On Saturday Stefano and I met my best friend (see previous post), his wife and 8-year-old daughter (cute as a button; she has officially adopted me as “aunt,” by the way…I am very proud and happy about that!) at San Galgano, a Cistercian abbey built in the 13th century in the province of Siena, a 1.5 hour drive south of Florence. In the 18th century, the bell tower fell onto the vaulted roof, which collapsed. The walls, however, are still standing…creating a sort of magical atmosphere inside this magnificent Gothic church. Here are a couple of the many photos I took (Stefano took almost 200 photos…!).
The abbey is now a tourist attraction as well as the setting for concerts and theatrical performances. I have never been to a concert at San Galgano and can only imagine how it must feel to sit inside the church in the evening, look up at the stars and listen to Gregorian chants…like being transported back in time…I really must have a look at the summer 2010 concert schedule!
We also visited the nearby chapel of Montesiepi, which preserves the sword that Saint Galgano allegedly thrust into a rock in 1180, intending to use it as a sort of altar (see photo). For years the sword was considered to be a fake, but recent tests have shown that it really does date to the 12th century. Many, in fact, believe that the myth of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur originated right here in Tuscany! I have no opinion in the matter…but I thought the chapel was lovely and had great views of the surrounding countryside.
From San Galgano, we drove to Massa Marittima, about 20 kilometres from the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is a hilltop Medieval town of probable Etruscan origin. Its cathedral, built in the 13th century, is a fine example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Instead of a photo of the cathedral, though, I decided to publish a photo of one of Massa Marittima’s narrow cobblestone alleys…if you look closely enough at this one, you will see a few large and colourful glass jars sitting on a sort of wooden “bridge” over the alley. Lovely…
Well, at any rate, if you happen to be in the area…that is, about 30 kilometres southwest of Siena…don’t forget to visit the abbey of San Galgano, the chapel of Montesiepi and the town of Massa Marittima. Well worth it!