Montemerano

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Montemerano Italy is a breath of the beauty of Tuscany. Located in the area of Maremma within the province of Grosseto, it is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. With its intact walls it is waiting for you ready to narrate: you will listen in silence, amazed and fascinated. You will not have time to ask how to see Montemerano in Maremma, you will be there and the time will be different, you will step inside the walls feeling like in a different era, a few steps and you will be taken aback by the desire to immerse yourself slowly.

Part of the municipality of Manciano, which also includes the hamlet of Saturnia, Montemerano in Tuscany is located 7 Km south of the latter and 7 Km to the north of the council town. How to reach Montemerano is not just a matter of geography, the approach to this hamlet in Maremma is an experience in itself: perched on a hill surrounded by olive trees, many of them hundreds of years old, the arrival from the north is the most immersive, the one from the south is instead the most practiced.

Mons Marianus, is the original name of Montemerano, which recalls Consul Mario, leader of the populares defeated by his rival and leader of the optimates Silla on these hills in the years of the Roman Civil War (88 - 82 B.C). The history of Montemerano becomes real and intense however in 896 A.D. when the Emperor Arnolfo imposed his power on Montemerano, and around 1000 when the ruling dynasty of the area, the Aldobrandeschi, turned this hill into a small fortress and one of their domains. From the latter, Montemerano passed under the influence of Orvieto and then the Basque family that controlled it until 1382 when Ranieri de’ Baschi sold it to Siena. Three dominations, three city walls, three modifications of the walls, the more comprehensive being the one that began in 1407 at the hands of Siena which were highly convinced about the high strategic value of Montemerano and gave the Civitas Montis Merani the value it deserved and which has, in actual fact, remained intact until the present day.

If you are coming from the north, the large and convenient parking is in front of the Grossetana Gate, inserted in a beautiful loggia, which leads to the fascinating Piazza della Chiesa. From here, Montemerano and its images will begin to invade your heart. Take a look around you, on your left you can admire the Romanesque Church of St. George mentioned for the first time in 1382 but its evolution lasts another four hundred years. Inside it there are works of great importance such as the altarpiece (1458) by Sano di Pietro from Siena, and the 15th century statue of Saint Peter de Il Vecchieta, again of Siena art manufacture, the beautiful Madonna del Maestro of Montemerano (15th century), then late Gothic frescoes, until the 16th century ciborium, the baroque altars and the Rococo chapel of Good Counsel (1791). The 'Madonna' above is also known as the  ‘Madonna della Gattaiola’, the purposely made hole at the bottom allowed in fact, when the painting was used as a portal of the Church, cats to enter it and rid the inside of the building of mice. This painting, according to tradition, is the work of a witty prelate from Montemerano.

The walk continues through the paved alleys and narrow stone streets, adorned here and there by natural vegetation that makes the whole thing absolutely seductive. From here we recommend you to turn right, follow Via Italia in Montemerano, and choose whether to go further to the right and lose yourself among more alleys until you come out in the three small medieval squares of Ritiro, St. Martino and Antico Frantoio. Or take the first passage way on the left and, after a small rise set amid tall houses in a narrow lane, accompany your smile toward the centre point of Montemerano, the most beautiful place, and one of the most photographed of Tuscany: Piazza del Castello.

You are in the uppermost area of Montemerano and the oldest one, that was built by the Aldobrandeschi family. Piazza del Castello is a blast from the past, unchanged in its typically medieval offset geometries, unaltered terraces and windows adorned with flowers. On your right is the Palace which belonged to the Lords of Montemerano and the Siena Cassero, the centre of the fortress. Everything exudes a charm which, as you enter, will make you realize that your photos will not suffice while you already feel your heart welcoming all that extraordinary beauty. Piazza del Castello in Montemerano is as magical as your itinerary in the time that will take you, a little further on from this square, in two other squares that make up the oldest part of this village: Piazza del Forno and the Piazza del Campanile. Facing the latter is the church of San Lorenzo Campanile dated 1188 and the eponymous tower, the one you see from afar just to make it clear to you. These are small spaces laden with history, bygone folks, and your desire for Tuscany that is taking shape. Now you have a little proof of why it is worth visiting Montemerano in Tuscany.

Returning to Via Italia head back towards the Church and look for the passageway on the medieval rampart walkways over the walls and enjoy the view from outside the city walls and then re-enter through la Buca. La Buca is a simple passage created around the 16th century, by which time the inhabitants of the medieval village were under the aegis of the Medici and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and did not fear external attacks. Several accesses of this kind had sprung up in different times as evidenced by a Medici order in 1588 specifically addressed to the inhabitants of Montemerano urging them to close all openings with sturdy metal gates.

If you do not want to wander around the village, head south from Via Italia to the Gate Bridge and into Piazza Canzanelli from where you will still be able to admire the landscape of Maremma.

It is nice to tell that you have arrived the first time in Montemerano because of its historical allure, out of a comprehensive study of Montemerano map, because you just love this hamlet, or for whatever other reason, I just cannot do it myself. The fact is that in the fantastic atmosphere of Tuscany Montemerano there hide many little treasures of the cuisine of Maremma, in this piece of the Middle Ages there are some really renowned restaurants of Grosseto, talented cooks from the food and wine culture of Maremma which we cannot overlook. This is how I arrived in Montemerano before being conquered by its beauty, and if you also do not remain indifferent to the Tuscan culinary traditions, you may also want to try them out.

Its best local product is clearly olive oil, of the highest quality, used to season well-known dishes such as game ‘pan-fried’ and the 'scottiglia Maremmana'. The latter in particular can resurrect your palate: it is a poor and ancient dish, with the main ingredient being leftover bread and the less valuable meat parts of animals (wild boar, lamb, chicken, rabbit, pork). The story goes that the best parts  went to the lords of the place, the left-overs remained for the poor and were used for the ‘scottiglia’, a recipe changing depending on the types of meat available, this being a selection of meat that was cooked in wine and seared in oil.

The pride of the entire area is the Library of Art History of Montemerano. Its 8,000 volumes are for a large part, around 6500, the result of a large donation, and represents a truly exceptional collection for scholars and fans of the genre. The Library and the Book Association that runs it are the central engine of a fairly wide range of important cultural initiatives that involve the whole area, some of which are also held in the picturesque Piazza del Castello.

A sincere tribute should be given to the Philharmonic G. Verdi, a Montemerano music band founded in 1890 and the protagonist with its music of the history of this village. From 1908 to this date the Philharmonic has always been directed by a director from Montemerano. A village that loves music but also festivals, during the year the squares are involved in about thirty events. St. George's Day is held on the last week of April, many more are coordinated with the Association of the most Beautiful Villages of Italy, the Festival of the Witches, held on Halloween, has been particularly successful in recent years.

The Tuscan atmosphere in Montemerano is profound, this is an enchanted but genuine small village, where the traces of time and flavours are found among the people who go to Piazza del Castello with shopping bags, as if time has stood still and all the surrounding beauty was something normal, as if my breath stuck between the cobbled streets and the stones, among flowers and towers, between the walls and the Montemerano Castle was just a moment of astonishment, surprise and Tuscany.