Driving along the SS73 southwest of Siena you will shortly arrive at the San Galgano Abbey which dates back to the 13th century. At present it is in very bad condition yet from what remains it is apparent how great it was in its Gothic splendour. Admission to the abbey, one of Italy’s most important, is free.
In Val d’Elsa the monks from the San Galgano Abbey used to administer justice and keep the books of the municipalities of Volterra and Siena. Due to this they were very influential at the time of the construction of Siena’s Duomo and exercised authority over both Siena and Volterra.
Twice or maybe more in the 1300s Sir John Hawkwood pillaged valuables from the Abbey. The poor condition of the building worsened and in the 1500s the Cistercian monks of the abbey were not as powerful and rich as centuries before. In the 18th century the bell tower and the ceiling vaults caved in.
Today the abbey has no roof but its stone and brick walls have survived the centuries.
Along with the church are the vestiges of the monastery and cloisters where today a tourist office is housed (tel. 0577 75 67 38; open 10.30am-7pm Easter-Oct).
The abbey plays host to summer concerts which the Accadema Musicale Chigiana sponsors.
At first the monks were housed in the Cappella di Monte Siepi which seems as if it is watching over the abbey later constructed by the Cistercian monks. This tiny, round Romanesque chapel was frescoed by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. His theme was San Galgano‘s life. Unfortunately these too are in quite bad condition. San Galgano, to whom Saint Michael appeared, spent the last years of his life in here as a hermit. According to legends, the sword stuck in the ground meant that he would never surrender to earthly pleasures.