7 abbeys you definitely have to visit in Tuscany
Tuscany is a region rich in large ecclesiastical complexes such as monasteries and abbeys which are not only important centers of faith and spirituality but also buildings of incalculable historical and artistic value. Places of great charm and wonderful examples of harmony between architecture and landscape, the Tuscan abbeys are often still inhabited by the same communities of monks who have lived there for centuries.
The areas of Tuscany richest in abbeys are the provinces of Florence and Siena where, during the Middle Ages, numerous complexes of great importance arose. Obviously, there are other examples of abbeys in the rest of the region, so much so that they are also a good driving force for the so-called “religious tourism”.
As said, Tuscany is very rich in abbeys, I will not mention them all but I will describe 7 of the most famous that can make the idea.
- Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore
- Badia a Passignano
- Abbazia di San Galgano
- Abbazia di Sant’Antimo
- Abbazia di San Salvatore
- San Miniato al Monte
- Abbazia di Vallombrosa
Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore
The first abbey I want to talk about is that of Monte Oliveto Maggiore which is located in the province of Siena, more precisely in the Crete Senesi area halfway between Asciano and Bonconvento. It is a monumental complex founded by San Bernardo Tolomei in 1319 which, in the following centuries, became an important center of art and culture so that today it still preserves a first-rate artistic heritage and a very important library with over 40,000 manuscripts.
From an artistic point of view, the greatest masterpiece kept in the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is the wonderful cycle of frescoes, made at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma, focused on the life of San Benedetto.
You may be interested to know that like other monastic complexes, Monte Oliveto Maggiore also has its own production of oil, wine, spirits and herbal products which can be purchased at the abbey.
Badia a Passignano
The second abbey of our review is located in Chianti, in the Barberino Val d’Elsa area. More like a castle than a typical abbey, Badia a Passignano (Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo) is a majestic fortified complex with towers and crenellated walls.
Inside you can admire several frescoes and paintings of great value that enrich various structures of the abbey such as the church and the refectory where you can admire a Last Supper made in 1476 by the brothers David and Domenico Ghirlandaio. A wonderful place, rich in history and culture, immersed in the green hills of Chianti: a true dream!
Abbazia di San Galgano
The Abbey of San Galgano is one of the most famous and admired monuments of the whole Tuscan countryside. Built during the thirteenth century by the order of Cistercian monks, the abbey is now reduced to a state of ruin even though it retains a large part of the structure of the church even if it has no roof. A real shame even if this is perhaps this feature that makes it so fascinating. In fact, every year the Abbey of San Galgano attracts many visitors from all over the world who come to admire the beauty of its church that seems to have come out of the pages of a Gothic novel.
Abbazia di Sant’Antimo
A shining example of Romanesque architecture, the Abbey of Sant’Antimo dates back to the 12th century although legend tells us that it would have been founded by Charlemagne in 781. In addition to its marvelous church, Sant’Antimo is known for Gregorian chants intoned by the monks according to a millennial tradition. If you have never seen anything like this, I absolutely recommend you visit the abbey to listen to these songs and live a truly unique experience.
If listening is not enough, you should know that in Sant’Antimo the monks organize Gregorian singing courses as well as workshops where the technique of miniature and the herbal tradition of monastic pharmacies are taught.
Abbazia di San Salvatore
If Sant’Antimo can boast of having been founded by Charlemagne, the Abbey of San Salvatore on Monte Amiata is no less important given that tradition attributes it to have been founded in 762 by the Lombard king Ratchis.
The abbey has a beautiful Romanesque church with two bell towers and preserves some interesting works of art including a medieval wooden crucifix and some very beautiful frescoes. Do not miss to visit also the crypt that is located under the church, a truly fascinating and interesting place.
Finally, I also recommend taking a tour of the museum which is housed inside the adjacent monastery, where you can admire some artifacts from the abbey itself.
Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte
One of the most beautiful and important monuments in Florence is the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, a fabulous example of Florentine Romanesque that dominates the city from a raised position. The church has a beautiful white marble facade characterized by numerous geometric elements made of serpentine. The interior is a real treasure chest full of treasures made of marble, mosaics, frescoes and majolica: a real sight for the eyes!
Next to the church we find the monastery which develops around a large cloister decorated with frescoes by Paolo Uccello.
Even today the abbey is inhabited by a congregation of Benedictine monks who carry on the millenary traditions of San Miniato al Monte and a monastic pharmacy where you can buy various handicrafts, including herbal products, beeswax candles, sweets and biscuits.
Abbazia di Vallombrosa
We close the review of the abbeys in Tuscany among the green woods of Vallombrosa. Founded by San Giovanni Gualberto in the 11th century and main seat of its own monastic congregation, the Vallombrosa Abbey is one of the largest in all of Tuscany. Over the centuries the abbey acquired considerable importance and significant political power. The abbey’s patrimony was also greatly increased, so as to allow important expansion works and the completion of the elegant seventeenth-century facade.
The interior of the church, mainly Baroque, contains a large number of works of art, created over the centuries and beautifully preserved by the monks. I suggest you to also visit the other buildings of the abbey such as the Chapter Hall, the Cloister, the Refectory and the Ancient Kitchen. Finally, be sure to close your tour with the Ancient Pharmacy of the Monks, where you can buy herbal products, liqueurs, cosmetics and much more.