1.8 Rapolano Terme, a town of clay, water, and stone

Rapolano is synonymous with hot springs and travertine marble, but there is much more to this town. The joy of a journey, and of life in general, is in letting yourself be guided by instinct, by the desire to know, to see, and to discover. Churches, palaces, castles, views of breathtaking landscapes, museums, theatres: Rapolano Terme has it all – and nothing that is superfluous. What follows, then, is nothing more than a suggestion, a way of appreciating the beauty of Rapolano Terme, among the many varied wonders that this area has to offer the eyes and the soul of curious and attentive travellers. This is a land that is crisscrossed by Via Lauretana and embraced by the stunning area known as Crete Senesi, with breathtaking landscapes made up of ravines and biancane punctuated by hills of olive trees and patches of oak trees. A landscape that welcomes the hand of nature and that of man, held together by the strength of a prayer that elevates every sound to a refined song. Amidst the symphony of your own footsteps and the sweet rhythm of your own thoughts, understanding Rapolano Terme means renouncing the burden of frenzy and abandoning yourself to a slow walk, becoming lost as the sounds of nature guide you, barely noticing your presence. 

Porta dei Tintori

Let your eyes guide you as you uncover small but great treasures of beauty, one after the other: this is a beauty that is neither artifact nor ornament, but – as is often the case in Tuscany – wholly ingrained in its environment, rooted in the centuries, in the traditions, perfumes, and colours of this land, as well as the character of its inhabitants. Rapolano Terme, which developed during the Middle Ages, beginning with the castle that was constructed and governed by the Counts of Scialenga, is surrounded by a wall that is still partly visible. This wall features five round stone towers with scarp bases, which were built for defensive purposes. Three of the towers are located to the north, one to the south, and one to the west, next to the gate known as Porta dei Tintori. This gate is characterised by a square tower with an arched opening, surmounted by two travertine corbels which may have been used to support the lead pipes. 

Porta Sant’Antonio

The second access gate is Porta Sant’Antonio. This large lancet arch made of stone most likely takes its name from the Gentilizia Calamati chapel, which was located in front of it and destroyed by the passage of the front during the Second World War. The so-called Porta Nuova (New Gate) was built more recently, in 1877, to make it easier for bathers to enter the town. After the inauguration of the central Tuscan railway line, visitors increasingly came to use the local thermal spa facilities.

The Parish Church of St Victor

Passing through Rapolano Terme, attentive travellers will notice that there are many places of worship within the town. One of the oldest, located a little outside of the town itself, is the Parish Church of St Victor, which is immersed in a truly extraordinary setting. The earliest mentions of the church date back as far as 1029, in a document that is preserved in the archives of the Arezzo Curia. In this document, the parish church is listed alongside a number of others that were the subject of a centuries old dispute between the diocese of Arezzo and that of Siena. The church features three naves covered by an exposed wooden structure, which come together in a single apse. On the façade, shaded by a number of slender and silent cypresses, there is a lancet gate and a single light window decorated with a colonette. The apse is characterised by its cladding, consisting of a band of travertine marble and a crown of Lombard bands made from a single block of stone. Inside, visitors can find a fragment of a fresco created by a Sienese artist who was active between the late 14th and early 15th century, as well as a polychrome terracotta statue of The Madonna and Child, dating back to the early 16th century. 

The Church of Corpus Domini

Another of the places of worship that can be found in Rapolano Terme is the Church of Corpus Domini, which houses a seventeenth century altar decorated with two stucco statues (The Virgin and the Announcing Angel and, in the centre, The Madonna of the Rosary by Francesco Bartalini). Below, visitors can admire The Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, painted on wood by the same artist, as well as a fresco by Girolamo di Benvenuto and the Oratory of Mercy. 

Teatro del Popolo

The theatre, too, has always held great importance for Rapolano Terme, as Teatro del Popolo reminds tourists – as well as the town’s inhabitants. The theatre was strongly desired by the local population, which “congregated in a public rally” in 1890, declaring that the theatre should be the result of “voluntary oblation, [built] in the name of and on behalf of a society known as the Dramatic Philharmonic Society”. The theatre’s construction was interrupted by the First World War but resumed at the end of the conflict and many debts incurred during its completion were largely taken over by the people of Rapolano. The theatre that remains in operation today has the typical structure of an Italian style theatre, with a floor plan in the shape of a horseshoe, two rows of boxes, and a gallery. The seats can be accessed from the entire perimeter, surrounded by an elegant gallery of columns. Teatro del Popolo, which was declared a cultural asset of historical and artistic significance by the Ministry of Cultural and Environmental Heritage in 1995, was restored for the first time in 1983, when a structural and decorative restoration took place, as well as a renovation of the roof, stage floors, electrical systems, and vault decorations. Further restoration work took place between 1985 and 2001, as part of a project led by architect Claudio Starnini. 


