Architecture, art & nature

Monte Sante Marie is the fruit of over a thousand years of history that can be seen in its’ layers of architecture, agronomy, nature and culture, which abound in the village, the Estate and the surrounding area. Firstly: Monte Sante Marie is a sort of ‘open book’ of militant architecture that one can see beginning directly with its high-medieval underground foundations. Portions of the castle walls and the defensive structure are still standing despite numerous sieges and demolitions which all took place between the 12th and the 16th centuries, including a bastion of which no one knows its contents! Underground tunnels, which are still in part accessible, connect all of the buildings together. There are “the master’s quarters” and farmhouses in all sizes – some of which are bound to the Superintendent of Cultural Arts for their historical value. It is, in effects, an ex-castle-cum-Templar of the Order of Malta… there is plenty of mystery here and the panorama is spectacular. It is interesting to note the history of the ‘conversion’ of Monte Sante Marie from a fortified village to farm: it’s a long journey that still surprises one daily with the discovery of lost structures, hidden spaces, forgotten roads. Monte Sante Marie is a tangible example of the centuries: it is seen in the progression and adaptation of its architecture and in the continuation of a functioning settlement that has survived through various historical, economical and social events. It is not surprising that the village has been the object of numerous studies, research and university thesis’.

The Art: It is enough just saying that the oil-on-wood painting of the Madonna with the Son of Sano di Pietro (a 15th century Sienese maestro), now preserved in the collection of sacred art in the Museum of Asciano, comes from the Church of San Bartolomeo of Monte Sante Marie. Inside the church, in the central nave, you can still make out the letters “restored in 1582”. Ten years of abandonment and robbery have caused the village to lose may of its important art objects – from capitals to paintings, from silver to furnishings, from antique bells in bronze to plaster sculptures. What one sees bares witness to an uninterrupted artistic territory: the antique parish church of San Vito (certified to have been already of ‘old’ construction in 715, when it was the only one in the area to have a baptistery); the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (with frescos by Sodoma and del Signorelli); the treasures of Asciano (the Basilica, the Museum of Sacred Art, the Etruscan Museum, the lovely Museum Cassioli which is dedicated to paintings from the 19th century, and the stunning Palazzo Corboli which is soon to be opened and holds frescos by Lorenzetti. Monte Sante Marie is also a source of inspiration for contemporary artists who remain dear to the village and always leave a sign of their passing: from George Schneeman to Massimo Giannoni, from Erwin Eberl to Piergiorgio Balocchi. And photography: The Estate and the Monte are an inexhaustible fountain of views, suggestive shots and reportage…

Nature: The Sienese Clay Hills (Crete Senesi), with their lunar quality, white gullies and white creeks are the fruit of a clayey underground. These are one of the last natural paradises still remaining and intact in Tuscany. The area of Monte Sante Marie, in particular, sits in the middle of a protected area for the re-population of wild fauna and offers exceptional environmental examples of flora-fauna. It is commonplace to come across – even in the middle of the road – billy goats, porcupines, badgers, wolves, wild boars, wild hares and squirrels. From above: herons, turtle and white doves, falcons and buzzards. The woods and creeks are populated by catfish, whitefish, tinca fish, goats and roaches. In many remote areas wolves now flourish; this is due to the perfect equilibrium of the environment. Internally, at the Estate, there is a walking and trekking trail that takes one through significant areas of the area and leads visitors to the discover a part of the countryside that would be otherwise inaccessible to them.