Tuscany is church-spotting heaven. Beyond the famous Cathedrals of Florence, Pisa and Siena, lie scores of Romanesque country churches, set amidst gently rolling hills and olive groves.
Naturally there are a lot to see. So, to narrow it down we have selected the Top 10 Romanesque churches in Tuscany that are worth going the extra mile for, as much to see the churches themselves as their verdant unspoiled surroundings.
From the weathered sculptures on the doors and columns, to the archaic signs and symbols within, these religious buildings have a particular mystery to them. The Medieval imagery, and attendant fantastical symbolism remind us of a time when the world was still very much a mystery to men.
Here’s a list of our favourite “pievi” – the Italian name for “Medieval parish church”, often located in the countryside – and churches. Here you’ll find great artistry, stunning locations, and magical atmosphere. We’ve divided them into geographical areas to make it easier to plan your itineraries.
Romanesque churches in Tuscany – Val d’Orcia:
Sant’Antimo Abbey, near Montalcino (SI) – the most enchanting of all country churches in Tuscany, the beauty of Sant’Antimo Abbey is matched by its beautiful setting. It’s a moving sight, all the more so if you are fortunate enough to hear the Gregorian chants. This is one of the highlights of the Val d’Orcia area and one of the top churches outside Florence.
Eremo di Montesiepi, Chiusdino (SI) This church has a peculiarly round shape, and an interesting legend. It is said that Saint Galgano drove his sword into a rock when he renounced the material world, and the sword is still there today. Nearby are the suggestive ruins of San Galgano Abbey.
Collegiata, San Quirico d’Orcia (SI) – This splendid church is situated in the small, and very pleasant town of San Quirico, in the heart of the Val d’Orcia. The most enchanting feature of this lovely honey coloured building is the main portal, with impressive lions and a fascinating array of monsters fighting on the lintel.
Pieve di Corsignano, 1 km. da Pienza (SI)– just outside Pienza, it’s the church where Pope Pius II was baptised. It is in a lovely, peaceful position and is full of delightful details and Medieval carvings.
Romanesque churches near Pisa and Lucca:
Barga’s Cathedral (LU) – In the heart of the Serchio Valley, surrounded by forests, Barga has a fascinating church with a spectacular view. It is hard not to be affected by this remarkable place. It’s a masterpiece of sculpture and one the artistic highlights of the area.
Basilica di San Pietro a Grado (PI) – A few km. from Pisa city centre, you’ll find this handsome church on the spot where Saint Peter was believed to have landed in 44AD. Its position is not its strong point, as it’s close to a main road, but the history is fascinating. It boasts Saint Peter’s original altar and some recently restored frescoes from the 1300’s.
Romanesque Churches in the province of Arezzo
Pieve di San Pietro a Romena (AR) is the most beautiful and atmospheric religious building of the Casentino area in eastern Tuscany. It has been declared a national monument. Splendid architecture and a peaceful, spiritual interior. Near Pratovecchio and Romena, a verdant area 50 km. from Arezzo.
Pieve Romanica di S. Pietro a Gropina, near the Medieval town of Loro Ciuffenna, 30 km. from Arezzo, there’s a church famous for its curious pre-christian symbolism and a lombardic 9th century pulpit.
Santa Maria della Pieve, Arezzo – the apse looking over the town’s main square Piazza Grande, the Santa Maria is renowned for its striking facade, with three levels of columns made from sandstone. The bell tower is known as the “tower of a hundred holes”. An interesting structure with carvings on one of the portals.
A Romanesque gem in the Maremma region
Sovana’s Cathedral (GR) – Interesting architecture located in one of the “tufa towns” in the Maremma. It includes a 9th century vaulted crypt, and exquisitely decorated portal and capitals. Romanesque simplicity at its best in the small town of Sovana. An inspiring church full of ancient atmosphere.