Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Maria Glan, Circa 990 AD

The pieve Santa Maria di Chianni church is mentioned in the travel notes of Sigeric the Serious as the 20th stage (mansio) in his trip from Rome to Canterbury. The present Pisan-style building with its heavy stone masonry and columns, dates from the twelfth century, and is an architectural evidence of the influence of Pisa in this area.

In the 10th century, Lucca was the capital of the Duchy of Tuscia, but Pisa was the most important city. Bishop Liutprand of Cremona called Pisa Tusciae provinciae caput (“capital of the province of Tuscia”), and one century later the marquis of Tuscia was commonly referred to as “marquis of Pisa”. By the 11th century, Pisa was an economic powerhouse with a strong marine that dominated the Mediterranean trade.

Pisa was apparently instrumental in the siege of Jerusalem during the First Crusade in 1099. On their way to Jerusalem, 123 Pisan ships, led by archbishop and latin patriarchate Dagobert, established trading posts and colonies in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.


Map of the Pisan expansion from the 11th through the 14th century


1099 Siege of Jerusalem, 13th century miniature


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Gemiane (San Gimignano) , Circa 990 AD

San Gimignano, situated in the center of Tuscany,  served as an important relay point for pilgrims travelling to or from Rome on the Via Francigena. At some point in time, there were around 72 towers in San Gimignano. The families who controlled the town built them as a symbol of their wealth and power. The higher the tower, the higher the prestige of the family, until the city government was forced to set a limit by law: no tower could be higher than the Torre Grossa, the cityhall. San Gimignano is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Scale model of what San Gimignano would have looked like in 1300

The growth of San Gimignano stopped suddenly in 1348 when the black death hit the region, and which killed almost 1/3 of Europe’s population. The Black Death arrived by sea in October 1347 when 12 Genoese ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after a long journey through the Black Sea. The people who gathered on the docks to greet the ships were met with a horrifying surprise: Most of the sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were gravely ill. They were overcome with fever, unable to keep food down and delirious from pain. Strangest of all, they were covered in mysterious black boils that oozed blood and pus and gave their illness its name: the “Black Death.” (


Inspired by the Black Death : The Triumph of Death, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, painted 1562, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Gimignano is also  known to be the hometown of Pinocchio. Carved by a woodcarver named Geppetto, he was created as a wooden puppet but dreamed of becoming a real boy. Pinocchio was invented by Carlo Collodi in 1880 when he wrote “Le avventure di Pinocchio”. Collodi died in Florence 10 years later, unaware of the fame and popularity that awaited his work.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Martin in Fosse, Circa 990 AD

Once a stop along the Via Francigena, not much is left of the medieval town Sce Martin in Fosse. This part of the Tuscan countryside is dominated by hills of chianti vines and olives, castle ruins, farms and a 14th century mill turned into an inn, for those interested to be surrounded only by the sounds and colors of nature.


View of the country side with San Gimignano in the background, courtesy of the internet (unknown photographer)

Nearby, one can find the Villa Romana di Aiano and the Torraccia di Chiusi, which archaeologists have just recently been able to research. The villa was built in the late 3rd/early 4th century A.D, and witnesses various phases of occupation up to the 8th century. It is characterized by an “hexalobular” structure with a three-apse hall inside as seen in the aerial picture below. The villa appears to have been a metal, glass and gold, and pottery workshop.  Visit the University of Louvain website for more info.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Aelse, Circa 990 AD

Located in the heart of Tuscany, in the province of Siena, the town known as Aelse represented the seventeenth stage in the trip undertaken by Sigeric the Serious trip from Rome to Canterbury.  “Elsa” is the name of the river which crosses it. In the 10th century, the territory of Val d’Elsa was under the rule of the Aldobrandeschi, a family of probable Lombard origin. Today, Aelse is known as the Gracciano district, the oldest part of Colle di Val d’Elsa.


