The Montagnola Senese and the Fortified Village of Sovicille
The Montagnola Senese is an area of hills to the west of Siena. The soil in this area is made up of chalky formations, marble and continental sediments from the Miocene period. The high levels of iron ore present in the soil give it its dark red colouring.
The Piana di Rosia area contains a vast water basin that supplies water to Siena and much of the surrounding area, with a number of water springs gushing naturally from the ground at several points along the feet of the Montagnola.
Listed as a Site of Community Importance in the Rete Natura 2000, the Montangola is rich in woodland, with the upper sections of the hills covered in Mediterranean scrub supporting a variety of trees such as ilex, turkey oak, chestnut, hornbeam, oak and cypress. The undergrowth is a fertile tangle of briars, mistletoe, ferns, holly and more.
Those walking through the woods in autumn will find them rich in mushrooms and seasonal forest fruits such as blackberries and wild strawberries. In the spring the wood floor abounds in wild flowers such as primroses, a broad range of broom, anemones, cyclamens and blackthorn.
The abundant wildlife that inhabits the area ranges from wolves to boar, deer, foxes, badgers, porcupines, hedgehogs, squirrels and a large range of migratory birds. The climate ranges from cold, damp winters to hot, damp summers.
The lands included in the Comune of Sovicille extend from the Montagnola Senese to the valley of the river Merse, roughly 10 kilometres from Siena. The name Sovicille has been attributed by some as deriving from the Latin Suavis locus ille, meaning “that pleasant place”. Others believe it comes from the Greek sukon-siconio, meaning “fig flower” after the abundance of fig trees that once grew in this area.
The elliptical shape of Sovicille testifies to the Etruscan origins of this village, remained virtually as it would have been in the 14th century. A number of churches and tower-houses were erected between the 12th and 13th century (Palazzone di Sovicille and Palazzaccio di Toiano), as well as fortresses (Celsa, Cerreto Selva ) and mills (Molino del Pero, Molino del Palazzo). During the Middle Ages in fact the area around Sovicille boasted at least 55 fortified hamlets, most of which have vanished, a few surviving in the country houses that dot the surrounding countryside.
Within the village itself there is the illusion that time has somehow stopped still. The curved Via Roma is lined with ancient buildings and it is easy to see that the buildings on the right hand side of the street correspond to the first circle of fortifications erected to defend the Medieval castle. The Palazzo Pretorio, at number 30, dates from the 17th century and still displays the coats of arms of the Niccolini and Fortini families, posted to Sovicille as podestà after the fall of the Republic of Siena in 1555. At each corner of the rectangular main square there once stood the four defence towers placed at each of the main streets leading into the centre of the village. The last of these towers was demolished in 1864 to make way for the Palazzo Municipale.
After the Unification of Italy, Sovicille and a number of surrounding hamlets were restored by the Italian state, thereby saving them from destruction.
Sources | www.sienaonline.com/montagnola_senese.html
Tuscany | The Montagnola Senese
The Val di Merse
Sovicille stands about 10 kilometres west of Siena on the old via Maremmana which linked the Sienese hinterland with the Tyrrhenian coast. The area is historically very important inasmuch as prehistoric finds have demonstrated that it was already inhabited in the Stone Age. There have also been notable Etruscan and Roman finds.
The features that identify the whole Val di Merse are found in the Commune of Sovicille: woods in the hilly areas and cultivated fields in the fertile plains at the foot of the valley. The main localities are Rosia and San Rocco a Pilli.
The historic-artistic heritage of the territory is of extreme importance. It can boast a large presence of abbeys and Romanesque parish churches such as San Giusto a Balli, Pernina, Molli, Ponte allo Spino, TorriSanta Mustiola abbey, and San Lorenzo a Sovicille. Villas worth mentioning are the 17th century Cetinale designed by the architect Carlo Fontana; Celsa with its formal garden and the 18th century Villa Linari.
Murlo is a castle-village on a hill slightly more than 300 metres high that dominates the valley of the Crevole, covered in dense woodland. It is borderline country between the Val di Merse district, to which it belongs, and the Crete Senesi area of Val d’Arbia: in a magnificent position, it overlooks the valley of the Ombrone and the Montalcino hill.
The origins of the place are linked to the Etruscan civilisation, clearly demonstrated by the finds at Poggio Civitate and Poggio Aguzzo. The castle of Murlo, with its typical fortified town-planning structure, dates to the 12th century when it was the main centre of the Fief or Bishopric of the Bishops of Siena. The layout as seen today bears witness to transformations carried out at the end of the 16th century after the fall of the Siena Republic, revealing the structure of the castle with its walls surmounted by small dwellings surrounding the Bishop’s Palace (which today houses the Archaeological Museum), the prison building and the cathedral. There are two access gates to the castle.
Near Murlo is Vescovado, an important centre that was formed by joining two villages -Andica and Tinoni- which were still separate at the beginning of the 19th century. The church in Vescovado houses a 1475 painting by Benvenuto di Giovanni depicting the Virgin Enthroned with Saints.
The territory of the Commune of Monticiano is intact and wild, at once harsh and hospitable. The surrounding woods are rich in century-old oak and chestnut trees. It stands on a hill overlooking the course of the river Merse, a short way from the San Galgano, abbey complex which may be reached on a magnificent walk. Another aspect of this territory’s heritage is the pure, crystalline water of the river Farma which, before joining the Merse and flowing into the Ombrone, marks the natural boundary between the provinces of Siena and Grosseto.
In the village you can admire the church of Sant’Agostino with the chapter room of the former monastery frescoed by Bartolo di Fredi, Guidoriccio Cozzarelli and Giovanni di Bartolo di Fredi, Guidoriccio Cozzarelli e Giovanni di Paolo. In Gothic style it is one of the Augustinian order’s oldest hermitages. Worth seeing are the locality of San Lorenzo a Merse with the ancient castle and the Romanesque church; the hamlet of Castello di Tocchi; the ruins of the Castellaccio, Monte Quoio and Renna.
Chiusdino stands in a magnificent location, overlooking the Merse Valley and the Metalliferous Hills amid woods and pastureland. The position and structure of the fortified mediaeval castle demonstrate an evident defensive strategy. Chiusdino was governed by the Bishops of Volterra and subsequently (13th century) by the Commune of Siena.
In the village you will find the church of San Martino known as “outside the walls”, the Provostship of San Michele, next to the house where San Galgano, e la chiesa della Company of San Galgano with an interesting 1466 bas-relief depicting San Galgano plunging the sword into the stone. The Cistercian abbey of San Galgano and the Monte Siepi hermitage are also in the Commune of Chiusdino.
Tuscany | The Val di Merse
 Source: Final day of Garden Tour – Cetinale, Castello di Brolio and Good and Bad Government