Dintorni Ville di Corsano

7.5 Siena on the Horizon

The charm of the countryside facing south

The road from the Porta slopes ever downwards, although it bends continually between the fields on the three hills. One can see a part of it down in the valley where there is a bridge, and then it goes up towards Costalpino. On the other side of the three hills a large plain recedes, and then rises again, little by little, to a tall, turquoise mound; behind which the mountains of the Maremma raise their heads in less and less colourful rows.
(F. Tozzi, Il Podere)

The itinerary sets off from Porta San Marco. From the gate, head down towards the outskirts of the town and then up along the SP 73 to Costafabbri; it is only a few kilometres, but there is heavy traffic. Just where the climb ends, take the road on the left which will lead you to Ginestreto, a small village with a sweeping view of the Val d’Arbia and the Crete Senesi.
Follow the signs for ‘San Rocco’, once again joining the Provinciale Grossetana directly in front of a votive shrine dating back to 1889; here, bear left and then bear left again shortly afterwards, going in the direction of Fogliano-Mugnano.


The road, initially flat, is nearly traffic-free; it is asphalt as far as Fogliano and then becomes a dirt road. The views encompass an area of cultivated farmland; the terrain is hilly but never rough. Fogliano is more of a village than a hamlet, characterised by the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista, where a stop-off is a must: Siena and its Torre del Mangia can be seen in the distance, perfectly set in the softness of a countryside that is bounded to the east by the chain of the Monti del Chianti.
Mario Luzi’s lyric poem, which is reproduced here, masterfully paints the view from the Torre del Mangia towards ‘questa terra grigia lisciata dal vento’ (‘this grey land smoothed by the wind’).

The church of San Giovanni Battista a Fogliano was built at the end of the 12th century and, over the course of time, has undergone major changes that have altered its original layout. In addition to the 16th-century alterations, more substantial changes were carried out in the neo-Gothic style, most likely by the architect Agostino Fantastici, one of the most popular and active in Siena at the time. The façade has a gabled profile, with a central portal with a segmental arch and exposed brick cornice. Consisting of masonry made of travertine, large blocks of tuff, and brick, the interior has a single rectangular nave topped by a barrel vault decorated with frescoes, as are the rest of the walls.

Continue your ride on the asphalt road that soon becomes a dirt road as it descends (follow the signs for Mugnano), and then returns to asphalt along a stretch that goes uphill. The landscape is now profoundly different, made up of the harshness of bare, dry earth, suspended between reality and dreams in a succession of twisted folds that cross hills rounded by manual labour, their colours constantly changing. In summer you are immersed in a yellow sea, so burnt by the sun that it seems to stand still, while in spring the green of the wheat is an enveloping carpet that ripples in the wind, and in autumn and winter the ploughed land is tinged with varying shades of brown. The views are so vast that they seem endless, limitless, almost unsettling. The silence is absolute, cars a distant memory. In this expanse of clay, there are rare patches of green: small wooded areas besieged by clay and isolated rows of trees, mostly cypresses like those along the road to Mugnano.
On the Mugnano estate there is a small church dedicated to St James the Apostle, now much impoverished but still important since it was founded by Blessed Giovanni Colombini as a monastery. First mentioned at the beginning of the 13th century, it was completely renovated in the 18th century, by then in a state of complete decay: the interior has three Baroque altars, the bell tower is ribbed, and the façade has a clean Romanesque style.
After Mugnano, riding along the dirt road that leads to provincial road 46 is like riding a rollercoaster, plummeting downhill and then rising up again. When you reach the asphalt road, take a right towards Ville di Corsano, where there are a handful of houses, among which a beautiful tower house stands out. Then, after one kilometre in the direction of Monteroni d’Arbia, you can admire the splendid Pieve di San Giovanni Battista, a clear example of Romanesque architecture.