Leaving Rapolano Terme behind, if we continue along the North Provincial Road for 2.6km we reach the village of Armaiolo. The oldest record of Armaiolo dates back to 1260, when a group of Florentines, defeated by the Sienese at Montaperti, caused damage to the castle. In 1524, the inhabitants of Armaiolo dared to oppose the Duke of Albania, sent by the King of France, and for this affront they were put to death by the sword. The most terrible tragedy, however, dates back to the last war between Siena and Florence: on 30 May 1554, the castle was besieged by the imperial Medici army and its inhabitants were ordered to surrender. When they refused, all but the town’s women were quartered and the castle of Armaiolo was set on fire. Another story linked to Armaiolo is that of the Sienese notary from the 14th century. Between 1362 and 1390, Ser Cristofano di Gano di Guidino held the role of vicar in the Municipality of Siena several times. He had purchased land here for the sum of 477 florins, two houses and a cellar. Cristofano was friends with Caterina Benincasa, the renowned European patron (1347-1380), who – according the legend – came to stay in Armaiolo. The area of Fontebranda, which, together with Campana and Finimondo, made up the village of Armaiolo, may indicate the neighbourhood where the Sienese saint was born and lived. 

Serre di Rapolano

Around 10 km from Armaiolo, following the North Provincial Road, we arrive at Serre di Rapolano. This was one of the first sites to be affected by the expansionist policy of Siena and the main district of Rapolano Terme, which dominates the Sentino plain. In the village itself, visitors can still find a large ring of walls and numerous buildings dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, including Palazzo di Giustizia (the Palace of Justice). Other notable remains include the Rocca, whose elliptical shaped scarp walls can still be seen, and the large building of the Grange, which belonged to the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, a fourteenth century building with Renaissance additions. The Grange now houses a museum that explores the history of old fortified farmhouses (or granges – warehouses for the storage of agricultural products) and a contemporary art centre. Using Porta di Sant’Andrea, visitors could access the town from Serre by climbing a staircase that conveyed them to Borgo dei Vasari (whose name translates as the Village of Potters), so called because of the presence of a pottery kiln next to the gate. The other gate of the town of Serre is Porta di San Lorenzo, which was named after the road that passed through it and led to the Church of St Lawrence outside the walls. Today, it is known as Porta dell’Apparita due to the magnificent view of the Crete that can be enjoyed from the square: Siena can be spotted in the distance, and on the right stands the Parish Church of St Lawrence, which was declared unsafe and demolished after the Second World War, before being rebuilt in 2010.

The Church of the Madonna della Piaggia

The Church of the Madonna della Piaggia in Serre di Rapolano is a sacred building that was founded in 1407 by the bailiff of Serre at the time of the rector of the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, Paolo di Paolo Serfucci, who wanted to build a church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene in the countryside as well as in the grange. The small church was built to protect and safeguard an historic tabernacle featuring a fourteenth century fresco of The Madonna and Child, attributed to Lippo Vanni, set within an eighteenth century stucco frame. The church has belonged to the Compagnia della Misericordia since 1808, and is home to an historic bell dated 1498. 

Gori Martini Theatre

In terms of theatres, the Gori Martini Theatre is certainly worth a visit. It is located in a part of the palace that bears the same name in the district of Serre di Rapolano, and was probably built between the end of the 17th and start of the 18th century. This small theatre was then modified during the mid19th century and restored in a neoclassical style with a horseshoe shaped auditorium. The theatre was used as a dance hall and cinema until the 1950s, and then – after a long period of neglect – was acquired by the Municipality of Rapolano in 2000 and reopened to the public after extensive restoration. 

