The Tuscan village of Monteriggioni near Siena is one of the most intact medieval fortified villages in Italy, enhanced further by the lack of more recent development in the surrounding area which still consists of rolling countryside and vineyards - so you get the impression that very little despite the passing of several centuries since the fortress walls were built.
Monteriggioni is also a stopping point on the popular pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome called the Via Francigena, and there is a pilgrim reception centre in the village.
The village of Monteriggioni is at its most impressive as you approach from afar. The fortified walls and series of towers that were built to protect the village in the 13th century are still intact: the castle and surrounding walls were built between 1214 and 1219 by lords of Siena to defend themselves against Florence.
The height of the towers was reduced in the 16th century to give them a lower profile and the surrounding embankments were built up, making them harder for enemy artillery to attack, following an unsuccessful siege of Monterrigioni by Florence. Otherwise they are pretty much as they were 800 years ago.
Just outside the walls you can see rolling Tuscan countryside rather than the more recent development that has grown up around most medieval villages.
In total there are 14 towers spread at equal distances along the walls, and also two gateways through the walls. Inside Monteriggioni the two gates are connected by a single road called Via Maggio. You are unlikely to get lost here!
You enter the village through one of these original gateways, and quickly reach the central square, Piazza Roma, overlooked by a small romanesque church and several small Renaissance style palazzos. It is all very picturesque and because of the impressive state of preservation and lack of development Monteriggioni is really a most unusual place.
Apart from strolling through the village the main 'activity' for visitors is to follow the walk around the ramparts. Unfortunately only parts of the ramparts are open to the public (the parts next to the entrance gates), but one open section faces north and east and the other to the west, so you see views in all directions.
The Church of Santa Maria is the main historical monument within the village. The small 13th century church combines romanesque and gothic elements, and has a very plain stone facade with a single small round window. The simplicity continues inside the church which has a single nave.
There is a small exhibition about the Via Francigena pilgrim route just behind the church, and a museum in the Monteriggioni Tourist Office where life sized models explain the history of the village.
Of course medieval villages were also very small, and Monterrigioni is smaller than most, so a visit won't take you long...and you will need to pay for parking, pay for entrance to the ramparts if you want to walk along the walls, and likely find it hard to avoid spending some money in one of the gift shops and tourist cafes in the village centre. This is sometimes a complaint heard from visitors to Monteriggioni...
But how do you put a price on a visit to a village that is so remarkable that even Dante referred to it in his famous Inferno when using the towers of Monteriggioni to describe the ring of giants around the entrance to the abyss?*
*As with circling round
Of turrets, Monteriggioni crowns his walls;
E’en thus the shore, encompassing the abyss,
Was turreted with giants, half their length
Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from heaven
Yet threatens, when his muttering thunder rolls.
Dante Alighieri, Inferno canto XXXI, lines 40-45
Personally I love the authenticity and history of fortified villages and have visited most of the important ones throughout France and Italy as part of our travels - and heartily recommend you visit Monteriggioni when you are exploring Tuscany, even if it is something of a tourist trap and a visit only takes an hour or so!
Note: Monterrigioni was besieged by Florence on numerous occasions over the course of several centuries but only defeated once, in 1553.
Attractions near Monteriggioni
You are quite spoilt for choice when you visit this region! With the important historic centres of Siena to the south and Florence to the north, other notable local highlights include the villages of the Chianti area and the very famous medieval village of San Gimignano is just up the road...and numerous other medieval villages and hill towns are within easy reach!
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.