Serre di Rapolano in the Crete Senesi
Serre di Rapolano is the typical Tuscan medieval village that sits beautifully on top of a hill. Part of the municipality of Rapolano Terme, the village is located in the Crete Senesi area in the province of Siena.
Less known than many other Tuscan villages, Serre di Rapolano is actually a real gem that deserves to be part of your visit itinerary in the Crete Senesi.
Serre di Rapolano was born as a castle in the Byzantine era and maintained this function even during the Lombard domination and in the Middle Ages. Linked to imperial power, the castle was strengthened by Federico Barbarossa. Frederick II granted it as a fief to the Cacciaconti family who were its lords until the 1270s. After a long dispute, the Cacciaconti was taken over by the Republic of Siena. During the Sienese domination, the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala acquired the properties of the Cacciaconti. Here the hospital had a grange which today houses the Museum of the Ancient Grancia and of Olive Oil.
Involved in the War of Siena, Serre suffered the destruction of the Poggio tower, the mighty keep of the city walls. In any case, it managed to maintain its autonomy until 1776.
- What to see in Serre di Rapolano
- Things to do and what see in the surroundings
- How to get to Serre di Rapolano
- Where to sleep
What to see in Serre di Rapolano
Serre di Rapolano is a characteristic village which is accessed by crossing one of the three access gates that open into the walls. From there you proceed along more or less irregular streets, which rise and fall following the course of the hill. The main points of interest within the village are the grancia and the museum located inside, the church of Santa Caterina, the Cappella di Piazza, the Pieve dei Santi Lorenzo and Andrea and the Palazzo Gori Martini to which it is annexed. the keep of the medieval castle.
Medieval walss and city gates
Like any self-respecting castle, Serre di Rapolano was also equipped with solid defensive structures. The defense system of the village consisted of solid walls, a keep, some towers and some fortified gates. A good part of these defensive structures can still be appreciated today.
In the easternmost part, where the original nucleus of the town stands, we find three medieval towers, the keep and the Porta Serraia. This owes its name to the fact that it leads to the Serraia valley. Also called Porta del Cassero, it owes its current appearance to the nineteenth-century works that involved the Palazzo Gori Martini to which it is connected. Surmounted by a neo-Gothic loggia, this gate guarantees a connection between the palace and the garden that occupies the top of the keep.
The second door, that of Sant’Andrea, faces south. Cross it by climbing a staircase that leads to the Cappella di Piazza. Perfectly preserved, the door has not undergone major changes over time. The patrol walkway is also preserved and practicable.
The Porta di San Lorenzo is located on the west side of the town. It is also commonly called Porta dell’Apparita because from the square in front of it you can admire a wide panorama that ranges from the Crete Senesi to Siena. Next to the door is what was once the Imperial Palace which was later transformed into the grancia of the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.
Thanks to a series of donations received between 1270 and 1297, the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala became a very consistent reality in Serre di Rapolano and in the surrounding area. Fundamental in this sense was the legacy of Bernardino D’Alamanno Piccolomini who had a farm in the castle of Serre. When the Cacciacontis left Serre, the hospital also obtained the imperial palace.
In this way, a very large and articulated architectural complex was created which already in 1356 was described as “a tenement… with cloisters, granaries and rooms and with a dovecote”.
Museum of the Ancient Grancia and of Olive Oil
The grancia di Serre was not a simple fortified granary but a real center of agricultural production capable of supplying the hospital with numerous food items starting from oil and wine.
Inside is the Museum of the Ancient Grancia and of Olive Oil which offers a route divided into several sections dedicated to various themes.
The first part documents the system of fortified farms (the grance in fact), which once belonged to the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena and the history of this in particular. The second section is dedicated to the production of oil and the ancient processing techniques. The rooms also exhibit machinery and tools that in the past were used for this type of agricultural production.
Upstairs there is also a section dedicated to the extraction of travertine. In the area there are some caves from which this stone has been extracted over the centuries and is used in many of the most important monuments in the province of Siena and beyond.
