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SIENA Art and monuments - Carthusian Monastery of Pontignano

The Carthusian Monastery of Pontignano was built in 1343 by Bindo di Falcone, a Senese lord who accumulated substantial wealth from trading with the Papacy. Unlike the Carthusian monasteries of Belriguardo and Maggiano, built in 1314, the Pontignano monastery was to have a church as well as the cloisters, cells and other buildings necessary to house the friars and enable them to carry out their prayers in seclusion and peace. The Pontignano monastery is in fact the only one of these three to still retain its original structure.

The layout of the monastery is typical of Carthusian monasteries, divided into three areas: a part for the brothers, one for the housing of converts and a third area for the church and refectory. In 1385 the city of Siena erected a thick circle of fortifications all around the monastery to defend it from being sacked by bands of mercenaries. During the war between Florence and Siena the complex was nonetheless raided and partially burned.
Over the centuries a number of restoration works have been carried out on the complex. The first was in 1450 and concerned the square cloister adjacent to the main church. Towards the end of the 17th century six small chapels were united into a single chapel known as the Cappellone. Lastly, in 1703, the Chapel of Sant’Agnese was built.

A document dated July 16th 1785 states that the Carthusians left the monastery, which passed into the hands of the Camaldolese order. With the confiscation of church lands under Napoleon the Camaldolese were in turn forced to abandon the complex. During the two world wars Pontignano became a refuge for Jews and political dissidents. In 1959 the entire structure was bought by the University of Siena, which converted it into student housing.

A number of important works of art still survive in the monastery today, particularly in its churches. The main church has a single nave with three covered bays with rib vaulting. A central wall separates the part of the church used by the brothers and is adorned with works by the Florentine painter Bernardino Barbatelli, known as Il Poccetti, with episodes from the lives of St Brunone and St Peter. Poccetti also completed some of the decorations on the high altar.

Potetti is thought to have painted the fresco of the Last Supper that adorns the refectory, as well as a Samaritan by the Well in one of the monk’s cells and a Death of St Brunone above one of the doorways. In the Cappellone adjacent to the main church the canvas above the high altar has been attributed to Francesco Vanni, while Nicola Nasini is thought to have completed the fresco decorations on the walls and ceiling.

Currently the Certosa di Pontignano houses students and visiting professors, with a total of 44 rooms and bathrooms: 20 single rooms, 18 twin bedrooms, 4 double bedrooms and 1 double bedroom with an additional small bed and shared bathroom. The Certosa also has 7 apartments of varying sizes, as well as a number of rooms for conferences able to hold up to 100 seated.

Just a few kilometres from Siena, the Certosa di Pontignano is at the end of a slightly rising road flanked by olive groves and vines.

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