Visit Colle di val d'Elsa
Colle di Val d'Elsa is a hill town in the Siena province of central Tuscany. There are lots of places of interest and historical buildings to discover in the small historical center and Colle di Val d'Elsa is in a scenic location, so a visit is recommended.
Approaching the town you might disagree: Colle di Val d'Elsa is rather surrounded by less attractive housing, light industry and shopping areas, but the upper town is quite separate and is a lovely medieval village!
The city celebrates itself as the city of Arnolfo and the surrounding territory as Terre di Arnolfo - Arnolfo di Cambio is a celebrated 13th century sculptor and architect.
Historically Colle included three different villages: Piano - the newer part in the valley and Borgo di Santa Caterina and Castello di Piticciano on the ridge of the hill above. It is the oldest part, along the ridge of the hill, that is of interest to visitors.
Explore Colle di Val d'Elsa
The old hill town and the newer valley town are linked by a lift at the end of the ridge, so it is easy to move between the two parts. As a result you can either park near the fortress at the end of the old town, or down in the new town below. We suggest parking at the fortress, exploring the old town then taking the lift down for a quick look at the centre of the lower town...
Upper Town (Colle Alta)
The Upper Town is the highlight of your visit to Colle di Val d'Elsa, and easy to explore being more or less one single long street with numerous attractive buildings to admire. Enter through the so-called Porta Salis, which is the only remaining gate from the 14 original access points to Colle di Val d'Elsa and you arrive at the Pozzo (pozzo = well) in the upper town.
Passing the Conservatory of Saint Peter you reach the 17th century Hospital of Saint Laurence which was restored by Peter Leopold in the late 18th century. Continuing along the route you then reach the 13th century Convent of St. Francis.
The most remarkable sight in this part of Colle di Val d'Elsa is the Piazza Bajos, with numerous houses of medieval origin where you can see the Palazzos of Tommasi, Usimbardi, Orlandini, Galganetti and Alessi.
Continuing on you arrive at the 15th century church of Saint Catherine. The church interior is usually bright because of its stained glass windows depicting the 'Conversion of St. Catherine'. From this square you can also see other buildings of great artistic value, such as the Palazzo Renieri, Apolloni and Ceramelli Palaces and the current Town Hall. There is also a nice viewpoint across the valley from the terrace next to Church of Saint Catherine.
Continuing along the same road you reach the Campana Palace (1539) by Giuliano di Baccio d'Agnolo. This is a very interesting building because of the humanistic classical references in the facade. The Campana Palace also marks the entrance to the oldest part of Colle di Valle d'Elsa, where the road becomes narrower and pedestrianised.
The main door beneath the palace leads to the Via del Castello which leads you into the heart of the Old Town with its many medieval and Renaissance buildings such as the palaces of Salvetti, Morozzi, Giusti and Dini and the Episcopal Seminary.
You quickly reach the “Piazza del Duomo” (Cathedral Square) where the notable highlights include the Podestà Palace and the Tower of the Cathedral with the Renieri Palace, Fountain and the Old Episcopal Seminary on the other side.
The Cathedral of Colle di Val d'Elsa, with a neo-classical façade, was built in the first half of the 17th century on the site of the ancient parish church of St. Saviour. The interior of the cathedral houses many works of art such as a marble pulpit of 1465 and a crucifix in bronze by Giambologna (1529-1608). In the side chapels note the door of the sacristy, the Chapel of the 'Holy Nail' (Santo Chiodo), with a railing in the Renaissance style.
There is an entrance to the cathedral crypt just to the right of the church, where you can see the painted and vaulted ceiling of one of the oldest parts of the building. We though it looked much more cosy here for a service than in the main cathedral above...
Your visit to the old town in Colle di Val d'Elsa can finish with the famous Tower of Arnolfo, where according to tradition Arnolfo di Cambio was born (1240-1302).
Next to here you can see the lift that carries visitors to the new town below.
Museums in Colle di Val d'Elsa
The Sacred Art Musem is situated in the Praetorian Palace. This museum brings together artefacts from the territory of the Val d'Elsa from the Neolithic period to the Middle Ages. Colle di Val d'Elsa has a large amount of finds from the Etruscan period, extracted from the great necropolis of the 'Le Ville' and 'Dometaia'.
Next to the museum is the 14th century Palazzo dei Priori, now the seat of the Civic Museum. Among the oldest examples of medieval art here is a large table with the 'Majesty', a work by an anonymous painter active at the end of the 13th century.
Other notable works are those by Cennino Cennini [1370 ca-1440 ca.] ('The Nativity of the Virgin'), Lorenzo Bicci [1350-1427] ('Madonna and the Child with Saints'), also works by more recent artists such as Ventura Salimbeni (1568-1613), Sebastiano Folli (1568-1621) and Bernardino Mei (1612-1676).
Italy This Way comment: while the lower town is pleasant enough, especially when the market is on, it is not really a crucial part of a visit: the appeal of Colle Valle d'Elsa lies in the charm of its ancient centre rather than the more recent areas.
Continue your visit to Colle de Val d'Elsa in the centre of the lower town, perhaps in the Piazza Arnolfo which is the main square. This square is surrounded by buildings with porticos (arcades) and dates from the second half of the 19th century.
Staying for a look around the lower town first, from Piazza Arnolfo you reach the Piazza Bartolomeo then continuing on you get to the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On the other side of the square are the 16th century Shrine of Our Lady of Renaio and the 10th century Church of Santa Maria Assunta - this church is located not far from the 11th century Benedictine Abbey.
At the Monte Spugna is the Cartiera (Paper Mill) della Buca, home to the Paper and Printing Museum. Facing the 'Middle Paper Mill' [Cartiera di Mezzo] you will find the Teatro del Popolo ('Theatre of the People').
Continuing on, you arrive at the Piazza and Church of Saint Augustine, designed by Antonio da Sangallo (1455 ca.- 1534), the façade of which dates from the 13th century. Inside the church there are numerous paintings and works of art; and nearby there is a neo-Gothic bell tower.
Colle di Val d'Elsa and Tuscan cuisine
The town is proud to link to its medieval roots through typical traditional foods of the region that include products and local wines of great prestige such as the Chianti dei Colli Senesi and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. You should also try some classic cheeses such as the Pecorino Toscano, and some salt-porks such as the Buristo and Rigatino, rolled bacon and Capocollo.
Related article: the history of Colle di Val d'Elsa.
Where is Colle di Val d'Elsa
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.