Abbadia San Salvatore

Abbey of Sant'Antimo




Archipelago Toscano




Badia di Coltibuono

Bagni San Filippo

Bagno Vignoni

Barberino Val d'Elsa


Bolsena Lake


Brunello di Montalcino




Castel del Piano



Castellina in Chianti


Castelnuovo Bererdenga

Castiglioncello Bandini

Castiglione della Pescaia

Castiglione d'Orcia

Castiglion Fiorentino



Chinaciano Terme




Città di Castello

CivitÀ di Bagnoregio

Colle Val d'Elsa


Crete Senesi

Diaccia Botrona

Isola d'Elba



Gaiole in Chianti



Greve in Chianti


Lago Trasimeno

La Foce



Massa Marittima

Montagnola Senese


Monte Amiata

Monte Argentario





Monte Oliveto Maggiore








Parco Naturale della Maremma







Radda in Chianti



San Bruzio

San Casciano dei Bagni

San Galgano

San Gimignano

San Giovanni d'Asso

San Quirico d'Orcia


Santa Fiora














Tavernelle Val di Pesa

Torrita di Siena




Val d'Elsa

Val di Merse

Val d'Orcia

Valle d'Ombrone




Walking in Tuscany
Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

album Surroundings

Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore


The Crete Senesi refers to an area of the Italian region of Tuscany to the south of Siena. It consists of a range of hills and woods among villages and includes the comuni of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d'Arbia, Rapolano Terme and San Giovanni d'Asso.

Crete senesi are literally ‘Sienese clays’ and the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape an appearance often described as lunar. This characteristic clay is known as mattaione.

Asciano is a medieval town center and has several interesting churches and museums. Five miles south of Asciano, the atmospheric complex of the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, which was founded in 1313 by Giovanni Tolomei, dominates the landscape of the Crete. It is located on a hilltop, immersed in a dark yet beautiful natural landscape, and is marked by a suggestive, mystical history. It is the mother-house of the Olivetans and the monastery later took the name of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (the greater) to distinguish it from successive foundations at Florence, San Gimignano, Naples and elsewhere. The abbey's origins date back to the middle ages.

Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore
was founded in 1313 by Bernardo Tolomei. An imposing square tower with a drawbridge that was part of the original defences erected to protect the entire complex stands at the entrance to the Abbey. The courtyard of the abbey opens onto a broad avenue of cypresses. To the left is the botanical garden that supplied medicinal plants for the monks. A little further on is the fish pond designed in 1553 by Pelori and used by the monks to provide fish at those times of year during which the Benedictine rule forbade the consumption of meat. The cypress avenue leads to the impressively austere, late-gothic church of the abbey, built between 1399 and 1417. The interior of the abbey, renovated in Baroque style, houses a number of precious works of art, including an engraved wooden choir. In the magnificent rectangular Chiostro Grande, constructed between 1426 and 1443. It is made up of two passages, one above the other, supported by columns. The portico is decorated with a fresco cycle by Luca Signorelli depicting the life of St Benedict, who began work on its 36 large scenes in 1497. Signorelli painted eight frescoes. The two last frescoes of the Monte Oliveto series indicate that an immense force lay in reserve, waiting an opportunity for some wider and freer field of action, than had hitherto presented itself. That opportunity came, when, at the age of fifty-nine, he was called upon to undertake the vast work of his Orvieto frescoes.
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The cycle was finished in 1508 by Sodoma. Il Sodoma painted in a manner that superimposed the High Renaissance style of early 16th-century Rome onto the traditions of the provincial Sienese school. He spent the bulk of his professional life in Siena, with two periods in Rome.


