In our recent article dedicated to the most beautiful abbeys and churches of Tuscany, set in fantastic locations in the countryside, we have included the wonderful and spectacular Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, that in my opinion should be included in the list of the things not to be missed when visiting Tuscany!
And this for a quantity of reasons, from the invaluable treasures of art it preserves, to the unique and spectacular environment where the abbey rises. This stunning monastery is located about 30 km south of the splendid art town of Siena, in the enigmatic and characteristic land of the Crete Senesi.
The Abbey rises on a hill in complete solitude; a beautiful nature and a great silence all around. This large and imposing Benedictine monastery is the home of the Olivetani congregation; the monks are devoted to the Virgin Mary and this is reflected by their white clocks symbolizing purity.
The buildings of the abbey, mainly in red bricks, were founded in the far 1320, and later modified during the Renaissance period.
An imposing and suggestive square tower with a medieval drawbridge, marks the entrance to this wonderful place. As you go through the main gate, an old red brick road wonderfully lined by cypress trees leads you downhill to the abbey, where you can visit the church, the cloister, the refectory, and the surprising library.
Wonderful Renaissance Frescoes
There are three beautiful cloisters, but the most magnificent is the Chiostro Grande, dating from 15th century, that is decorated by splendid frescoes by the great painters Luca Signorelli and Sodoma. The frescoes depict the life of Saint Benedict and are amongst the most important and beautiful artworks from the Renaissance.
The library, that can be reached climbing up the stairs from the cloister, houses precious volumes and manuscripts, and an ancient pharmacy with beautiful 17th vases used to keep medical herbs and other remedies.
Once inside the church, take a moment to admire the impressive wooden choir, carved in 1503 by the extraordinary artist fra Giovanni da Verona. During Christmas period, follow the sign for the “presepe”, that will lead you to the small crypt, where you’ll get impressed by the stunning Nativity scene.
The Abbey is also a working farm producing fine wines, honey, olive oil, and medical herbs, for sale at the monastery shop. You can read more info on the farm and its products on the website dedicated to the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore Azienda Agricola.