With views as intoxicating as its “noble” red wine, the delightful walled hilltop town of Montepulciano, Tuscany, is well worth the climb. Especially for its main square (an absolute must for “Twilight” fans) and the elegant Renaissance palaces and churches.
Lying about 60 km. south of Siena, the town overlooks two of the most beautiful valleys in Tuscany,Italy: the Val di Chiana and the Val d’Orcia. It’s dotted with locales where you can have a taste of its famous nectar “Vino nobile di Montepulciano”. A noble wine for a noble place.
Montepulciano had an important role during the Middle Ages. Florence and Siena waged war against each other for control of the town, and in the 15th century it reached political stability under Florence’s influence, eventually becoming a bishopric.
At this point the local noble families busied themselves with improving their magnificent palaces, as was the trend in Florence as the time. Notably it was the birthplace of the humanist scholar Poliziano who became tutor to Lorenzo the Magnificent’s sons. Piazza Grande is the heart of the town, where you’ll see the architecture follows the Florentine style.
What to see in Montepulciano Tuscany, Italy
Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall), in Piazza Grande – This medieval Gothic structure was remodelled in 1440 by Michelozzo, Cosimo de Medici’s favourite architect. He based the design on the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. You’ll notice the harmonic distribution of the different levels and the windows, which is typical of the Renaissance. There’s a beautiful inner courtyard and for 5 euro you can climb to the terrace and tower. The stairs are steep and narrow, but the view from the top is worth the trip.
The same Michelozzo worked on the Church of Sant’Agostino, with its elegant Renaissance facade. Opposite the church, look for the tower with “Pulcinella” striking the hours on the clock. Punch wasn’t a Tuscan character, but was popular in the 16th century, a time when Montepulciano had a very important theatre.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta – Work on the Cathedral started in 1570, after Montepulciano became a bishopric. But it was a long and expensive project. The best architects of the time were called upon and, apart from the Medieval bell tower, the original church was completely rebuilt. The facade wasn’t completed and is still missing its marble upholstery. Inside it’s simple and elegant. Look out for a triptych by the Sienese Taddeo di Bartolo on the altar: the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary” (1401).
In Piazza Grande there’s the lovely Lions and Griffins Well. The griffins represent Montepulciano, and the lions represent Florence. The shield in the centre is the coat of arms of the Medici.
Il Corso is the main street (it changes names several times) lined with mansions. Look out for Palazzo Bucelli at No 73. Its lower courses feature Etruscan and Latin inscriptions and reliefs.
The Church (or Temple) of San Biagio lies in the hilly countryside just south of Montepulciano. It can be easily spotted from the city, its yellow-gold travertine shining in the sun. It’s an interesting Renaissance structure, planned by Florentine architect Antonio Sangallo il Vecchio (that also worked for the Medici family). A geometric structure with a Greek cross plan, a dome and plenty of columns, it mixes perfectly with the surrounding landscape. The well-proportioned interior shows a classical influence, and the altar has the remains of a famous 14th century fresco of the Madonna.
What to see near Montepulciano, Tuscany
If you’re based in Montepulciano you can easily visit Pienza and explore the magical area of Val d’Orcia. Or drive south to the spa towns of Chianciano and Sarteano. Take the chance to do a bit of wine tasting here; the area produces some of the finest wines in Tuscany.
Did you know?
The locals call themselves ‘Poliziani’ which was the Roman name for the town. But Poliziano was also the name of the locally born humanist Angelo Ambrogini. He took the name when he went to Florence to tutor Lorenzo’s sons. Legend has it that his poem “Stanze per la Giostra” inspired Botticelli’s mythological paintings, such as the Birth of Venus and Allegory of Spring.