Crete Senesi

Il Sodoma, self portrait in one of the frescoes at Monte Oliveto

Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Chiostro Grande

The Chiostro Centrale is composed of a portico that leads to the magnificent Refectory, decorated with frescoes by Fra’ Paolo Novelli.
The monastery also houses a very rich library and an ancient pharmacy. The transept leads to the Chapel of the Sacrament, whose altar is adorned by an early 14 C wooden Crucifix. In 1772 the church was redecorated in the late-Baroque style by Giovanni Antinori.
Of special interest are the panels behind the choir stalls. These are known as intarsia - wooden mosaics. Intarsia is a form of wood inlaying that is similar to marquetry. The technique of intarsia inlays sections of wood (at times with contrasting ivory or bone) within the solid matrix; by contrast marquetry assembles a pattern out of veneers upon the carcase. The technique of intarsia is believed to have been introduced into Europe through Sicily, the art was perfected in Siena and in northern Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Intarsia works in northern Italy reached a peak in the first half of the 1500s, and these works in Monte Oliveto by Fra Giovanni da Verona come from that period.[1]

Luca Signorelli, frescoes in the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Luca Signorelli, Come Benedetto dice alli monaci dove e quando avevano mangiato fuori dal monastero (dettaglio), Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Luca Signorelli was an Italian painter from Cortona, active in various cities of central Italy, notably Arezzo, Florence, Orvieto, Perugia, and Rome. According to Vasari, Signorelli was a pupil of Piero della Francesca.
He must have had a considerable reputation by about 1483, when he was called on to complete the cycle of frescoes on the walls of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, left unfinished by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, and Rosselli.
Signorelli worked in Rome until 1484 when he returned to his native Cortona, which remained from this time his home. In the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Siena) he painted eight frescoes, forming part of a vast series of the life of St Benedict. From the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore went to Orvieto, where he painted a magnificent series of six frescoes illustrating the end of the world and the Last Judgement (1499-1504).

The life of St Benedict is considered as a reflection and ideal of the monastic life. The exemplary nature of the scenes presented in the cloister at Monteoliveto Maggiore gives the impression that they were deliberately selected for their bearing on life within the monastery. Virtually all of the community's activities and concerns are reflected in them. The ultimate textual source for the Benedict cycle was the biography written by Gregory the Great in about 593-94, which tells the story of the important monastic founder in thirty-eight chapter.

The cycle was finished in 1508 by Sodoma. Il Sodoma painted in a manner that superimposed the High Renaissance style of early 16th-century Rome onto the traditions of the provincial Sienese school. He spent the bulk of his professional life in Siena, with two periods in Rome.


Signorelli, Life of St. Benedict
Il Sodoma, frescoes in the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Il Sodoma, Benedict Repairs a Broken Colander through Prayer, with selfportrait of the artist, Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Il Sodoma (1477 – February 14, 1549) was the name given to the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi.[1] Il Sodoma painted in a manner that superimposed the High Renaissance style of early 16th-century Rome onto the traditions of the provincial Sienese school; he spent the bulk of his professional life in Siena, with two periods in Rome.

Along with Pinturicchio, Sodoma was one of the first to practice in Siena the style of the High Renaissance. His first important works were seventeen frescoes in the Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, on the road from Siena to Rome, illustrating the life of St Benedict in continuation of the series that Luca Signorelli had begun in 1498. Gaining fluency in the prevailing popular style of Pinturicchio, Sodoma completed the set in 1502 and included a self-portrait with badgers.

Sodoma was invited to Rome in 1508 by the celebrated Sienese merchant Agostino Chigi and was employed there by Pope Julius II in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican.
Before October 1510 he was in Siena, where he painted the exterior of Palazzo Chigi in monochrome chiaroscuro with scenes from the Bible and from Antiquity.
Called again to Rome by Chigi, in the Villa Chigi (now the Villa Farnesina), working alongside Baldassarre Peruzzi, Sodoma painted subjects from the life of Alexander the Great.
Among his masterpieces are the frescoes, completed in 1526, in the chapel of St. Catherine of Siena painted for the church of San Domenico (Siena), depicting the saint in ecstasy, fainting as she receives the Eucharist from an angel. In the oratory of S. Bernardino, are scenes from the history of the Virgin, painted in conjunction with Pacchia and Beccafumi (1536–1538) — the Visitation and the Assumption. In San Francesco are the Deposition from the Cross (1513) and Christ Scourged. Many critics regard one or the other of these paintings as Sodoma's masterpiece.

Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

According to the documents the painters worked in a direction contrary to the chronological narrative sequence. This implies that a comprehensive plan for the cycle was being followed from the start. This master plan saw to it that the scenes with the greatest number of figures fell in the corner bays where they could be appreciated from a greater distance.

There is no question but that Sodoma dominates the Monteoliveto cloister cycle, if only in terms of his greater number of pictures. The painter made certain he would be forever associated with the cycle by including the prominent self-portrait in the scene of the colander miracle (Scene 3). His depiction of himself dressed in an elegant costume with long wavy hair, turning his back on the crucial event of the scene in his eagerness to make eye contact with the viewer, goes a long way toward confirming Vasari's description of him as an impossible eccentric.

In his biography of Sodoma, Vasari relates that the splendid clothes the painter wears here had belonged to a nobleman, who on entering the monastery left them with the prior. The prior, in turn, presented to Sodoma. The painter promptly donned the showy costume and painted the portrait by looking at himself in a mirror - not forgetting to include his two pet badgers, a chicken and a tame raven.[2]

Album Il Sodoma


Leaving Monte Oliveto Maggiore and passing through San Giovanni d'Asso the route comes to Trequanda. A perfectly preserved 13th-century castle dominates the few houses that there are with its cylindrical crenellated tower. The church in the main Square, dedicated to Saints Peter and Andrew, is also 13th century and has a unique black and white stone checkerboard facade. Inside, there is a wonderful fresco of the Transfiguration by Sodoma.


Chiesa di San Pietro in Villore in San Giovanni d'Asso

The festival Accademia delle Crete Senesi was founded on the initiative of artistic director Philippe Herreweghe and some musicians of the Orchestre des Champs Elysées. The Accademia aims to give young talents a chance to play with experienced musicians. The concerts of the Accademia delle Crete take place in small but marvellous churches, chosen because of their adequate acoustics for the repertoire on the program. The Crete Senesi offers splendid locations: Asciano, Castelmuzio, Pienza, Sant’Anna in Camprena, San Quirico d’Orcia...


The small town of Asciano, in the heart of the Crete, still has many of its old medieval palaces and various towers, including the guard towers of the outer walls, which now lie inside the modern-day town. Asciano has many unusual mixed Romanesque and Gothic architectural forms which are of considerable interest.

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Buonconvento is an ancient settlement in the more gentle side of Siena area.
The first residential settlements in the area of Buonconvento probably go back to the Etruscan and Roman Ages. Despite this historical data about the foundation of the village, its development starts on the 12th century, when the village already had a great importance as a place where the trading activities took place, promoted this latter by the closeness to the two rivers and to its position on the Via Francigena, one of Europe's major routes in the Middle Ages.
The Museo della Val d’Arbia (Val d’Arbia Museum) has recently been opened in the centre o. Here, visitors will find works of art by Sano di Pietro and Matteo di Giovanni. Other sites of interest in the town include the Museo di Arte Sacra (the Museum of Sacred Art), Palazzo Ricci, the church of San Pietro e Paolo (Saint Peter and Saint Paul) and the Oratorio di San Sebastiano (the Oratory of Saint Sebastian).

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San Giovanni d'Asso is a comune, located 30 km southeast of Siena in the Crete Senesi, about 8 km south-eastwards from Buonconvento.
The place name comes from a church that was fouded and entitled to Sain John Baptist (San Giovanni d'Asso is like Saint John of Asso). Later the specification Asso was added, with reference to the torrent along which the village rises.
The hamlet is overlooked by large Castle, now home to the tartufo museum. Also interesting in the historical centre are the churches of San Giovanni Battista (pieve) and San Pietro in Villore, both of medieval origin.
Among the numerous celebrations periodically taking place in San Giovanni d'Asso we remind the "Exhibit of the White Truffle" held yearly on November.