Door and wall of Colle di Val d’Elsa, mentioned in the battle of Colle between the Ghibelline troops of Siena inside Colle and the Guelph troops of Charles of Anjou, 1269

Arnolfo di Cambio was born in Colle Val d’Elsa 250 years after Sigeric’s passage. Before moving to Florence in 1294, he worked as an assistant to Nicola Pisano, then as an architect and sculptor for Charles I of Anjou. He realized the most important florentin landmarks, such as the Santa Croce Basilica, the Duomo, and the Palazzo Vecchio.


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Burgenove, Circa 990 AD

Nowadays one the most popular dish associated with Italian cuisine is arguably pizza. However, there is much more to the world of Italian cooking. In fact, the culinary history of Italy starts more than 2000 years ago during the Roman Empire as shown in Apicius, a collection of Roman recipes which dates back to the first century B.C.


Apicius: De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), 1709

Abbadia  a Isola, anciently Borgonuovo, is a quiet town of just under 150 inhabitants, seemingly frozen in time, built around the Cistercian Abbey of St. Salvatore. The local restaurant Futura Osteria cultivates Tuscan culinary traditions with a typical 10-course menu, starting with: (1) Aperitivo , a bubbly beverage or other alcohol to begin the meal, followed by (2) the Antipasto  (a starter) composed of meats, cheese and bread. Then comes (3) the Primo (first course), usually starchier, and (4) the Secondo  (second course) composed of some type of roasted or grilled meat depending on the region. Followed by (5) the Contorno (vegetables) and (6) the Insalata , if there were not too many leafy greens in the contorno. And finally (7) Formaggio e Frutta (cheese/fruits), followed by (8) the Dolce  (dessert!), (9) Caffe and (10) Digestivo.


Pecorino, raw sheep’s milk cheese from the Tuscan region, made by hand

According to historians, the Romanesque Abbey of St. Salvatore at Abbadia a Isola was build 5 to 10 years after Sigeric’s visit. In fact, it is the widow of Ildebrando dei Lombardo, Lord of the Staggia, who founded a family monastery on the site in 1001. The abbey was built on the edge of a swampy area located at the crossroads between the counties of Florence, Fiesole, Siena and Volterra. During the 11th century, the abbey continued to expand, strengthening its control over the territory and the Via Francigena, offering assistance to pilgrims.


Entrance of church, Abbey of St. Salvatore

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Seocine (Siena), Circa 990 AD

A number of historians have referred to an ancient Etruscan settlement known as Sena, and the legends tells that the city was founded by the two sons of Remus (one of the brothers who was nursed by the she-wolf) who had escaped from Rome riding two horses. One of them was white and the other black.  For this reason the “balzana”, Siena’s coat of arms, has both white and black on it. Later, when the settlement was conquered by the Romans under Augustus, around 10 AD, it took on the name of Sena Iulia.


The Balzana

Siena underwent a period of flourishing financial and political development from the 10th century, mainly due to its strategic position along the Via Francigena, the safest route from northern Italy to Rome. “At this time the city had grown out of its initial nucleus of Castelvecchio, placed high on a hill. Beneath this ancient settlement a number of hamlets had formed into three-pronged star shape, which is still visible today within the old city walls”. (


Map of Siena by Braun and Hohenberg, 1572

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Map of Siena by Pietro Bertelli, 1599

As Siena had no nearby fresh water source, aqueducts and complex irrigation systems were made in and around the city. During the early middle Ages, fountains could already be found all over the city. They eventually became the gateways to the city. The Fontanella, Vetrice  and the Fontebranda fountains were the earliest to be build according to historians. Today, the still existing Fontebranda fountain, located in the Contrada dell’Oca, is associated with the birth and early life of Ste Catherine of Siena.

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Arbia, Circa 990 AD

Walking north to Arbia, Sigeric took a way through the Ombrone valley, reaching the bridge of Buonconvento (known from written sources starting with the 9th century). From there, it went back, closely following the Roman road-network across the whole valley, to reach Ponte d’Arbia (Spatial calculations and archaeology: roads and settlements in the cases of Valdorcia and Valdarbia, Stefano Bertoldi, 2013).


