Montepulciano

This is an excerpt from the book “Florence and Tuscany

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BRIEF HISTORY

The city of Montepulciano has a past tied in part to two important regional cross roads (From Chiusi to Arezzo running south to north, and from the Valdorcia to the Valdichiana and to Trasimeno running east to west) and its strategic position at the border of the area of influence of various powerful, medieval based cities (Orvieto, Perugia, Siena, Florence).

This happened in the first centuries of the second millennium when its riches and power were considerably developed, to the point of the city becoming a desired prey and acquired for itself of an appreciable autonomy that can be clearly seen in its alliance with the leading cities around it which were in perennial conflict among themselves.

Unfortunately its final entrance in the Florentine state, after 1511, although it developed an important style (which is reflected in the important public and private buildings realized after that date and the establishment of the diocese in 1561) it suffered a slow economic and social decline, and at one point in the 18th century the Gran-duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo became concerned, and looked into ways to give back some life to the very prestigious center that had started to decay.

In the 19th century the drainage of the Valdichiana renewed the importance of the city and it became the administration center of the area signaling an appreciable revitalization, however this did not last beyond the middle of the 20th century. A population loss in the valley due to immigration to the north of many farmers who were transformed into the workforce for factories, and the changing ways of cultivating the land, which has not been completely compensated for by a similar growth of the small and medium industrial businesses. The prestigious art and history of the city has again an appreciable fascination also at a international level, and by this it is hoped, that Montepulciano will be able to make itself known as a center of cultural development.

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MONUMENTS AND TOURISTIC ITINERARSThe city is constructed along a ridge, which varies in level of between 50-60 meters and is reflected along the 1st kilometers of main central street, that starts at the Porta al Prato and goes up to the Piazza Grande: the houses are arranged along the main street and in a series of short and narrow streets, often steep and more or less perpendicular.Almost all the buildings of major importance appear along the main street and constitute a long series of facades almost like an exhibition of high level design.

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Montepulciano has known two building booms, one particularly significant in the 16th century  and the other during the successful years between the 17th and 18th centuries. During the 1500′s there was a particularly heavy urban development, limited in part to the noble families of the city who planned and realized the new facades, thus bestowing prestige on the owners: the construction outside the gate of the imposing Temple of San Biagio that was designed by Antonio da Sangallo The Elder, who created a ‘style’ and who reconstructed, to a great extent a source of local workers, who built the Palaces of Avignonesi, Cocconi, Cervini, Gagnoni-Grugni, Contucci and Tarugi, to mention only the principal ones, also they completed many many buildings that to Montepulciano are considered minor but would be ‘major’ in many other parts (remember the Bellarmino Palace and the palace of the ex-seminary where there is the seat of the Mosaic School, in Via Talosa, for their beautiful courtyards).

The second period saw the presence and influence of the celebrated architect Fra’ Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit, who left to Montepulciano the impressive Gesu’ Church, with a particular almost circular plan, the reception room of the Contucci Palace with its perspective effects, and the numerous interiors that he redesigned: the Santa Chiara outside the walls and the Church of Santa Maria above all, have examples of this sober and legendary late baroque style.

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Another group of buildings that were constructed in the architectural style of the late 1500′s and worthy of observation are: the Cathedral, with its bare interior, where and architectural game has been played with line and form, built by Ippolito Scalza from Orvieto (1532-1617), also the Piazza delle Erbe Loggia and the church of the Madonna delle Grazie, traditionally attributed to him.We have purposely left for last the two famous buildings of the 1400′s, the Palazzo Communale (Town Hall) and the Church of Sant’Agostino, of which are juxtapose humanist and late gothic elements, both works of Michelozzo di Bartolomeo; and to finish the Temple of San Biagio, the imposing sanctuary with a central plan on a Greek cross, a facade with two bell towers (one incomplete) and a perfect dome, serving as an example of the architectural theory of the Renaissance; perhaps the main work of Antonio da Sangallo the Elder and providing a perfect font of inspiration for the new St. Peter’s of the Vatican by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.

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The architectural and artistic achievements in the municipal territory cannot be compared with that of the capital; the small center of Valiano, situated on a small hillock where there is the Master Canal of the Chiana, which is particularly fascinating, and enjoys a splendid panorama of the Valdichiana to the west and to the hills of Cortona in the east.Very suggestive are the two hills of Totona that face the capital and that of the Cappuccini, which is a short distance to the south: covered with woods and with routes and ascents providing impressive views.

ART, CULTURE AND FREE TIME

For many centuries, at least until our time, Montepulciano has been the cultural center of major importance of the western Valdchiana . The theatrical activity is documented up until the end of the second half of the 15th century: existed at that time an Academy (called the Raggirati) and was often requested by the Municipality to provide various functions and support of. Performances. At this Academy the ‘Intrigati’ was performed (from1706), only recently has it died out, from that, was born a literary Academy, that soon developed an intense theatrical activity, the first theatre was constructed in a space in the Town Hall (1761): this revealed inadequate and was demolished, then came the construction of the Theatre Poliziano a more appropriate seat (1793), the construction was completed in 1881 and opened in the spring of the following year.

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The Theatre Poliziano remained the property of the Academy until 1978 when it passed to the Municipality, having been restored to make it compatible with legal requirements, hosting a winter theatrical season, some of the summer performances of the Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte and has been used for varied events (conventions etc.). The Municipal Library boasts a base of 12,000 antique books and around 18,000 modern ones. Its original nucleus being made up of the Library of the Jesuit College that existed in the city, suppressed, together with the order in 1773, as well as books from other convents that were suppressed, and from bequests and purchases. At present it is a Library of study and research being used, above all by numerous students from the middle and superior schools in the city as well as university students as a support frame for their bibliography research.