Sometimes the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions; at the time of writing this guide (May 2022) there is a photographic exhibition dedicated to the architectural details of Serre.
The museum has free admission, for opening hours I suggest you visit the dedicated page on the Sienese museums website.
Cappella di Piazza
The Chapel of the Piazza overlooks a beautiful square in the center of the village. Entirely built in brick, this small loggia dates back to the medieval period and is surmounted by the clock tower. The building is characterized by four arches, two on the left side, a larger one on the facade and one on the right side. On the façade there are some coats of arms and a bas-relief depicting the she-wolf of Siena. Inside you can appreciate the remains of some fifteenth-century frescoes. The war memorial, built after the First World War, is also kept here.
Pieve dei Santi Lorenzo e Andrea
The Pieve dei Santi Lorenzo e Andrea has been documented since 1252 but its current appearance is the result of a major restoration that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. Externally the church has a white travertine wall face that is consistent with that of Palazzo Gori Martini which is located on the other side of the square.
The neo-Romanesque style of the exterior is matched by the Gothic style of the interior. Along the single nave of the church there are some interesting works of art, such as the Santa Caterina da Siena attributed to Giovanni di Lorenzo, and the Cacciaconti chapel, with the funeral monument of Cacciaconte Cacciaconti.
Palazzo Gori Martini
Palazzo Gori Martini was built by the Martini family during the nineteenth century. Connected to the medieval keep by the walkway that runs above the Porta Serraia, the building has a beautiful façade with two rows of windows, single-lancet windows on the ground floor and mullioned windows on the first floor. On the top runs a row of medieval-inspired battlements. Made by the famous architect Augusto Corbi, the building is in neo-Gothic style like the adjacent door. Today there is a hotel inside.
What see in the surroundings of Serre di Rapolano
This area has been known since ancient times for its travertine quarries. Partially disused, the Serre quarries provided the building material used in the buildings and monuments of the town and other centers in the area. The extraction area is located just south of Serre and can be reached in a few minutes. From the road (SP64) you can see the travertine quarries from above with the hills of the Crete Senesi in the background.
Pieve di Sant’Andreino
Along the same road there is also a small country church: it is the Pieve di Sant’Andreino. As you can guess from its genuine Romanesque style, this church dates back to the early twelfth century. In this regard, a stone placed in the apse shows the date MCI (1101) which perhaps refers to the year of foundation. The church is very graceful and simple in its forms. On the facade you can appreciate the portal with archivolt and frame carved with geometric motifs and cherubs.
Other places to visit in the Crete Senesi
The Crete Senesi are able to offer truly unique views and numerous surprises to those who decide to visit them. The area is also characterized by the presence of thermal springs such as those of Rapolano Terme which have been known since the Middle Ages. Among the villages to visit are Asciano, Trequanda, San Giovanni d’Asso and Buonconvento. Also not to be missed is the magnificent Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Finally, in Monteroni d’Arbia you can find another grancia similar to that of Serre.
How to get to Serre di Rapolano
Serre di Rapolano does not have a railway station but the closest one is located in Rapolano Terme, just 3 kilometers away; there is a bus there that allows you to get to Serre.
By car: from Rome the fastest way to reach the city is with the A1 motorway with the Valdichiana exit in the direction of Bettolle / Sinalunga. From there, follow the signs to Siena following the Siena-Bettolle motorway link for about 20 kilometers to the exit for Serre di Rapolano. At this point it is missing to arrive at its destination and just follow the signs for Rapolano.
If you come from Siena, on the other hand, you have to take the Siena-Bettolle connection in an easterly direction to the exit for Serre di Rapolano. Those leaving from Florence can choose whether to take the A1 motorway or pass through Siena via the motorway junction: it takes more or less the same time.
Where to sleep in Serre di Rapolano
In Serre di Rapolano and its surroundings there are many farmhouses, hotels and holiday homes where you can sleep.