Ponte d’Arbia, representation of the bridge dating from 1629

Ponte d’Arbia has been documented since the early Middle Ages , however the event that made her go down in history is the death of Henry VII, August 24, 1313, less than a kilometer from the village. It is suggested by some historians that the death of Henry VII of Luxembourg, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was due to poisoning. During his short reign, Henry reinvigorated the imperial cause in Italy, divided between the Guelf faction (who were sympathetic to the papacy) and Ghibelline faction (sympathetic to the German Holy Roman emperors).

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Turreiner (Torrenieri), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XIII – Turreiner

The neighbouring benedictine monastery of sant’Antimo had authority over 38 churches, from Pisa to Grosseto. There was possibly one in Torrenieri in 990. The Order of Saint Benedict is a confederated congregations of monks who follow the rule of life of St. Benedict (480-547), a moderate path summed up in their motto pax (peace), and a balanced regimen of prayer and manual work.

Monastic brewing was popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. We are not sure whether the monks at Sant’Antimo had traditionally brewed their beer back then. Nevertheless, when they reopened the doors of the monastery of Sant’Antimo in 1992, the new premonstratensian monks also revived the beer making process as one of the daily activities.

In the previous stages of the trip, we have seen Sigeric walked an average of 18km a day (11miles/day). Since he arrived in Val d’Orcia, he slowed down to walking about 8km a day (5miles/day). Did the bishop get a little fatigued by the hilly landscape of Tuscany? Did he have business to attend? Did he discover the ancestor of the Brunello di Montalcino?

For our information: the Brunello di Montalcino is a type of Sangiovese that wine critics rave about! The high tannin content and acidity extend the life of the Brunello di Montalcino, which reaches perfection no earlier than a decade after harvest.young-brunello-vs-old-brunello-di-montalcino-wine.jpg


Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Sce Quiric (San Quirico d’Orcia), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XII – Sce Quiric

San Quirico d’Orcia is a pieve dedicated to Sts. Quiricus and Julietta, which originally dates from the 8th century, but was rebuilt in the 12th century. According to the tradition, Julietta and her three-year-old son Quiricus had fled to Tarsus. There they were identified as Christians, arrested and held by the governor of Tarsus. Quiricus allegedly scratched the governor’s face, after which the governor, furious, killed the boy by throwing him down the stairs. It is said that Julietta did not weep but celebrated instead her son’s crown of martyrdom. Even more furious, the governor ordered that Julietta should be beheaded.


Collegiate church of Sts. Quiricus and Julietta, photo courtesy  Sergio de Ferra

The cypress is the iconic tree of Tuscany. The famous cluster of San Quirico cypress trees is located on a small hill to the north-west of the city. These are two distinct groups of trees. The first group forms a small thicket of  rhomboid shape, while the second group of cypresses is located along a dirt road that leads to a complex private road, around which are arranged to form two distinct semicircles open towards the center of the dirt road.


Cypress trees of San Quirico d’Orcia, photo courtesy of

Sigeric the Serious: Via Francigena, Abricula (Le Briccole), Circa 990 AD

Submansio XI – Abricula

In the ancient italian village Le Briccole (defined Abricula by Sigerous and located near Castiglione d’Orcia). The name Abricula probably comes from the latin word apricum which means “sunny”. There, one could find a hospice dedicated to San Pellegrino, which depended in 990 on the monastery of San Pietro in Campo di Val d’Orcia.

West of Castiglione d’Orcia, still exists a 13th century fortified farm surrounded by acres of vines and olive trees. The Castello di Ripa d’Orcia is known to produce extra virgin olive oil, which, because it is pressed mechanically without employing chemicals or excess heat, retains more true olive taste and more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olive fruits. Also, fun fact: the average life of an olive tree is between 300 and 600 years. The oldest olive tree in the world (see below) is on the island of Crete and is supposedly 4,000 years old! (And still produces fruit!).oldest-olive-tree-in-the-world.jpg

The Val d’Orcia was inserted onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2004.


This scene from the movie Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000) was filmed in the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany