The ancient baths of San Casciano dei Bagni in Val di Chiana
San Casciano dei Bagni is a municipality of the province of Siena situated on a hill of the Val di Chiana, not far from Monte Amiata. Spa resort frequented since the time of the Etruscans, San Casciano boasts the presence of 42 sources that provide one of the largest flows of thermal water in Europe. The great tourist offer, mainly focused on wellness and relaxation, has granted San Casciano dei Bagni some prestigious awards such as the inclusion in the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy and the orange flag of the Italian Touring Club. As we will see, however, St. Casciano is not only spa and rest but also a lot of history and culture.
History of San Casciano dei Bagni
The birth of San Casciano is linked to the presence of hot springs and, according to tradition, it was the great Etruscan king Porsenna to found here the “Chiusini Baths”. The fame of this place was great even during the Roman domination thanks to its proximity to the Via Cassia. With the barbarian invasions first and then the greek-gothic war, St. Casciano knew a strong downsizing that was overcome only from the thirteenth century when there was a kind of rediscovery of the baths.
During the Middle Ages the town was long subject to the control of the Visconti of Campiglia and of the powerful Abbey of San Salvatore. After an endless series of vicissitudes and wars also linked to the divisions between Guelphs and Ghibellines that involved all the local powers such as Orvieto, Siena and Florence, in 1412 the Viscounts of Campiglia had to surrender San Casciano to the Sienese. This was a turbulent period, marked by the war between Siena and Florence which ended only in 1555 with the victory of the Florentines. In the following 4 years San Casciano adhered to the Republic of Siena repaired in Montalcino, but after the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis of 1559 became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
The grand-ducal epoch marked a period of great resumption and expansion of the thermal activities with the realization of a portico where the source of the Ficoncella emerges and of a road of connection with what once was the Via Francigena. A new period of decline coincided with the nineteenth century but since the ‘3o years of the twentieth century the baths of San Casciano dei Bagni have regained their fame.
What to see in San Casciano dei Bagni
Perched on the hill in a beautiful panoramic position, San Casciano dei Bagni preserves the typical plant of medieval villages made of twisted streets. At the center of the country stands the tower of a castle built in the early twentieth century. The village preserves several points of interest and never ceases to amaze: the archaeological excavations near the Bagno Grande have allowed the discovery of an ancient temple of Apollo of Roman times.
- Belvedere of Piazza Matteotti
- Collegiata dei Santi Leonardo e Cassia
- Oratorio di Sant’Antonio
- Oratorio della Concezione
- Palazzo Comunale
- Palazzo dell’Arcipretura
- Chiesa di Santa Maria ad Balnea
Belvedere of Piazza Matteotti
The visit to the historical center of San Casciano dei Bagni can start from the belvedere of Piazza Matteotti, just outside the walls, which is an excellent vantage point over the valley below. In the square there is a modern statue-fountain, La Bestia, created by the Iranian artist Bizhan Bassiri. At the bottom of the square is the Porta di Sopra, the main entrance to the center of San Casciano.
Collegiata dei Santi Leonardo e Cassia
The Collegiate Church of Santi Leonardo e Cassia is the main church of the village. Built between the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the church has a beautiful Gothic portal decorated with plant motifs. Inside there are several valuable works such as the Coronation of the Virgin and Saints by Francesco Oriolo (about 1490) which is located on the main altar and the baptismal font with the statue of St. John the Baptist. Remarkable is also the bell tower that was built in 1606.
Oratorio di Sant’Antonio
The Oratory of Sant’Antonio is located right next to the Collegiate (on the left). On the façade it has a sixteenth-century portal that once belonged to the Collegiate, while inside it preserves a stoup dated 1616, a wooden sculpture of the Madonna and Child of the late fourteenth century and some steel works by the Iranian artist Bizhan Bassiri.
Oratorio della Concezione
The Oratory of the Conception is a small chapel that dates back to the late sixteenth century. Inside there is a valuable fresco, Allegory of the Conception, by Niccolò Circignani also known as il Pomarancio.
What is now known as the Palazzo Comunale, was originally the Palace of Justice and the residence of the Podestas who governed San Casciano. Like many other podestà palaces, this one is also characterized by the presence of the coats of arms of the podestà that are affixed on its facade.
The Palazzo dell’Arcipretura, was built in 1552 and for centuries has hosted many authorities visiting St. Casciano for treatment at the spa, including the Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo who later became emperor with the name of Leopold II.
Chiesa di Santa Maria ad Balnea
Located just outside the historical center, the Church of Santa Maria ad Balnea (or Church of Santa Maria della Colonna) is the oldest monument in San Casciano dei Bagni as it dates back to the eleventh century. According to tradition it was built on a small pagan temple dedicated to Igea, the goddess of health, and in the past it gave assistance to the sick who went to the spa to be cured. Restored in the ‘900, the church preserves to its inside a beautiful sixteenth-century altar and different with frescoes of the Sienese and Orvieto school.
The thermal baths of San Casciano dei Bagni
The numerous thermal springs in the area of San Casciano dei Bagni are certainly the main tourist attraction of the area. Known since ancient times for their numerous therapeutic properties, the baths of San Casciano are accessible both through equipped facilities and through free access pools.
The free thermal baths of San Casciano enjoy a great fame and with their natural thermal pools attract many visitors in all periods of the year, even in winter. Some of these thermal baths are the same ones that were built by the ancient Romans. The best known are those of Bagno Grande and Bagno Bossolo, also called the “vasconi”. To reach them from the village you have to go down to the foot of the hill a few hundred meters from the center. The alternative to the free thermal baths, is the Centro Termale Fonteverde, a luxurious resort located inside a magnificent seventeenth century building, equipped with 7 thermal pools and fitness center.
Places to visit in the surroundings of San Casciano dei Bagni
In the territory of San Casciano there are some small historical villages to visit. The first of these is Fighine, where there is the church of San Michele Arcangelo, documented since 1191, and above all the majestic Castle of Fighine that dominates the panorama from the top of the hill. Another village to visit near San Casciano is Celle sul Rigo. The main points of interest here are the medieval tower that was once part of a castle, the church of San Paolo Converso, the cistern in the central square and the 16th century farm. Not far from Fighine there is also the small village of Palazzone.
How to get to San Casciano dei Bagni
San Casciano dei Bagni is located at a distance of about 100 kilometers from Siena, 140 from Florence and 160 from Rome. The village is quite isolated so it is better to go by car.
By car: coming from the north (Siena, Florence), highway A1 till the exit for Chiusi, from there take the SP478 and turn on Strada Provinciale della Montagna di Cetona after Sarteano.
Coming from the south (Rome), highway A1 till the exit for Fabro, then SP54,SP308 and SP321.