Mon. (in March and Oct.); 9.30-13 and 15-19 (the rest of the year).
Vescovado has the peculiarity of having been created by the fusion of the villages of Andica and Tinoni, still separated at the beginning of the 19th century. In the village church visitors can see a painting of the Madonna by Benvenuto di Giovanni (15th century).
For approximately 500 years, between the VIII and IX centuries, the Archbishop of Volterra inherited a vast territory where two communities were formed, one of which was called Castello di Montalcinello.
In 1257, the castle was bestowed to the Sienese Ildebrando Tolomei who watched over it until 1347, after which, due to a terrible plague epidemic, he handed it over to Bocchino di Ottaviano.
In 1356, the Sienese forcefully occupied Montalcinello and from that date, the inhabitants were compelled to pay a very heavy tax in order to be considered Sienese.
In 1555, this led to a complete decadence of the castle.
The fortified village and Castello di Frosini, ancient residence of the Gherardesca Counts, is nearby Chiusdino and well worth a visit.
Casa vacanze Santa Pia is perched atop the Maremma hills about 35 km from the coast and just 22km from the Brunello di Montalcino area of Tuscany. The location of Podere Santa Pia is unique and the landscape a once-in-a-life sight. Set in the historic area of the Maremma Santa Pia offers evening views up to the Tyrrhenian coast, the island Montecristo and on clear evenings even Corsica.
 Red earth has been used in painting for millennia. Sinopia was the Italian word for this pigment and it was used for the underdrawing in fresco painting. The drawings themselves are now known as sinopia, much like the word oil can stand for painting. Sinopia color was also used in the fresco itself and in panel paintings, particularly for painting flesh.  JONATHAN GLANCEY, The landscape of Tarkovsky's film, Nostalgia, is not what it was | www.independent.co.uk  Transcript of a tape-recorded interview with Andrei Tarkovsky, conducted by Gian Luigi Rondi on April 15, 1980. Source: www.nostalghia.com
Anne Dunlop, Once more on the Patronage of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Frescoes at S. Galgano, Montesiepi. JSTOR: Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 63. Bd., H. 3 (2000), pp. 387-403 | www.jstor.org
Dunlop explores the Virgin Mary's role in the paintings done by Lorenzetti. The theme of calling and acceptance is represented both in the Annunciation and in the one scene from Galgano's life. Mary is also presented as the Queen of Heaven to her Cistercian knightly followers.
Chiusdino borders the following municipalities: Casole d'Elsa, Monticiano, Montieri, Radicondoli, Roccastrada, Sovicille.
Ciciano, Montalcinello, Frassini, Palazzetto and Frosini are frazioni of Chiusdino.