Any part of Italy you go, you’ll notice one element connecting also its most diverse corners! Any part you turn to look around, all across its territory, you see a church, a abbey, or a monastery, usually perched on a hilltop in a secluded location.
Especially in Tuscany there’s no hamlet, even with just a handful of houses, without a church or any other place of worship.
Tuscany is a region rich in abbeys and monasteries, beautiful places of faith, full of spirituality, but retaining an incredible historical and artistic value. Even if you are not a believer, you’ll be amazed and fascinated by the simple beauty of these suggestive places, extraordinary examples of harmony between man and nature.
What is an Abbey?
The abbey – abbazia (also called abazia or badia), is a particular type of monastery, that has become an autonomous institution.
The name derives from the late Latin word “abbatia”, meaning precisely abbot. The abbey is a large complex formed by all buildings and the surrounding territories which fall under its control. The abbey can be seen as a religious community (every community must consist of at least twelve religious people), which is governed by an abbot.
Many of the numerous abbeys in Tuscany were founded during the Middle Ages, often in stunning solitary locations in the countryside, their charm is intact.
The simplicity characterizing the life of the monks is also reflected in the simple but beautiful architecture of these buildings. Many of these abbeys often hides inside small but precious works of art, jealously guarded by the monks.
The provinces with the highest number of abbeys and monasteries in Tuscany are definitely those of Siena and Florence. In some cases these old buildings have been converted into charming holiday cottages or farmhouses. But almost every area of the region can boast monasteries, churches, and convents, which make Tuscany a requested destination for religious tourism, as well as for all art and nature lovers!
Here is my top list of the most suggestive and beautiful abbeys to visit in Tuscany, as all of these places are not only beautiful for their architecture and the treasures they preserve, but also because they rise in unique spectacular locations amid a spectacular nature!
Considering the huge amount of striking Tuscan abbeys, this article will also have a Part II 🙂 stay tuned!
1. Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore – Asciano
That’s a place full of surprises, one of the oldest monastic centers in Italy. The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore comes out from an outcrop of tuff stone over a spectacular steep cliff, that seems on the point to fall down at anytime. The location of the abbey in the heart of the Crete Senesi territory in Tuscany is amazing in itself, being one of the most peculiar and impressive areas of Tuscany. The abbey is accessed via a drawbridge… then a cypress line road, the church, the cloister with frescoes, the library with 45,000 volumes, with rare manuscripts and parchments. Find out more about the abbey and the Crete Senesi here.
2. Sant’ Antimo Abbey – Montalcino
That’s a suggestive place suspended between history and legend! This ancient abbey, one of the most photographed in Tuscany, lies near Montalcino, on an enchanting large green field filled with scenic secular olive trees and dotted with lovely daisies. Inside the atmosphere is of great mysticism; feeble lights, candles, and beautiful travertine capitals…all becomes even more surreal while listening to the beautiful Gregorian chants of the monks. Read more about San Antimo abbey and the legend of Charlemagne here.
3. Monastery of Sant’Anna in Camprena – Pienza
Though not properly an abbey but a monastery, Sant’Anna in Camprena raises in a location of rare beauty in the countryside near Pienza, in the Val d’Orcia territory south of Siena. You get to this magical place through a scenic cypress lined country road, and you soon have the sensation to be immersed in an ancient world. Now the monastery is also an agriturismo, so if you wish you can even sleep here!
In the beautiful garden of the monastery you see the large basin, well known for the filming of the movie “The English Patient”. But the real jewel is the refectory where once the monks sat to eat their meals! Here you can admire the beautiful frescoes by Sodoma. Discover more about Sant’Anna in Camprena.
4. San Galgano Abbey – Chiusdino
A legendary place! The authentic sword in the stone, that probably has inspired the stories of King Arthur, is preserved here! A sword deeply and firmly stuck into a rock! That’s incredible! The sword can be seen in the Cappella of Montesiepi, standing on the hill looking down at the Abbey of San Galgano, that takes its name from Galgano, a knight that left his life of pleasures to live as a hermit after having stuck its sword in the stone.
The Abbey has been abandoned from a long time, and what is peculiar and absolutely unique about it is the fact that it has no roof! An incredibly suggestive and unusual sight! You can read more about the legend of the sword and the history of San Galgano Abbey here.
Another beautiful abbey where history blends with legend. The Abbey is located on the southern flank of Mount Amiata, south of Siena. That’s a place full of discoveries: the painting by Lorenzo Lippi in the Romanesque church, the marvelous Crypt built in the eighth century with 35 unique and peculiar columns, each with different shapes and capitals, the remarkable Renaissance cloister, and the real precious treasure, the Bibbia Miniata, the oldest and best preserved manuscript of the Bible in Latin, that dates back to the 7th century!