Along the Old Via Francigena
The Via Francigena came into being with the Longobards, who used it as a communication route between the extremities of their kingdom that extended from Tuscia to Padania.
Initially named Mons Longobardorum, the Via Francigena later took on the name of Strada di Monte Bardone.
It was not until the arrival of the Franks, who took over the Longobard kingdom, that the Via Francigena took on its current name, meaning literally “generated by the Franks”.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages the road became a major route for pilgrims on their way from Santiago de Compostela in Spain to Rome and then on to the Holy Land. Hospitals, abbeys and churches were built for pilgrims to stop along the way, as well as bridges to ease trade between Italy and northern Europe.
Those interested in exploring the Tuscan part of this ancient road should start south of Siena, along the Via Cassia and into the Val d’Arbia towards Isola d’Arbia.
Just outside town is the church of Sant’Ilario, which was a popular stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Rome. After about 10 kilometres there is Buonconvento, a small hamlet that was once a strategic outpost of the lands governed by the Republic of Siena.
Of the many lodgings that existed for pilgrims, some still survive today as agriturismi, or farmhouse residences. Towards Montalcino, the Abbey of Sant’Antimo is definitely worth a stop, before arriving at the Medieval town of San Quirico d’Orcia. The renowned thermal baths at Bagno Vignoni are not far from here.
After Bagno Vignoni the road continues towards the fortresses of Castiglion d’Orcia (Rocca Aldobrandesca) and Rocca d’Orcia, with its magnificent Rocca a Tentennano. Still further south stands Monte Amiata, with its chestnut forests.
The most important town on Monte Amiata is Abbadia San Salvatore, where there is also the Abbey of San Salvatore. The Via Francigena leaves the region of Tuscany here and continues towards Rome, often including sections of the Via Cassia.
Another itinerary along the Via Francigena runs through Val d’Elsa, an area of Tuscany that is particularly rich in castles and ancient churches. Starting at Siena, take the Via Cassia towards Monteriggioni into the Pian del Lago, where there is the imposing Castello della Chiocciola castle.
After reuniting with the Cassia, the Via Francigena continues towards Poggibonsi, where there is the Castle of Lecchi. A little further on stands the Castle of Strozzavolpe, with the Pieve di Luco and a beautiful Romanesque church at Talciona.
Back towards Poggibonsi, follow indications for Castellina in Chianti, where at Cedda there is a 12th century Romanesque church dedicated to St Peter. Again from Poggibonsi, follow signs to Certaldo, which was a favourite stop for pilgrims and is still today known for its hotels and hospitals.