Murlo, ancient Etruscan center and episcopal fief
Murlo is a pretty medieval village located on top of a hill straddling the Val di Merse and Val d’Arbia about 20 kilometers from Siena. The surrounding area has a landscape made of green hills and beautiful views; a magnificent location a few steps from the Crete Senesi and the Val d’Orcia.
The toponym Murlo in all probability derives from the Latin “murulus” used to indicate a walled place (as in the case of Murlo precisely), even if another hypothesis leads to identify in another Latin term “mus”, that is mouse, the origin of the name. In support of this second hypothesis there would be the ancient municipal coats of arms in which rampant mice were depicted.
Murlo’s origin is very ancient; these lands were inhabited in remote times by the Etruscans, as evidenced by the findings in the archaeological areas of Poggio Aguzzo and Poggio Civitate.
For over 500 years, Murlo Castle was the seat of a fiefdom ruled by the bishops of Siena. The Bishop’s Feud of Murlo was born in 1189 with Bishop Bono who obtained the investiture from Pope Clement III and ended only in 1778 when it was abolished by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo who put an end to what was a juridical anomaly, anachronistic even in those times, and annexed Murlo to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During that period the bishops enjoyed a very broad power both from a political, administrative, fiscal and judicial point of view. Among those who held the feud of Murlo we find leading figures such as Enea Silvio Piccolomini who was subsequently proclaimed Pope with the name of Pius II and Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, Pope Pius III.
Things to do in Murlo
Murlo is one of the most interesting centers to visit in the lands of Siena, not surprisingly it was awarded the “Bandiera Arancione” by the Italian Touring Club. The feudal age left a strong mark on the built-up area which develops following what was the perimeter of the medieval castle. Today, along the route of the walls of the ancient fortress, we find a series of houses surrounding the Palazzo Vescovile, home to the Antiquarium of Poggio Civitate and the Church of San Fortunato.
Antiquarium di Poggio Civitate
The Antiquarium di Poggio Civitate displays numerous archaeological finds from the surrounding area, in particular from the ancient village of Poggio Civitate and from the necropolis of Poggio Aguzzo. It is a truly remarkable museum if we considers the importance of certain finds that are exhibited and preserved there.
Among the findings of Poggio Civitate, you can admire numerous elements from a large stately building dating back to the VII-VI century BC., which allowed to obtain a lot of information on the techniques of the time. The most important finds are a series of terracotta slabs with various types of scenes (there are a banquet, a procession and a horse race) which served as architectural decoration and a statue depicting a bearded man with a large hat. There are also many ceramic artefacts, including imported vases, and bronze artefacts. Finally, the museum has an important archaeological restoration laboratory and periodically hosts conferences and seminars.
Chiesa di San Fortunato
The Chiesa di San Fortunato in Murlo has been documented since the twelfth century even though the current building is the result of a sixteenth-century alteration. A peculiarity of this church is that until 1778, until the end of the bishop’s fiefdom, it had the title of “cathedral”. This is because the bishop of Siena, when he was in Murlo, used this church to officiate religious rites.
Inside there are two seventeenth-century altars with paintings made by Astolfo Pretrazzi (Madonna and Child with Saints) and Dionisio Montorselli (Assumption of the Virgin and Saints) which are located in the transept, a baptismal font from the late seventeenth century and two holy water fonts (one of the XIV and one of the XVI century).
What to see near Murlo
Around Murlo there is a bit of everything: archaeological sites, castles, churches, ancient mines and even a nature reserve. Let’s quickly see what are some of the main places to visit around Murlo.
- Archaeological area of Poggio Civitate
- Riserva naturale del Basso Merse
The archaeological area of Poggio Civitate is located southeast of the town. Various finds have been found here and the remains of some buildings that represent rare examples of Etruscan domestic architecture. The site has been excavated since the 1970s and is still the subject of archaeological investigations carried out by American universities.
In the immediate vicinity of Murlo there are other centers that are part of the municipality such as Casciano and Vescovado where there are some interesting monuments. In Casciano we point out the beautiful Pieve dei Santi Giusto e Clemente while in Vescovado there is the Chiesa di San Fortunato where the triptych Madonna on the throne with the Child and saints by Benvenuto di Giovanni is kept.
Murlo was also a land of mines. The mining activity began at the end of the ninth century, when some coal deposits were discovered, and they continued on for many centuries, deeply marking the history and economy of these places. Today there are routes to follow on the trail of this activity, in particular following the railway line that transported the coal extracted from the mines.
The municipal area of Murlo is partly occupied by the Riserva naturale del Basso Merse, a large protected area that affects the basins of the lower river Merse, the Stata ditch and the Crevole stream. The reserve protects the habitat of these rivers where various animal species live including the otter, the roe deer, the fallow deer, the wild cat and various species of birds of prey such as the eurasian hobby, the honey buzzard and the sparrow hawk.
From Murlo you can also reach many other places of great interest such as Buonconvento, the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Asciano in the Crete Senesi, Monticiano, Chiusdino and the Abbey of San Galgano in the Val di Merse, as well as the beautiful villages of the Val d’Orcia like Montalcino and San Quirico.
How to get to Murlo
By car: from Siena you will have to take the SR2 Cassia heading south to the height of Lucignano d’Arbia and then continue on the SP34 to your destination.