Medieval Castles and Monasteries, Romanesque
and Renaissance Churches

The Castles

The castle is the most characteristic building of the Middle Ages. It was a fortified settlement that began to appear in the 8th century. The most ancient castle in the Volterra area is the Luppiano tower, which records date back to 954.
The castle was born in Italy as a stronghold destined to control the territory and defend the local inhabitants. For this very reason the castles were mainly built on the top of hills and near roads, such as in Castlenuovo, that was on the roadway linking the Val di Cecina to the Maremma area, or Montevoltraio.

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Originally, the castles in Valdicecina, as those in Tuscany generally, were built with a stone tower surrounded by a ditch or a wooden palisade. Inside this stronghold there would have been wooden buildings that were used as stables, stores, dormitories and kitchens. Over the centuries the wooden structures were developed and re-built in stone: initially the walls, gateways and towers then all the other aforementioned buildings.

Also the tower, where the potentates used to live, was substituted (from the 11th century) by a true palazzo where there were luxurious rooms and audience chambers.

By the 12th century the castles had become a complex structure, around the original nucleus built for the defense of an urban settlement there had developed a village, that could have been surrounded by a perimeter wall. In these new castles there always was at least one church, and there could also have been hospices, inns and shops. In this century, the main castles of the area were already becoming towns with hundreds of inhabitants, like Berignone, Montecatini, Pomarance and Castelnuovo.

With the downfall of the castles, beginning in the 15th century, the original fortified structures were abandoned and only the town survived. Most of the towns in the Valdicecina area are what remains of those ancient castles.

The Parish Churches

The Valdicecina has always been united under one diocese, that of Volterra, whose existence has been recorded from the 5th century. Although most of the contemporary churches were not built before the 10th century, there are some like the cathedral of Volterra, that are more ancient. The religious administration of this area was entrusted by the bishop to the provosts of the parish churches; the parish churches were the richer and more important churches. The control of an area of the diocese was entrusted to them and they might also have controlled…

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other less important churches, called suffragan churches. The parish churches were also the place were taxes were collected for the bishop. Furthermore some sacraments could only be administered in the parish churches, even though in both city and country churches mass was celebrated, it was only in the parish churches that people could be baptized or buried.

For this very reason many of them were administered by more than one clergymen and the size of donations allowed the provosts to make them ever larger and more richly decorated like the parish church of San Giovanni in Sillano, of which today only the façade remains, but which is rich in decorations.

Usually the parish churches were built near a road and often outside the castle villages, like the one in Villamagna. There markets would be held because they were important meeting points, suitable for trade. Near the Querceto parish church, built outside the castle, along a road called ‘Romana’ or ‘Romea’ an important wool market was held.

In our area there are many examples of religious architecture, from the Romanesque churches, like the parish churches in Pomarance and Montecerboli, or the church of S. Margherita in Volterra, to the more modern ones, from the Renaissance and Neo-Classical period, up to the most recent: the church of the Madonna of Montenero in Larderello and that of the Lagoni in Sasso Pisano designed by Giovanni Michelacci.

Other important religious buildings were the monasteries. The most ancient monasteries were founded by rich noble families that offered part of their wealth as a donation, such as for the monastery of San Piero in Palazzolo, in Monteverdi, that was built thanks to the donation from the Lombard Walfred in 754.
The estates of the monasteries increased, thanks to the donations, over the centuries. In some cases the Abbots ruled over true feudal properties, being completely independent of the bishops, but under Papal administration.

Rocca Sillana

A secluded stronghold overlooking the hills surrounding Pomarance

Among the many monuments and settlements that dominate the undulating hills of the Cecina Valley, the Rocca Sillana castle is one of the most significant.

The Fortress: history and visiting guide

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