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San Giovanni d'Asso

Photo gallery Monte Oliveto Maggiore



Monte Oliveto 381   Monte Oliveto 310  
Monte oliveto maggiore, chiesa, ext. 05

Monte Oliveto Maggiore [1]


  Monte Oliveto Maggiore [1]  
Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Campanile[3]

Chiostro grande del monastero di Monte Oliveto Maggiore


    Storie di s. benedetto, 04 sodoma - Come Romano monaco da lo abito eremitico a Benedetto 03

Fattoria Abbazia di Monteoliveto

The estate, located 1km from the town, and now property of the Zonin family, is dominated by the historic Abbazia Monte Oliveto, which was built by Olivetan monks in 1340. The land around the abbey includes 18 hectares (37 acres) of vineyards, all planted in Vernaccia of San Gimignano. The wine made from that variety was already famous in the lifetime of Dante Alighieri.
Wines: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Fusaia Sangiovese IGT and Vino Rosso IGT Toscana.

Fattoria Abbazia Monte Oliveto

Walking in the Crete Senesi

Near the abbey, you can make some beautiful walks. This is one of the most beautiful regions of Tuscany and the hills with cypresses and isolated buildings in the countryside seem to have been plucked from a medieval painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Publico.
The walks around the abbey and beyond the picturesque village of Chiusure provides great views of the Crete Senesi landscapes. but give you a different and penetrating picture of the Crete Senesi. The impressive landscape with eroded chalk cliffs, calanchi, and balze that surround the monastery, give a sometimes lunar look.




The most beautiful walks in the Crete senesi, near Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Van Monte Oliveto Maggiore naar San Giovanni d'Asso
| 6,48 km | 1,5 hours

San Giovanni d'Asso naar Monte Oliveto Maggiore | 10.46 km | 2 hours

Anello Chiusure - Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Asciano | 5,64 km

Montalcino - Buonconvento - Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore  | 27 km | 5,5 hours circa


Holiday Accommodation Tuscany

Podere Santa Pia, a formerl cloister in the Tuscan Maremma is situated on the outskirts of Castiglioncello Bandini, and dominates one of the most beautiful setting that nature can offer: the Tuscan countryside. The most interesting artistic, historical and cultural sites of southern Tuscany are nearby, and are awaiting your discovery.

Holiday homes in the Tuscan Maremma | Holiday home Podere Santa Pia


[1] Intarsia are mosaics made of pieces of inlaid wood. They are a remarkable art form which reached a peak in northern Italy in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Intarsia is a form of wood inlaying that is similar to marquetry. The term is also used for a similar technique used with small, highly polished stones set in a marble matrix. The technique of intarsia inlays sections of wood (at times with contrasting ivory or bone, or mother-of-pearl) within the solid stone matrix of floors and walls or of table tops and other furniture; by contrast marquetry assembles a pattern out of veneers glued upon the carcase. It is thought that the word 'intarsia' is derived from the Latin word 'interserere' which means "to insert".
Domenico di Nicolo, one of the finest Sienese masters of intarsia and carving, worked for 13 years on the chapel in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena, using some of Taddeo Bartoli's designs.
Intarsia was originally made by sinking forms into wood, following a prearranged design, and then filling in the hollows with pieces of different coloured woods. Initially only a small number of colours were used. Early writings indicate that the only tints employed were black and white, but this must be interpreted broadly. The colour of wood on the same plank usually differs from place to place; tinting would not have obscured the variations in wood colour.

In the early fifteenth century, at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, the intarsiatori produced graceful arabesque works perfectly suited to the raw material and often executed with perfection.
These works are considered by some to be the most entirely satisfactory of their works, although not necessarily the most marvellous.
After the invention of perspective drawing and its application to painting, ambitious intarsia crafters emulated this representational trend in wood. Much of their work focussed on street scenes and architectural subjects (not always very successfully) and simple objects like cupboards with their doors partly open to show items on the shelves (often extraordinarily realistic considering the materials and techniques used). This focus on realism was assisted by Fra Giovanni da Verona's discovery of acid solutions and stains for treating wood (to produce a greater variety of colours) and by the practice of scorching areas of the wood to shade them, suggesting roundness.
[2] Web Gallery of Art |

The Abbey Monte Oliveto Maggiore with the famous intarsia works of Fra Giovanni da Verona, constructed around 1520

This article incorporates material from the Wikipedia articles Territorial Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Il Sodoma, published under the GNU Free Documentation License. This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, and Affreschi del Sodoma a Monte Oliveto Maggiore.