Chianti, the picturesque wine region that extends between Florence and Siena, is known worldwide for its unique landscape – hills dotted with castles, villas and farm houses, and vast expanses of vineyards and olive groves, the source of Chianti Classico wine and Chianti extravergine olive oil, interspersed with rows of cypress trees.
The territory also contains other attractions, among the most evocative of which, surrounded by greenery, are the many Romanesque parish churches, known as Pievi. The route described below, which inevitably requires short detours, should allow visitors to Chianti to see a representative selection of the most interesting Romanesque churches in Chianti during the course of a single day’s excursion.
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Basilicas, Pievi, Abbeys, Monasteries and Hermitages of Tuscany
Starting from Florence, take the famous Via Chiantigiana leading into the Chianti territory via Grassina. A first detour leads to Impruneta where you can admire the Basilica of Santa Maria, mentioned in a manuscript of 774 and rebuilt in 1059. In the hills surrounding the town, you will see other interesting architecture including the Romanesque church of Santo Stefano in Pozzolatico (note the base of the bell tower), the church of San Pietro in Jerusalem a Gersolè, and especially the beautiful church of San Miniato a Quintole with its fine porch added to an interesting yet simple, Romanesque portal.
Returning to the main road at Strada in Chianti, you will see the Church of San Cristoforo showing some elements of the original Romanesque structure and preserving a 15 C wooden crucifix. A little further on, at Chiocchio, the 13 C parish church of San Donato a Mugnana deserves a quick visit.
Half way between these two towns, the road winds up the hill to Cintoia, from where a detour leads to the hamlet of Old Cintoia, location of the simple Pieve di San Pietro a Cintoia which dates back to 724 and which was restored in the form of a fort in the 12 C. The apse is particularly interesting. You can then follow a nearby very difficult dirt road that passes through the woods to arrive at the old Badia (Abbey) of Montescalari, now privately owned and therefore not open to the public but viewable from outside. Back on the main road, you reach Dudda where is the Church of San Michele of Romanesque origin, but almost completely rebuilt. A detour leads to Lucolena, an ancient fortified town near a Roman road and location of the Church of San Stefano, dating from 1299. Returning back down to Greve in Chianti, we can take a panoramic dirt road through the vineyards to reach the Pieve di San Cresci, dating from before the year one thousand. Across the valley to the south there is a beautiful view of the fortified village of Montefioralle of which San Cresci was for centuries the parish church.
From Greve we continue to Panzano in Chianti. Just outside the town on a slight hill, the beautiful Pieve di San Leolino is worth seeing at all costs. The Pieve of San Leolino mentioned in a parchment of 982 while the existing architectural structures dating from the 12 C and the facade consisting of an elegant portico was added in the 16 C. The church is a basilica with three naves and preserves valuable works of art, including a beautiful triptych of the Maestro di Panzano. It has an attractive cloister that may be visited.
Within easy reach of Panzano, on a slight detour to the right, is the Oratory of Sant’Eufrosino which is mentioned in a Papal Bull of 1103. The church fell into disrepair, was rebuilt in Gothic style in 1441 and subsequently renovated again. In the immediate vicinity of the church stands a small chapel, built on a well whose water is believed to have miraculous properties, and was called the “acqua di San Frosino. A small Romanesque altar inscribed with star-shaped flowers placed in circles is preserved inside the chapel.
As mentioned above, detours are inevitable and recommended, and by this means you should visit the area of Barberino Val d’Elsa, where, at the village of Sant’Appiano, there is the unique Pieve di Sant’Appiano, dating from the 12 C and in front of which there are columns from the ruins of an ancient baptistery. The interior of the church consists of three aisles and three apses, where one can admire the frescoes and the 14 C tomb of Gherarducci Gherardini. In the lintel overlooking the courtyard, there is a slab carved with an image of St. Michael dating back to 1171.
Near the town of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, you will be enchanted by the views of the Badia a Passignano, one of the most charming locations in Tuscany. The abbey retains many traces of the original Romanesque building. This monastery, located in an isolated area and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, was founded in 1049 by San Giovanni Gualberto, who died here in 1073. The interior, a nave, was transformed in the late 16 C by Passignano, a local artist who painted the frescoes in the presbytery. Opposite the church is the entrance of what was once the Convent, which was rebuilt in the 13 C, enlarged in the 15 C and reduced to the current arrangements in the 19 C. In the room that once housed the dining hall, you can admire the magnificent “Last Supper” fresco painted in 1476 by Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio. In the same room, two lunettes contain frescoes depicting “The Expulsion from Paradise” and “The Murder of Abel”, a 15 C work by Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli. The 13 C cloister is also very nice.
Also worth seeing in the countryside around Tavarnelle Val di Pesa are the Pieve of San Donato in Poggio with three naves and three apses, which houses a 16 C baptismal font by Giovanni Della Robbia, the Pieve di San Pietro in Bossolo and the Pieve di Santo Stefano a Campòli, built in 903 and renovated in the 17 C. The addition of the portico dates from the Baroque period. Inside there is still some fine 15 C painting.
Next is San Casciano Val di Pesa, where, just outside the town, on a tree-lined secondary road, is the Pieve di Santa Cecilia a Decimo, originating in the 11 C. The facade with the pretty porch dates from the 16 C. Of note is the original massive bell tower. Inside is a fresco of the 13 C. A few kilometers from the village, make a detour to the church of S. Andrea in Luiano dating from the 11 C which contains frescoes by the Florentine school of the second half of the 16 C plus a valuable baptismal font with a 12 C capital. Also in rural San Casciano, it is worth a detour to the Pieve of San Giovanni in Sugana, a beautiful building, altered in the 16 C, that houses a number of valuable paintings. The Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine at Morrocco has a portico where there are traces of frescoes depicting St. Dominic and the Trinity attributed to Filippo Antonio Filippelli, as well as a beautiful 16 C cloister.
Returning back to the Via Chiantigiana itself, the road that runs from Florence to Siena, you continue to Gaiole in Chianti where you reach the SS 484, then the small road to the village of Adine and so continue until the Pieve of San Polo in Rosso which is considered to be among the most important and picturesque religious buildings in Chianti. Its origins are uncertain but most probably date from the early Christian period. The original church is now incorporated into the remains of a fort probably built in the 13 C. The plan of the church is typically Romanesque: three naves, one apse and quadrangular pilasters. Nevertheless, the church displays later gothic interventions such as the cross vault that blends beautifully into the previous construction. The church formerly contained frescoes of the life of Christ. The beautiful bell tower, built of pietra albarese limestone, is located on the bottom of the right side of the church. On this same side you can see the courtyard. Nearby, on a small side road, one may visit the Pieve of San Giusto in Salcio, built in the 11 C in the immediate vicinity of a rural village dating from Roman times. The interior has three aisles separated by pillars, and the ceiling has exposed wooden trusses. The imposing bell tower was built using local stone.
On the road from Radda in Chianti to Panzano, a short side road leads to the Pieve di Santa Maria Novella, where one can see the three apses and columns with the original capitals of this primitive romanesque structure. In the village of Volpaia, on the slopes of Monte Querciabella, the Commenda di Sant’Eufrosino also preserves traces of the original Romanesque building.
At Castellina in Chianti, not far from the town, down an easy dirt road running from Casalecchi, is the solitary Pieve di Santa Maria al Colle, known as la Badiola, which, although modest in size, is one of the oldest and most atmospheric Romanesque buildings in Chianti. Other buildings in the territory of Castellina are the Romanesque Pieve di S. Leonino in Conio, the Pieve di S. Agnese completely rebuilt after the war, the Pieve San Martino a Cispiano with a single nave, and the Pieve di San Quirico a Momtemano, also with a single nave and a bell tower added later.
The tour ends in the area of Castelnuovo Berardenga, where, just outside the town, you can see the old Pieve di Santa Maria a Pacina first documented in the 8 C. Of particular note is the original cylindrical bell tower. Not far away, near the historic hill of Montaperti where, on 4 September, 1260, during the battle of Montaperti, the Florentine Guelphs were soundly defeated by the Siennese Ghibellines, you can see the very unusual Oratorio di Sant’Ansano a Dofana, an octagonal building of the late 13 C. In the neighbourhood of the mediaeval village of San Gusmé is the Pieve of SS. Cosma e Damiano, dating from the Carolingian period, and, about 10 km away, the splendid Pieve di San Vincenti which was designated a basilica during the 7 C.