Poggibonsi, a turbulent history and a big unfinished fortress
Poggibonsi is a center of the Val d’Elsa that rises in an area inhabited since ancient times. Being on the border between the territories of Florence and Siena and not far from the route of the via Francigena, Poggibonsi has always had a great strategic importance and for this reason it has long been at the center of the disputes between the two cities. The consequences of these wars were very hard: in 1115 the castle of Poggibonsi was razed to the ground, while in 1270 the city was destroyed by the Florentines.
After the destruction, the center was rebuilt downstream and, in the second half of the 15th century, Lorenzo the Magnificent entrusted Giuliano da Sangallo with the construction of the new fortress of Poggio Imperiale. The fortress was never completed because the final victory of Florence over Siena made it essentially useless, so the project was abandoned. Although incomplete, the fortress of Poggibonsi makes a fine show of itself with its imposing ramparts and is certainly one of the most interesting places to visit in Poggibonsi.
Today Poggibonsi is an important industrial center as well as one of the most populous cities in the entire province of Siena.
What to do in Poggibonsi
Poggibonsi is a beautiful town with a great past, which enjoys landscapes made of rolling hills planted with wheat, olive trees and vines. Located in the heart of Tuscany, in the western Chianti Classico area, Poggibonsi has a lot to offer visitors. The city is also an excellent starting point for reaching many other centers of great tourist interest such as Siena, San Gimignano, Florence and Volterra.
Let’s see what are the main things to see in the historic center of Poggibonsi:
- Chiesa di San Lorenzo
- Museo di paleontologia
- Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta
- Parco Archeologico
- Fortezza Medicea
- Fonte delle Fate
Chiesa di San Lorenzo
From the train station, near which there are also some parking lots, you can reach the main monuments of the town very quickly. The first we meet is the Church of San Lorenzo. Built in the fourteenth century but extensively renovated after the Second World War, the church houses a wooden crucifix from the 14th century attributed to Giovanni di Agostino, a San Nicola da Tolentino (fifteenth century) by Neri di Bicci and a Resurrection of Christ by Francesco Botticini (late 15th century).
Museo di paleontologia
Continuing a little further you reach the central Piazza Cavour where the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta and the Paleontological Museum “Francesco Costantino Marmocchi” are located. Inaugurated in 1997, the museum is housed in the ancient Palazzo Pretorio. The museum itinerary is organized in three distinct sections: “Evolution of man”, “Paleontology” and “Local History”.
Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta
The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta is the main church of Poggibonsi. The current building dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century when it replaced the ancient parish which was now unsafe. The church is in neoclassical style with a beautiful tripartite facade surmounted by a large tympanum. The interior, with three naves, preserves some interesting works such as the marble baptismal font dating back to 1341, a Resurrection by Francesco Botticini and other works by Aurelio Lomi, Giuseppe Colignon and Alessandro Franchi.
Leaving the town, we move towards the hill of Poggio Imperiale. This is the area where the city of “Podium Bonizi” stood, destroyed by the Florentines in 1270, whose remains have been partially brought to light thanks to a series of archaeological excavations and then museumized through the Archaeological Park of Poggibonsi.
In the Archaeological Park there are the excavations, the Medici fortress and a museum; but what makes it truly alive are the numerous events, activities and educational workshops that are organized. The most interesting of the park’s proposals is the Archeodromo. The project of the Archeodrome aims to faithfully reconstruct a village from the early medieval period (IX-X century), complete with historical re-enactment with actors who play the villagers.
For more information, I refer you to the official website of the archeodrome.
The grandiose project of the fortress was to create a wall all around the hill and the construction of the real castle (the Cassero Mediceo). This complex is very interesting because were put into practice those new architectural arrangements needed to adapt to the ever-widening use of firearms.
The Cassero Mediceo is located in the eastern area of the hill and has a plant based on irregular Pentagon with mighty corner bastions. As we said, the project was never completed and at the time of its abandonment there weren’t a number of facilities such as accommodations for soldiers.
The fortress walls were equipped with four main gates: Porta del Giglio (facing Florence), Porta di Calcinaria (facing Siena), Porta di San Francesco and Porta della Fonte. The porta di San Francesco is the only one completed, behind this gate there is the Tower of San Francesco dating back to the period before the florentine conquest.
Fonte delle Fate
At the foot of the fortress, a short distance from Porta della Fonte, there is what is the main testimony of the ancient village of Poggio Bonizio: the Fonte delle Fate. Built in the second half of the 13th century, probably on a project by Balugano da Crema, the source was buried when the fortress was built and only four centuries later this beautiful monument was brought to light.
Immersed in the greenery of a beautiful park, this ancient public fountain is characterized by a large portico consisting of six double pointed arches. In 2000 a work created by Mimmo Paladino, I Dormienti, made up of 25 bronze statues, was placed inside.
What to see around Poggibonsi
Convent of San Lucchese
A short walk, about half a kilometer, takes us from the Fonte delle Fate to the Convento di San Lucchese which was first of the Camaldolese and then of the Franciscans. Its church, a rare example of Gothic style in Val d’Elsa, houses numerous works by great artists such as Bartolo di Fredi, Cennino Cennini, Giovanni della Robbia and Memmo di Filippuccio.
Castello della Magione
In the Poggibonsi area there are several medieval castles of great interest. The first of these is the Castello della Magione which is located a stone’s throw from the city. The castle was built as a hospital for the reception of pilgrims in transit on the Via Francigena and for a certain period it was among the possessions of the Knights Templar before passing to the Hospitallers of San Giovanni di Gerusalemme. Inside there is the church of St. John in Jerusalem, in Romanesque style, which was founded in the twelfth century together with the castle.
A few kilometers from Poggibonsi, the village of Staggia Senese is worth a visit; here there is a remarkable medieval fortress. Documented since the tenth century, the Castello di Staggia Senese is well preserved with the walls in the fourteenth century, defensive towers and other structures. Although privately owned, the castle is open to the public and can be visited all year round.
Castello di Strozzavolpe
Located near the small town of Luco, the Castello di Strozzavolpe is another real gem. Built starting from the 11th century to control the Via Francigena, the castle has been renovated on several occasions to obtain its current forms. The castle can be visited by appointment and retains most of its structures and houses a collection of ancient weapons. Some legends are linked to the castle, such as the one from which its curious name derives (strozza volpe means “chokes fox”). Legend has it that the founder of the castle would have captured and killed, strangling it with a snare, a fox that lived in these lands and of which he was a kind of keeper. The fox, however, has never abandoned these places so, on full moon nights, it returns in the form of a ghost and wanders around the castle.
Other places near Poggibonsi
The Val d’Elsa is full of historic villages to visit starting from Colle di Val d’Elsa, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Certaldo. Not to be overlooked is the spa town of Gambassi Terme which is just 25 kilometers away.
How to get to Poggibonsi
Poggibonsi is well connected and easy to reach both by car and by public transport as Poggibonsi has a train station.
By car: from Florence (47 km) and from Siena (32 km) motorway connection Florence-Siena to the Poggibonsi Nord exit. From Rome (265 km) A1 motorway to the Valdichiana exit in the direction of Siena and then the Firenze-Siena connection to the destination.
By train: Poggibonsi is well connected with regional trains to both Siena (half an hour’s journey) and Florence (about an hour).
Bus: Poggibonsi is located on the direct connection line between Siena and Florence managed by the Sita bus lines.