The enchanting Sant’Antimo Abbey is located in the scenic countryside near Montalcino, in the Val d’Orcia, south of Siena. This is Romanesque architecture at its best, in a stunning setting.
Set in a peaceful valley 10 kilometres from the town of Montalcino in central Tuscany stands the splendid Romanesque abbey of Sant’Antimo. Surrounded by olive trees and cypresses, this remarkable structure exudes a sense of peace. The warm travertine stone and the translucent alabastrite used for the decoration give the church a luminous quality, and needless to say make it very photogenic.
What to see in Sant’Antimo Abbey – Romanesque creativity
The harmonious architecture dates back to the 12th century. Don’t miss the decorations on the portal in the unfinished facade, and the capitals in the nave. Both are delightful examples of Romanesque creativity.
The second capital on the right is the dramatic “Daniel in the lion’s den“. The story goes that the prophet Daniel was condemned to death for his faith at the court of King Darius, but is saved from a grizzly fate by angels who “close the mouths of the lions”. The Persian king Darius supposedly converted to Christianity directly after the episode. The artist is the famous Cabestany master, a sculptor active in the second half of the 12th century. The lions are so beautifully rendered they appear to be alive and moving inside the stone.
The crypt is a small, atmospheric room, where the remains of Saint’Antimo would most likely have been kept. The marble plate on the altar dates back to 347 AD. It’s worth checking the official site as the crypt is not always open.
Opening hours: 10am-12:30pm and 3:30pm to 5:30pm (week days)
9am-10:30am and 3:30pm to 6pm (Sundays and bank holidays)
Sant’Antimo Abbey and the Via Francigena
Legend has it that Charlemagne founded this abbey on his return journey to France from Rome along the Via Francigena. There’s no basis for this, however what’s certain is that there has been a church on this spot since 800, and the proof lies in the “Carolingian Chapel”. It’s easily identifiable as the chapel is constructed in coarser masonry.
The present building was built in the early 12th century, following the French model of the Benedictine monastery at Cluny. At that time it was a very powerful and wealthy monastery, which drew income from its cultivated lands. The nearby Via Francigena also ensured the monastery received a constant stream of wealthy pilgrims. After a period of relative decadence the monastery was finally dissolved in 1462 by Pius II, the famous pope that shaped, and gave his name to, the town of Pienza.
What to see nearby
Sant’Antimo Abbey is one of the highlights of the Val d’Orcia. Nearby Montalcino is a Medieval hilltop town famous for its prestigious wines such as Brunello. In the surrounding area the delightful small centres of Castiglione and San Quirico d’Orcia make for a perfect day out, far from the crowds. The latter has another Romanesque gem in the form of the Collegiata church.
Siena is 35 kilometers away, so if you’re based in Siena you can easily visit the abbey and do some wine tasting in Montalcino on a day trip.