The Montagnola Senese and the Fortified Village of Sovicille
The Montagnola Senese is an area of hills to the west of Siena. The soil in this area is made up of chalky formations, marble and continental sediments from the Miocene period. The high levels of iron ore present in the soil give it its dark red colouring.
The Piana di Rosia area contains a vast water basin that supplies water to Siena and much of the surrounding area, with a number of water springs gushing naturally from the ground at several points along the feet of the Montagnola.
Listed as a Site of Community Importance in the Rete Natura 2000, the Montangola is rich in woodland, with the upper sections of the hills covered in Mediterranean scrub supporting a variety of trees such as ilex, turkey oak, chestnut, hornbeam, oak and cypress. The undergrowth is a fertile tangle of briars, mistletoe, ferns, holly and more.
Those walking through the woods in autumn will find them rich in mushrooms and seasonal forest fruits such as blackberries and wild strawberries. In the spring the wood floor abounds in wild flowers such as primroses, a broad range of broom, anemones, cyclamens and blackthorn.
The abundant wildlife that inhabits the area ranges from wolves to boar, deer, foxes, badgers, porcupines, hedgehogs, squirrels and a large range of migratory birds. The climate ranges from cold, damp winters to hot, damp summers.
The lands included in the Comune of Sovicille extend from the Montagnola Senese to the valley of the river Merse, roughly 10 kilometres from Siena. The name Sovicille has been attributed by some as deriving from the Latin Suavis locus ille, meaning “that pleasant place”. Others believe it comes from the Greek sukon-siconio, meaning “fig flower” after the abundance of fig trees that once grew in this area.
The elliptical shape of Sovicille testifies to the Etruscan origins of this village, remained virtually as it would have been in the 14th century. A number of churches and tower-houses were erected between the 12th and 13th century (Palazzone di Sovicille and Palazzaccio di Toiano), as well as fortresses (Celsa, Cerreto Selva ) and mills (Molino del Pero, Molino del Palazzo). During the Middle Ages in fact the area around Sovicille boasted at least 55 fortified hamlets, most of which have vanished, a few surviving in the country houses that dot the surrounding countryside.
Within the village itself there is the illusion that time has somehow stopped still. The curved Via Roma is lined with ancient buildings and it is easy to see that the buildings on the right hand side of the street correspond to the first circle of fortifications erected to defend the Medieval castle. The Palazzo Pretorio, at number 30, dates from the 17th century and still displays the coats of arms of the Niccolini and Fortini families, posted to Sovicille as podestà after the fall of the Republic of Siena in 1555. At each corner of the rectangular main square there once stood the four defence towers placed at each of the main streets leading into the centre of the village. The last of these towers was demolished in 1864 to make way for the Palazzo Municipale.
After the Unification of Italy, Sovicille and a number of surrounding hamlets were restored by the Italian state, thereby saving them from destruction.