Montepulciano also boasts a valuable Civic Museum: the exhibitions are principally made up of the painting collection of Primicerio Francesca Crociani, who left it to the city in 1861 and who helped to look after many of the paintings that were suppressed by the convents, as well, there is an interesting archaeological section collected from Etruscan tombs from the 6th to 5th centuries B.C., a Roman section, that came from the hamlet of Acquaviva (that was perhaps in Roman times an important station along the consular road that passed through the Valdichiana) and another Etruscan section of value, making the museum very complex with its time span, that goes from ancient times to the 19th century, and its variety of pictorial art: the likes of which have no parallel in the other museums in the area.

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The most important culture activities of Montepulciano are in the musical and theatrical areas. The principal is the Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte a gathering that takes place in summer; the shows and concerts that make up the programme are patiently put together in the months that proceed the official opening, often items are specially written for the festival. The idea was that of Maestro Hans Werner Henze who was also the Artistic Director of many editions (the first in 1976).This had a re-launch in 1999 under the Artistic Direction of the young Maestro Enrique Mazzola with the organization of the Association of Montepulciano.Tightly tied to the Cantiere and the Music Institute was born the Cappella di Palazzo (a choir) in the 18th century, that has always had an important role in promoting and expanding music: after a slow decline in the 50′s, it is now well known, thanks to the personal involvement of Maestro Henze and the stimulus he gave to the Cantiere.

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Worthy of mentioning is the Poliziano Bruscello, a particular type of play performed in the open that married the antique farming traditions with the world of opera: the Bruscello in fact was a monodic song of lines, in which the singers narrated epic events or mythology on the threshing floors after the harvesting.The Poliziano Bruscello, was originally invented at the end of the 30′s, being tremendously successful between the 50′s and 60′s, revising antique themes and medieval events tied to the history of the territory, representing it in rich costumes in the Cathedral square together with the performers: singers, each one of which has his characteristic melody: the play, performed in mid August, still today attracts a large public.The actors are not professionals, but simple citizens, who prepare this long undertaking during the winter months.

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GASTRONOMY AND WINE

There are many simple and typical rustic dishes that are characteristic of the cooking in the area: wheat and maize, bread, oil, beans milk and …good wine are among the principal ingredients, the excellent local dish is pici: a pasta made with flour and water that ‘sticks’ the fine strips to the palm of the hand. With the same pasta (but with an egg added) macaroni or fine tagliatelle are made. Panzanella is made with stale bread, a salad seasoned with a good quantity of oil and enriched with the aromas of onions, basil, mint, or ribollita, made with slices of bread sprinkled with bean soup.

Flour made into dough, rolled and cooked in oil and until a short time ago, was made with maize flour, flattened and cooked between two leaves of cabbage. In the same way, ravaggiolo, a type of soft cheese that is typical of the area, is cooked between two fern leaves. Again with bread, toasted over a flame, with new oil and a clove of garlic rubbed over it, makes bruschetta. Chicken on the spit, duck, goose, pork (porchetta) cooked with salt, garlic and rosemary, roasted capon, guinea fowl or rabbit are the meats of the countryside, which are found in the city’s restaurants.

To these we add the typical antipasti with crostini of spleen or livers, dishes of game and mushrooms, pansanto (sacred bread) slices of bread seasoned with boiled cabbage, vinegar and oil), as well as the celebrated beefsteak of the Chianina cattle, all accompanied with focaccia (flattened bread seasoned with oil) or a typical Tuscan bread without salt so as not to compete with the other flavours of the food.

Other important aspects of the gastronomy are the desserts: cantucci, almond biscuits to dip into the locally produced Vin Santo, lattaiolo similar to crome caramel, castagnaccio a chestnut slice, the ‘ciaccia dei morti’ the seasonal dessert for the festivals of November, and crogetti the typical fried sweets of Carnival.

VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO

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The growing wine in the area is very high, as the pleasures of the Nobile di Montepulciano wine have been known at least since the 8th century AD.At the beginning of the 1800′s Repetti in his ‘Geographical, Physical and Historical Dictionary of Tuscany’ mentioned an ‘instrument’ dated 17th October, 1350, in which in Montepulciano there was established a society of wine merchants, showing evidence of that fact that the ‘exquisite wine’ of this area was exported from the area even in ‘times past’. Sante Lancerio, the cellarman to the Farnese Pope, Paul III, in his book of travels about searching for the most esteemed wine for the Pope, in 1549, decreed Nobile ‘the perfect wine, of noble men’.

But there was more importantly, the poet and doctor Francesco Redi who made famous, in the 17th century, the Nobile wine with his famous writing about ‘Bacchus in Tuscany’, in which he is ideally accompanied by Bacchus and Arianna in the examination of all the famous wines in Tuscany. Redi created the motto today everyone knows and which all the Poliziani use with pride: ‘Montepulciano of all wines, is the king’.

The adjective Nobile could have been derived from the fact that the wine was of superior quality and was in the past the exclusive prerogative of the noble families of the Montepulciano area. The Nobile di Montepulciano was one of the first Italian wines of a high quality and of an antique fame to obtain recognition with the denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) on the 12th July 1966, while being the first wine in Italy to receive the donominazione di origini controllata e garantita (DOCG) that decreed it one of the best wines of our country.

Other wines of esteem produced in the area of the municipality are Rosso di Monetpulciano DOC, Bianco Vergine della Val di Chiana DOC, Chianti Colli Senesi DOC and also very esteemed and sought after Vin Santo DOC.

End of the excerpt from the book “Florence and Tuscany“. Get the entire content of the book free from advertising.

Where to stay in Montepulciano

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