Medieval masterpieces: Manciano and Montemerano
A wonderful morning filled with western style horseback riding through the tuff lands of Maremma was followed by a visit to two of the most characteristic medieval villages of the area: Manciano and Montemerano. First up was Manciano which, with its 447 meters high tower, boasts the best view of the entire Maremma, the savagely natural region in the deep south of Tuscany. With all these Tuscan towns bragging about their towers, you’d nearly start to think that size does actually matter.
Guarding the gates to the impressive fortress where the city council now holds their offices, the town cat tries to distract us as if to prevent us from going in. Maybe he’s afraid we’ll take over the medieval town of Manciano as so many have done before us.
Its turbulent history starts in 1188 with a castle being put there as a courtesy of Pope Clemente III for the church of Sovana, a neighbouring town famous for the tuff soil it’s been built on. When the Aldobrandeschi family took over Sovana in 1272, they got Manciano as a bonus. They pulled up city walls and created La Rocca Aldobrandeschi; a fortress that proved to be the most strategic watchtower imaginable. In the fourteenth century, the city of Orvieto decided it was time to run the place and afterwards the Baschi family of Montemerano fancied a go.
Eventually, through marriage, the Orsini family in charge of Pitigliano (another monumental tuff town) became the proud owners of the locality. In 1416 Siena was expanding its empire and conquered Manciano with its strategical fortress. They fortified the city walls and made the fort even stronger. This didn’t turn out very successful since the Orisini’s took over again after only some decades. Then, in 1557, grand duke Cosimo de’ Medici decided he couldn’t stay behind and ruled the place until Garibaldi set Italy free and made it into one big happy place.
The tower is definitely worth a visit since the view is absolutely stupendous. Contact the tourist information office in advance to book your way up, or just try your luck and knock on their door when you happen to be there. I’d opt for the first suggestion.
From the tower of Manciano you can see the equally, if not more, characteristic medieval town of Montemerano in the distance. Being its twin as to say, Montemerano went through more or less the same troubled childhood with different parties fighting over its custody.
The Chiesa di San Giorgio is a particularly interesting church since it holds some beautiful frescoes of St. George’s travels and a painting with an actual hole in it; La Madonna della Gattaiola. The story goes that the priest used this painting as a door to his pantry. He put in the hole so that his cat could pass through to scare away the mice that would eat his food. After his binge eating feasts he could sneak away through the corridor above the square to remain unseen. So much for practising what you preach.
Time seems to stand still in the heart-shaped town of Montemerano. An explanation for this could be the bell-tower clock that was hit by lightning in 1834 and was destroyed in the process. Another explanation could be the narrow alleys, the small piazzas and the city walls that have been preserved extremely well. So well, that walking around makes you forget about the frenzy of modern life. In other words, the perfect ingredient for an unwinding holiday in this stunning place called Tuscany.