Castle of the Week 8 – Monteriggione

Monteriggioni is slightly different from the previous Castles of the Week as it is a medieval walled town. It is in Tuscany, Italy, about 10km north of the city of Siena and its ‘round enclosure’ is referred to in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

It was built between 1213 and 1219 on a natural low hill overlooking the Cassia Road and subsequently strengthened in 1260. Its position enabled it to control the valleys towards Florence, the traditional enemy of the Sienese, which was trying to expand its boundaries at the time. Although the hill is natural, it looks like an artificial motte. The walls are almost perfectly circular, using the hill’s contours. The housing is well separated from the walls by a ‘territory of respect’ although when the fortifications were built the town was more densely populated so the separation band was much narrower. In the 14th century there were at least 150 families living there with a total of about 600 inhabitants.

The only major change over the years was at the beginning of the 16th century when the towers were lowered and earth banked up at the base of the walls because of the advent of cannons and guns. Legend has it that the villagers themselves destroyed the tops of the towers to prevent debris falling on their houses if they were attacked. The castle changed hands many times between Florence & Siena until 1554 when Giovanni Zeti of Florence sold it without a fight to the Marquis of Maragliano from the Medici family. Zeti is still referred to as ‘the traitor Zeti’ by people from the oldest families still living there today.

Nowadays the walls are nearly intact and are about 570 metres long and 20 meters high with 14 towers and two gates. The Romea gate on the Siena side is in a tower and the St Giovanni gate on the Florence side in the curtain wall. There are also traces of a third gate. The tops of the towers have been rebuilt this century, but just as a façade to recreate the original view of the town from outside and the walls are floodlit at night.

Inside is a well preserved medieval town. Just inside the walls are vegetable gardens belonging to the villagers. These were much used in medieval times during sieges when they grew potatoes and onions. They also had chickens and rabbits. Next are the houses and in the middle a small square and a Gothic Romanesque church dating from the end of the 14th century. The church has a belfry which, as well as calling villagers to their devotions three times a day, was rung to advise of attacks. There are now many wine shops selling the local Chianti wine and antique shops.

Pictures courtesy of Algol03

Written by GillB.