The history of Monte Sante Marie is at least 1300
years old. It is an example of uninterrupted history that has
made the village a living testament of how a fortified fortress and its
standing structures have continually adapted and molded themselves to
events and the growing needs of its population during the course of the
centuries. The castle of Monte Sante Marie is very unlike many other incredibly
beautiful Tuscan crystallized fossils of the past: it has
closed within itself its anecdotes, people and events and is, today, far
away from what it once was. It is simply a village lost in the countryside
that leads one to reflect
There are no documents or proof that Monte Sante Marie began with the
Etruscans, although there are several signs that could give one this idea.
The official history of the village begins in the 7th
century when, under the dominance of the Longobards, the clay
hills east of Siena were reclaimed after they had been abandoned with
the decline of the Roman Empire. The area had been divided by two of the
principal road networks that started in Siena and pointed towards the
Orient: Via Scialenga (which is found, roughly, along the current road
link-up of the Siena-Bettolle) in the direction of Arezzo and the Via
Lauretana which leads in the direction of Asciano and of the Val di Chiana.
The first part of the reclaiming was the construction of a road (Torre
a Castello-Asciano- currently slightly different from the original) that
united the Scialenga to the Lauretana. The second part of the reclaiming
was the benediction of the new road with the construction
at exactly the halfway point between the two of a church.
Today, this church stands and still retains its wonderful Romanic form.
It is dedicated to San Vito in versuris,
or rather, towards a point that indicates the lands that are
to be poured the lands that are to become cultivated. The
churchs antiqueness is proven without a doubt by parchment documents
of that period that attest that for the entire Medieval period, there
was opposition between the feudal councils for dominance over a series
of parish churches that were built along the confines of the territory.
There is still another parchment paper from 714 that states that the Church
of San Vito was already ancient at that time and that it contained the
only other baptistery in the area besides the Church of Vescona.
The spot in which San Vito was built was probably already considered a
sacred site or held a preexisting temple. However, regardless of religious
purposes, the site was with defects: it could not house a military presidio
because it wasnt a dominant point between two of the valleys that
faced the rivers Ombrone and Camerone. At that time the rivers were principle
avenues of travel for armies and armaments. Instead, a perfect site was
a nearby hill in which Monte Sante Marie was
ultimately built: it began with a tower. Those remains are still visible
in the underground tunnels.
With the advent of the French, in the 9th century, the entire area became
a feudal territory under the rein of a family called the Cacciaconti.
A faction of this family settled at Monte Sante Maria and made it their
principal residence. At that time, the construction of the first fortified
castle and the surrounding feudal village began. The family forged and
consolidated a faction of dominance that extended from Berardenga to Radicofani.
Towards 1100, things began to change. The power of the Municipality of
Siena began to be felt in the Crete. An altercation between feudal families
was inevitable and therefore caused a long period of ferocious battles,
conquests and sieges, treaties for peace and traitorous actions
all of which took place on or near the stronghold of the Cacciaconti.
The family and Monte Sante Marie paid the price dearly. The State Archives
of Siena preserve numerous parchments that report of armistices and promises
of urbanization extorted from the Cacciaconti many of these were
signed at Monte Sante Marie. At that time, it had also become a strategic
presidio for the control of an area that the Republic (justly) considered
its granary because of the agricultural production of cereals.
During the wars, the destruction was massive. In 1176, the castle was
totally destroyed and advocated to the Sate of Siena. The same occurred
once again in 1186 to the nearby Castle of Montevello (in the site of
the now standing Palazzo Primo), whose relevance was minor and therefore
never again rebuilt.
The village, while under the rein of the Cacciaconti, obtained a certain
economic and demographic relevance. This was the beginning of the existence
of a border castle to
the Republic. It was ready to take on any opposition from nearby powers
and, in particular, from the Florentine Dominion that had infiltrated
the Val di Chiana.
The sieges multiplied. Traces of military defenses are still seen in abundance
in the underground tunnels: theyre intersecting, contain many secret
passages and traces of walls used for fortification. The cellars of the
farm still house a whole entrance door (the Siena Door) leading to the
main castle and surprising examples of medieval military architecture.
Tangible proof of what we are talking about can be read in the
Cartulario della Berardenga, or rather, the Sienese
Land Register of the 1300s: in one of the few remaining fragments
of this parchment is a written document attesting to the siege of Monte
Sante Marie. It is here, in this remnant of history, that,
names, professions, the composition of the family, properties, incomes,
expenditures and cultivation are listed for a total population of 400
people who lived in the village proper!
In about another century and a half, a statute for the borough of Monte
Sante Marie was written. This document is stored in the historical archives
of Asciano. They are filled with an abundance of interesting information
regarding the history of the village as seen through the official registration
of public life.
With the demise of the Medici Empire and the Sienese State (1555),
our village began a long period of tranquil rural life. Monte Sante Maria,
following Asciano, was the most populated territory and there were frequent
frictions between the two boroughs. One memorable document was a note
sent from the Ascianese governor to his Montenese colleague
lamenting the fact that at the Monte fugitives were often given asylum
after thieving from Asciano!
For two centuries life runs its natural and tranquil path. The antique
castle structures are now considered unneeded but remain standing as protection
for the village, the masters, farmers, tenants and small property owners.
Everything changed in 1777, when the
reform of the Grand Duchy suppressed the municipality of the Monte and
joined it to that of Asciano. Having lost its relevance, Monte Sante Marie
slowly became absorbed under one singular owner Ugurgieri Malavolti.
This was an antique Sienese family that for centuries had been present
in the territory. The rural village was transformed into one gigantic
sharecropping farm. It is from this era that changes to the
antique military fortress began and transformed everything into housing,
storage spaces, mills, granaries and workshops. A large part of the walls
were demolished and the antique underground tunnels filled. The map
of Monte Sante Marie was radically changed. Many of the buildings were
drastically lowered in height and the natural plain was raised at least
the height of one floor. Large tracts of the walls disappeared, as well
as the Sienese Door. The Ascianese Door was attached to the largest building
and become the masters villa. The borough lost much of its typical
protective shell and formed one main road that lead to the top of the
hill. The result is what is seen today: a large community that circles
a piazza filled with open spaces, a villa with a garden and a park
of cypress trees.
All of this didnt change the vitality of the village. From 1800
to 1900 an elementary school, numerous
shops, an after-work hall, laboratories for handy workers and new housing
were born. The farm passed on to the Tesi Family. It was a perfectly self-sustaining
and closed system that, between the people of the historical village center
and the surrounding territorys families reached a high population
of 600 between the two World Wars. Even the train line of Asciano-Chiusi
stoped at the miniscule station of Monte Sante Marie. It still exists
today in the bottom valley of the River Camerone.
At the end of World War II, the exodus of the countryside towards the
cities hits hard and the small village loses many of its services progressively
year after year. The farm is transformed into a salaried farming enterprise
and continues to stay in function. However, its original fabric
is inexhaustibly lost. Entire families abandon the village. Only the elderly
remain. In the 1960s the shops close. In the early 1970s the
elementary school closes and school bus service stops. Not being attached
to the public aqueduct and public lighting cause the final blow. The old
houses, lacking maintenance, rapidly fall apart due to the complete loss
of economic prospects. The last inhabitant passed away in 1976. The Family
is devastated as well, by several heavy loses due to illness. This is
the beginning of a 10-year period of total abandonment to Monte Sante
Marie: falling buildings, thievery, disrepair and vandalism.
Ten years later Monte Sante Marie is reborn.
And history, fortunately, continues