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Villa cetinale, 4.JPG


Villa Cetinale [0]

"Fontana was wise enough to profit by the natural advantage of the great forest of oak and ilex which clothes this part of the country, and to realize that only the broadest and simplest lines would be in harmony with so noble a background." - "

Edith Wharton

Villa Cetinale

Villa Cetinale History


Cetinale was originally a farmhouse, built on ruins from an Etrurian settlement (XI/VIII century B.C.). Only at the end of the 19th century was it rediscovered by foreign visitors exploring the remote area of the Tuscan countryside. By then it had become one of the most appreciated Italian gardens.
The first works of transformation of a small villa are recorded in 1651 when Flavio Chigi’s uncle, Cardinal Fabio Chigi owned Cetinale. The house, a modest building surrounded by farm dwellings, was enlarged on the southern side with two wings that flanked two storeys of open loggias. The garden was enclosed by an escarped wall, along which small towers gave it the appearance of a miniature fortress.
Benedetto Giovannelli, a local architect, designed these first works completed between 1651 and 1656. After Fabio Chigi became Pope Alexander VII in 1655, the works came to a halt until 1676, when Cetinale was inherited by his nephew Flavio. Flavio wanted to transform the villa in Roman baroque fashion and hired the architect Carlo Fontana, pupil of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Fontana designed the monumental stair and the marble portal surmounted by a great Chigi coat-of-arms on the northern façade. He projected the chapel, next to which is the “limonaia” (lemon house) and the long grass avenue that climbs the hill for 30 metres, sided by two large, red brick pillars and with carvings for two statues.
In front of the house stand Spring and Summer, two statues by Giuseppe Mazzuoli. Behind the north front, beyond two pillars, the avenue narrows and runs for 220 metres, until it reaches the statues of Napoleon and French marshalls, erected in 1811 when, apparently, the French emperor arrived at Cetinale. The theatre lies behind the statues and can be reached from the North, from the ancient road to Siena. Originally, it was surrounded by busts which were later moved to the garden around the villa.
A small gate leads to the start of Scala Santa, about 300 steps, ending in a stone platform. Here stands the “Romitorio”, a five storey hermitage inhabited by monks until the end of XIX century, now fully restored. The straight line that runs from the Romitorio down the avenue and past the house finishes on the southeastern side of the villa, with an enormous statue of Hercules, also by Mazzuoli.

To the North lies the Tebaide, (holy place). Paths, avenues, statues of saints and hermits, and one of the seven votive Chapels surrounding Cetinale are to be found in the Tebaide — the Holy Wood. The chapels are decorated with frescos representing The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin. Most frescos have deteriorated but a few are still visible such as Escape to Egypt, on the outside wall towards Siena.

The Palio of Siena, the most famous horserace in Italy was raced seven times between 1679 and 1692 in the Tebaide. There is no record of palios at Cetinale after Flavio’s death.

Close to the gate of Saint Anthony carved in stone, by Mazzuoli, are what some believe to be the symbols of the contradas of Siena: a winged dragon, turtles, a snail, a viper, a lion and the head of a porpoise. The alternative belief is that the carvings are of monstrous animals, personifications of the Devil in a medieval wood that is traditionally a place of unsafeness.

Lord Lambton bought Cetinale from the Chigi family in 1978 and has dedicatedly worked on restoring the house and estate. He created a new formal garden based on Roman designs and new planting and restorative works are continuous.[3]


Villa cetinale, Sovicille
Villa Cetinale



Villa Cetinale, clocktower


Two hundred steps - the so-called "Scala Santa" (Saint Staircase) - lead to the Romitorio, a building added in 1716

Cetinale, one of 70 gardens profiled by early 1900s author Edith Wharton was revisited by Vivian Russell for her book titled Edith Wharton’s Italian Gardens published in 1997. Some of the gardens had been bombed in two wars, while others were spoiled by tourism or neglect. Cetinale, featured on the cover of Russell’s book had been restored by Lord Lambton over the past 40 years.[1]

Garden visits are Monday to Friday 9.30 – 12.30 by appointment only.

La Cerbaia is a farmhouse at the foot of the 'Montagnola Senese' on the Cetinale estate. It is situated at the end of a private road between the "Thebaid" (Holy Wood), and the Villa gardens.

Ville Cetinale website |

Villa Cetinale | The Giardino all'italiana, Garden all'italiana or Italian garden

Gardens in Tuscany | Italian villas and their gardens

Walking in Tuscany | Southern Tuscany | Montalcino, Siena, Socicille, San Gimignano and the Val d'Elsa

Azienda Turistica Pro Loco, Via Roma, 27 (53018) Sovicille (SI) | Web:

Villa Cetinale Directions

From North: take the motorway in the direction of Florence and exit “Firenze Certosa” then turn right in the direction of Siena. Exit Siena San Marco (or Siena Ovest).
From the South: take A1 in the direction of Florence and exit “Valdichiana” then follow direction for Siena. As you are approaching Siena take the ring road “Tangenziale” and exit “Siena San Marco”.
From Siena San Marco take the SS. 73 in the direction of Sovicille. When you get to a group of houses called Volte Basse turn right in the direction of Cetinale. When you reach the town of Sovicille turn left and then immediately right and follow the signs for Cetinale in the direction of Ancaiano. Just before you reach the town of Ancaiano look for the sign on the right for Cetinale which is 300 metres up the road.