The Chapel in the Square

As we are already in Serre, let’s not miss a visit to the Chapel in the Square, a small rectangular hall that is open on three sides through simple arches, and whose structure recalls that of the chapel that sits next to Siena’s Palazzo Comunale. It is thought to have been built between the 14th and 15th centuries, and restoration works carried out in 1922 uncovered frescos dating back to the 15th century. These frescoes depict a starry vault with a central circle in which the eternal blessed Father is represented. The back walls feature paintings of the Virgin and Child and two angels, with St Fabian and St Sebastian to the right and St Bernard and St Macarius to the right. These four saints are the patron saints of the Community of Serre. The chapel remained open as it is today until the middle of the 18th century, and was closed and reopened after the First World War, when the inhabitants of Serre dedicated to build a monument to the fallen. The high relief that was placed inside depicts a naked, fallen man being kissed by a female figure standing behind him, symbolising his homeland. The two epigraphs on either side of the statue date back to the end of the Second World War. But Rapolano Terme is Crete Senesi, a breathtaking landscape that offers visitors plenty to discover. From the barren and silent crete to the sounds of its woodlands, visitors can immerse themselves in its undulating rhythms and silent pauses that help us to uncover the treasure of this truly melodic landscape, with its x And then there are the white scars of travertine. Rapolano is a landscape that welcomes the hand of nature and that of man, held together by the strength of a prayer that elevates every sound to a refined song. Amidst the symphony of your own footsteps and the sweet rhythm of your own thoughts, understanding Rapolano Terme means renouncing the burden of frenzy and abandoning yourself to a slow walk, becoming lost as the sounds of nature guide you, barely noticing your presence. And in this paradoxical land, which is barren in places and green elsewhere, the sweet melody of water encompasses us: listen to the ineffable lightness of this natural element that has sculpted and still sculpts the landscape of Rapolano. Every day, inexhaustible and creative, it draws the Sienese crete onto a canvas that is never completed, painting with a palette that blends restless and gentle colours, one moment bright and the next melancholy. This element rains from the sky onto the leaves of the land, or disappears stealthily among the branches of the woodlands that descend towards the Sentino plain. Finally, this element gently caresses the rough and primitive instrument of travertine, making its notes echo in the quarries. Today, water is a primary resource for the local economy and thermal spas. The local council even decided to build a park dedicated to this magnificent element, which is well worth a visit: here, visitors can immerse themselves in the silence of their own footsteps, turning their gaze towards the master work of the men who worked the travertine with their hands.

The Water Park

The Water Park is located in the new part of Rapolano Terme, in front of the Terme dell’Antica Querciolaia. Despite its name, this park is not a venue for water sports but rather a place that showcases the travertine that is formed by the calcareous deposits left by the thermal waters. The park includes an expanse of evergreen grass, numerous sculptures, and old blocks of travertine, which are extracted from quarries before arriving at the old quarry front, which is now occupied by a lake that extends beneath the houses. Rapolano Terme’s affinity with water is not only environmental and artistic, but also economic. Over the years it has learnt to exploit its resources, which attract increasingly large numbers of visitors from all over the world. These visitors come to enjoy a sense of rejuvenation in the sulphurous springs that gush from the large travertine banks that make this area so rich at a temperature of around 40 degrees. The thermal waters are especially suitable for the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, skin diseases and respiratory tract disorders. If visitors want to truly appreciate the natural symphony of the land of Rapolano, they must leave the city centre behind, and immerse themselves in the landscapes of this unique corner of Tuscany. Lose yourself along the white roads that criss cross the area and work their way through its villages and woods, or the old farms that ride the waves of the Crete Senesi.

The Via Lauretana

Another route that is worthy of exploration takes visitors along the road that crosses the area and has influenced its cultural and economic development as well as its tourism: Via Lauretana. This place is home to the ancient roots of the Etruscans, who were the first to create this route, which was then exploited and extended by the Romans with more advanced construction techniques. The current route can be traced back to the 9th century, following the swamping of Valdichiana and the area south of Rapolano Terme, and served as a link between Cortona and Siena. The name ‘Lauretana’ probably dates back to the 19th century and seems to derive from the toponym Loreto, denoting a hamlet near Cortona. It was from Loreto that the first branch of this road departed. In his dictionary, the historian and geographer Emanuele Repetti referred to it as ‘Antica Lauretana’ to distinguish it from the more important road known as Regia Lauretana. Regia Lauretana was a primitive road, one of the many diversions of Via Cassia, and was abandoned after the flooding of the valley.

In 1775, by order of Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, the most important section of Via Lauretana was completely renovated and reinforced in an attempt to develop Vadichiana’s wheat trade with the rest of the region. After a long period of decay, like most roads in Tuscany, it underwent a real rebirth. Work on the Regia Lauretana road was completed in 1787.

Castle of San Gimignanello

Venturing along Via Lauretana, visitors should make time for a stop at the castle of San Gimignanello, which was one of the fiefdoms of the Counts of Scialenga, Lords of Asciano. Purchased by the Sienese in 1212, San Gimignanello was destined to be a fortress and in 1272 a trustee was appointed, with the obligation of residence, under the direct orders of the power of Siena. The Church of San Gimignanello was rebuilt by the aristocratic Sansedoni family from Siena, who took ownership of many of the possessions of the Counts of Berardenga and Scialenga. The appointment of the parish priest alternates between members of the Sansedoni family and the bishops of Arezzo. Today, San Gimignanello is a private property used as a farm, although the castle remains intact.

Brochure edited by Toscanalibri.it
Texts edited by Cristiano Pellegrini Editorial coordination:
Elisa Boniello and Laura Modafferi 
Photos: Primamedia, Sabrina Lauriston e Leonardo Castelli
Graphic design: Michela Bracciali 






I Comuni di Terre di Siena