In the Middle Ages, the present-day hamlet called Ville di Corsano was divided into several communities that enjoyed their own autonomy. The only constant was the ecclesiastical hegemony of its parish church, dedicated first to Santa Maria and then to San Giovanni Battista. The existence of Ville di Corsano, of which a defensive tower remains, is attested from the middle of the 13th century as a ‘comunello’ (an administrative unit of Grand Ducal Tuscany). Like many other towns in the Sienese area, it was greatly affected by war of Siena, especially in September 1554, when the imperial troops burnt down the palazzo of the ‘Villa al Piano di casa Severini’. In addition to the parish church, in the 17th century the villas had a chapel known as the ‘Beata Vergine del Rosario’ (‘Blessed Virgin of the Rosary), later ‘della Misericordia’ (‘of Mercy’), owned by Tolomeo Borghesi and later by the Amerighi family.

Shortly after Ville di Corsano, at the top of a hillock that can be climbed with some effort, take the short dirt road on the right that leads to Castello di Grotti, which in the Middle Ages belonged to the powerful Ugurgeri family and affords a stupendous view of Siena.
Around Castello di Grotti once stood the village of the same name, which was the home of a skilled and wealthy lender, Orlandino di Azzo da Grotti, who made his fortune in the first half of the 13th century; and of the blessed Franco Lippi, born to Matteo Lippi and Calidonia Danielli or Dainelli—families whose surnames remained rooted in this area until the last century.
The fate of the castle was influenced by the conflicts between Siena and Florence, and Grotti, like all the other towns in the area, fell on hard times during the famous War of Siena in 1554, when it was reported that the enemy troops arrived at the palazzo of Grotti degli Azzolini, the descendants of Azzo Ugurgeri, and ‘those inside surrendered without a pact and were taken prisoner’. In the 17th century, the manor passed into the hands of the Ballati-Nerli family and then to the Piccolomini family in the 19th century.


After passing the few houses of Grotti Alto, you come to Provinciale 23/c di Grotti; from here to San Rocco a Pilli there are 6 km of excellent dirt road, initially downhill, in some places with steep slopes which, after a very short flat stretch, continues slightly uphill to the first houses of San Rocco. It is worth noting that for a few hundred metres, the road runs close to the grounds of La Bagnaia Royal Golf Club, one of the best equipped facilities in Italy for this type of sport.

It is approximately 10 kilometres from San Rocco to Siena, with a constantly fluctuating elevation and a demanding final climb that takes you up to Porta San Marco.

Porta San Marco
Porta di San Marco is mentioned for the first time in the Libro di Biccherna (records of the chancellery of finance office from the 13th to the 14th century) of 1253 as one of the gates where fodder and grain were weighed as they entered the city. Still described as ‘new’ in 1257 and with the appointment of a gatekeeper the following year, its construction lasted until the end of the 13th century. Without an antemurale, it was nevertheless fortified thanks to the elevation of the central frontispiece, which forms a mighty keep. Access is through a lowered arch over which rises a slightly ogival archivolt with a framed extrados. The gate was equipped with a powerful external fortification in the 14th century; and in 1528 Baldassarre Peruzzi built a quadrangular bastion in front of it, which was heavily damaged during the siege of 1554–55. The few remains of the bastion were removed in the mid-19th century when the last stretch of the old Maremma road was modified. It underwent modest renovations in 1939 in order to improve both the pedestrian and vehicular viability.
On the morning of 3 July 1944, the French expeditionary troops under the command of General Joseph de Monsabert entered Siena through Porta San Marco without encountering resistance from the Nazi-Fascist forces. A few days earlier, the French soldiers had blown up a section of the city walls that was connected to the gate. A plaque commemorates the events of that 3 July and states that, following his orders, de Monsabert ‘did not hesitate to reply: “Fire wherever you like, but I forbid you to fire further back than the 18th century”’.