Il romitorio di Cetinale
Il romitorio di Cetinale


Villa cetinale, Sovicille   Villa Cetinale, giardino   Villa Cetinale, Sovicille, vista dalla Scala Santa
Villa Cetinale  

Parco Villa Cetinale



Villa Cetinale, Sovicille, vista dalla Scala Santa


Road near Cetinale

Cetinale was one of 70 gardens profiled by early 1900s American author Edith Wharton and featured again when Vivian Russell wrote a book entitled “Edith Wharton’s Italian Gardens” in 1997.

Some of the gardens had been bombed during the past two world wars, while others were spoiled by tourism or neglect.
Penelope Hobhouse, the internationally acclaimed garden designer, called Cetinale ‘the epitome of garden design’, and has written that the flower garden is ‘one of the most beautiful in Italy’.
Villa Cetinale was used as the Villa in question in the film made of Somerset Maughan’s short story Up at the Villa starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn.[2]
The novella was filmed in 2000 by Philip Haas. The movie starred Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne Bancroft, James Fox, Derek Jacobi, and Sean Penn. In the film, subplots were added to expand the material to feature film length, which reviewers and cinemagoers criticized.


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Villa is Tuscany

Artist and Writer's Residency | Podere Santa Pia


Podere Santa Pia  

Villa I Tatti, near Settignano, outside Florence


Podere Santa Pia, view from the garden
on the valley below


One of the best places to slow travel in southern Tuscany is Podere Santa Pia. This holiday house is a peaceful retreat, perfect for relaxing with magnificent panoramic views of the mystical Maremma hills up to the Mediterranean Sea and Montecristo.



Sovicille is located in the Val di Merse, an area of lush forest and mediaeval villages, and has played a remarkable role in the history of Republic of Siena. The village is located about 10 km west of Siena on the old via Maremmana, the road running from Sienna to the coast of the Maremma.
Suavis locus ille
, the pleasantness of the place, or Sub illice, - under the oaks, are the most probable origins of Sovicille, the name given to the ancient village facing the Montagnola Senese.

Sovicille and its surrounding area are rich in abbeys and Romanesque parish churches. One of the main monuments of the Sovicille area is the
Pieve di San Giovanni Battista a Ponte allo Spino (Parish Church Ponte allo Spino - dedicated to John the Baptist), located close to the remains of a gothic cloister, the Eremo di Santa Lucia (Hermitage of Rosia), the Villa Lechner, for Italian garden enthusiasts, there are the Villa di Celsa gardens and the Villa Cetinale gardens. About 35 km to the south west, is one of the most famous sights in Tuscany, the ruined Cisterician Abbey of San Galgano.
There are several occupied and also ruined Augustinian monasteries in the area, most notably the Hermitage and Monastery of Lecceto. Last but not least is the River Merse, one of the most beautiful of this region, and the Farma stream, flowing through a very interesting natural area.

Walking in Tuscany
Sovicille’s territory stretches from La Montagnola Senese to the valley of the river Merse.
Most of the itineraries around Sovicille are covered by the Carta Turistica (Turistic Maps) and by the Sentieri della Montagnola Senese 1:25000 (The Sienese Montagnola Paths) Club Alpino Italiano (CAI: Italian Alpine Club) Sezione di Siena (Multigraphic Edizioni, Firenze).

Walking in Tuscany | Itineraries in the surrounding hills of Sovicille | Sovicille, Villa di Cetinale, Castle of Celsa, Cetina, Pieve di Pernina, Pieve di San Giusto a Balli, Abazia di Santa Mustiola, Stigliano and the Ponte della Pia

Anello Sovicille | Sovicille – San Giusto – Villa Cetinale – Il romitorio di Cetinale - Pieve di Pernina – Ancaiano – Villa Celsa - 16 km (Italian)

[0] Photo by Sailko, licensed under the  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
[1] Source: Villa Cetinale History
[2] Source: Final day of Garden Tour – Cetinale, Castello di Brolio and Good and Bad Government
[3] Lord Lambton, who furnished modern British politics with one of its more colourful sex scandals when he was secretly photographed smoking cannabis in bed with two prostitutes, died in 2007, aged 84. A junior defence minister in the government of Edward Heath, he resigned his post and constituency in 1973 after his exposure by a Sunday newspaper.
Following the scandal, Lambton retired, separated from his wife and bought Villa Cetinale. Lambton spent the rest of his life at Cetinale.
Lambton died in his Italian home on 30 December 2006. His wife, Belinda, whom he married in 1942 and never divorced, predeceased him in 2003, and he is survived by one son and five daughters.

The son of the Earl of Durham, he had an unspectacular political career.
His exalted position did not stop him enjoying a decidedly colourful private life.
Lambton was a self confessed drug user as well as being prodigiously unfaithful to his wife, Bindy, with a string of mistresses and high-class call girls. In May 1973 he was finally exposed by conman Colin Levy, who used a camera hidden behind a peephole in a mirror to photograph the peer in bed with the conman's 26-year-old prostitute wife, Norma Levy, and another woman, Kim Pinder, at their flat in Maida Vale. Details of the scandal were eventually made public in a Sunday newspaper, however, and in May 1973 Lord Lambton resigned from government.
Asked to explain his actions, during an interview with broadcaster Sir Robin Day, he was equally unrepentant. "People sometimes like variety. It's as simple as that," he said.
In a bid to escape the notoriety, Lord Lambton, who split with his wife Bindy shortly after the scandal, moved to Italy where he has lived in Villa Cetinale, his spectacular 17th-century villa in Sovicille, near Siena, which he purchased in 1977. Built to celebrate the election to the papacy of the Chigi Pope Alexander VII, the house has a vast ornamental garden, and Lambton restored both.
[Further reading: The Telegraph | Lambton, minister with call girl penchant, dies]

Podere Santa Pia