Dalla torre

Questa terra grigia lisciata dal vento nei suoi dossi
nella sua galoppata verso il mare,
nella sua ressa d’armento sotto i gioghi
e i contrafforti dell’interno, vista
nel capogiro dagli spalti, fila
luce, fila anni luce misteriosi,
fila un solo destino in molte guise,
dice: “guardami sono la tua stella”
e in quell’attimo punge più profonda
il cuore la spina della vita.
Questa terra toscana brulla e tersa
dove corre il pensiero di chi resta
o cresciuto da lei se ne allontana.
Tutti i miei più che quarant’anni sciamano
fuori dal loro nido d’ape. Cercano
qui più che altrove il loro cibo, chiedono
di noi, di voi murati nella crosta
di questo corpo luminoso. E seguita,
seguita a pullulare morte e vita
tenera e ostile, chiara e inconoscibile.
Tanto afferra l’occhio da questa torre di vedetta.

From the Tower
This grey land, its ridges smoothed by the wind
as it gallops towards the sea,
in its herds beneath the yokes
and the spurs of the interior, seen
in the dizziness from the stands, string of
light, strings of mysterious light-years,
the thread of a single destiny in many guises,
says: “Look at me, I am your star”
and in that moment the deepest pricking
of the heart the thorn of life.
This barren and terse Tuscan land
where runs the thought of those who remain
or those who have grown up and moved away from it.
All my more than forty years are swarming
out of their hive. They seek
here more than elsewhere for their food, they ask
of us, of you embedded in the crust
of this luminous body. And still,
death and life continue to swarm
tender and hostile, clear and unknowable.
So much does the eye catch from this watchtower

Pieve di Corsano
Since the early years of the second millennium, the Romanesque pieve (parish church) known as ‘di Corsano’ has been a point of reference for all the churches and inhabitants of the area. The date 1189 is carved into the travertine (on the last pillar on the left), but this presumably refers to the year in which it was rebuilt or reconstructed.
In addition to the beauty and purity of the building, the two paintings, ‘L’Annunciazione’ (‘The Annunciation’) and ‘L’Adorazione dei Pastori’ (The Shepherds’ Adoration’) by Alessandro Casolani; and a polychrome terracotta sculpture of St Agatha, attributed to Carlo di Andrea Galletti; there is a particular legend about the parish church of San Giovanni Battista a Corsano.


It is said that around the 17th century, a so-called child bride, a young girl named Laura, just 10 years old and the daughter of a local nobleman, was promised in marriage to a wealthy lord who would be able to restore the fortunes of the girl’s family, which was in disgrace. It is said that on the day of the wedding, Laura arrived at the parish church accompanied by her father and entered. Just as the priest was about to sanctify the marriage, she ran away, leaving behind her footprints in front of the church. There has been no news of her since that moment, but according to the legend, on sunny Sundays in springtime, footprints can be found around the parish church, as if the ‘child bride’ were returning to visit the place from which she had fled.

San Rocco a Pilli
In San Rocco a Pilli, it is worth mentioning the Pieve di San Bartolomeo, with its Romanesque structure, heavily reworked in the neoclassical style, and Villa Cavaglioni, an imposing 18th-century quadrangular building with a beautiful Italian garden at the back.


In the Middle Ages, the name Pilli was used to designate a rather large area occupied by small villages and three churches, all within the parish of Fogliano: the rectory of Santa Maria, the church of San Lorenzo, and the church of San Salvatore a Pilli. A place included in this area is perhaps referred to in a bull of 1006, which mentions a Pinuli qui dicitur Crucem among the properties of the monastery of Sant’Eugenio. In the 13th century, each of the three churches became the centre of a small municipality in the Sienese countryside. Of particular importance was the rectory of Santa Maria, located on the road leading from Siena to Bagni di Petriolo and the Maremma. Here, in the 16th century, a lay company named after San Rocco formed and built its own church dedicated to this saint, from which the village took its current name. At the top of a small rise, you can visit the 19th-century parish church dedicated to San Bartolomeo, the work of Agostino Fantastici who, in designing it, reused existing medieval elements that are still clearly visible on the left wall.

ⒸAntonio Cinotti

I Comuni di Terre di Siena