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Toscana - Places to Visit - Monte San Savino

Monte San Savino overlook the green undulated fields of the Chiana Valley from the top of its hill.

The first urban settlement as origin around 1100, but a further century had to pass before Monte San Savino could be considered centre of a certain social, political and cultural importance of Tuscany in those times.

Monte San Savino in Toscana

Only later on, during the Renaissance epoch thanks to the Mecenas - like generosity of the Ciocchi di Monte, the most powerful local family, Monte San Savino reaches the summit of creative expansion bearing by a great number of works of art clear witness of such a fine originality and sober magnificence to be early consecrated as a suggestive and fascinating centre of art where not too much later the great sculptor Andrea Contucci, called "Sansovino", was born.

Monte San Savino unites its artistically vitality with a remarkable sense for business and commerce mainly thanks to the undertaking spirit of the members of a Jewish community who established themselves in the town in the 15th century and remained there till 1799 when they were expelled during the French occupation. During its history the little town meets with various vicissitudes: allied with Florence it is destroyed on the 11th of May 1326 by the aretine Bishop Guido Tarlati. Later on, rebuilt by the aretines themselves it must undergo the dominion of Perugia, Siena and Arezzo, and at the end, of Florence under the Medici who govern it for over two hundred years till 1737, i.e. the beginning of the Lorrain supremacy which lasts until the unification of Italy.

Monte San Savino in Toscana

Like the surrounding countryside, Monte San Savino has a long and eventful history. At the end of the last century, the archaeologist G.F. Gamurrini, working in the outlying areas of Castellare, Pastina, and Vertighe, found many traces of Etruscan civilisation, indicating that there had been agricultural settlements here in the 4th century BC.

During the war between Marius and Sulla these little settlements were then razed to the ground, marking the end of Etruscan civilisation.

The Aretini voters, as they had been known, were followed by Sullas men, who then built a new castle which they called Area alta (in the Middle Ages this became 'Arialta' or 'Ajalta'). And thus, in the imperial age, the little town was born.

As Christianity spread, before the 6th century AD, in the locality known as the Font of SantEgidio, at the foot of the castle, a rural church was built, dedicated to Saint Savino, bishop of Chiusi, who had lived at the beginning of the 5th century. Towards the end of the l2th century, when the church was moved to the village, the castle took the name of its patron saint.

During the Middle Ages Monte San Savino sided squarely with the Guelphs, and therefore was in constant conflict with Ghibelline Arezzo. Guelphs exiled from the larger town took refuge in the village and, together with the Florentines and the Senese, organised the expedition of 1288, which ended with the inglorious defeat of the Guelphs at nearby Pieve al Toppo (mentioned in Dantes Inferno, XIII, 120).

The next year, after the battle of Campaldino, the town was occupied by the victorious Florentine Guelphs, who held it as a constant weapon turned against Arezzo. The hapless Savinesi were to pay dearly for this tactic: on 11 May 1325 Guido Tarlati, bishop of Arezzo, rode into the town, then ordered its total destruction.

As the fourteenth century chronicler Giovanni Villani wrote; Tarlati commanded that "not a stone should be left upon a stone; and though there were more than a thousand inhabitants, all should be dispersed so that they could never rebuild their town".

One of the bas-relief panels of the tomb of Bishop Tarlati, in the Duomo of Arezzo, recalls this event: we see the Savinesi paying homage to the victorious prelate, while his soldiers demolish the castle. But the town soon did rise from its ashes, and, ironically, with the help of Arezzo, aware of its strategic importance. Monte San Savino, a few years later, was one of the Lands left to Perugia when, in 1344, Florence occupied Arezzo; in the following forty years, the town was dominated alternately by Perugia, Arezzo, and Siena.

Every time an army moved up from the south to attack Florence, Monte San Savino was the first to undergo the consequences. And the damage the town suffered between 1388 and 1550 was enormous; whenever troops went past, the Land was systematically devastated, Livestock stolen. And for a settlement living off agriculture all this meant famine, soaring prices and plague.

Harvests were severely damaged during the siege by King Ladislao of Naples (who, unable to win military successes, took his revenge by destroying crops, earning from the peasants the nickname "Re Guasta grain", King Grain-spoiler). Destruction also followed the siege of the army of the League (1479), the Vitelli revolt in Arezzo (1502), the sack of Rome, and the conquest of Florence by the Emperors troops (1527-30).

Meanwhile a local family, the Di Monte, had established itself in Rome, where it soon reached a high position in the aristocracy.

Antonio Di Monte, created cardinal in 1511, was to become one of the closest advisers of Julius Il, and his nephew Giovan Maria was to become Pope in 1550, omissis Baldovino, the brother of Julius III, was named Count of San Savino and Gargonza, Palazzuolo, and Alberoro, and granted the investiture of the fief on condition that he would erect no fortifications there and, every year, would give Florence a silver cup as a token of fealty.

He was succeeded by Fabiano, but in 1570 the Di Monte family died out. From being a County, in 1604, Monte San Savino became a March, under the Orsini family of Pitigliano. But the Marquisette of San Savino did not enjoy a long life: in 1644, after the death of the last Orsini,

Monte San Savino was raised to a Principality and was given to Mattias De Medici, governor of Siena. who held it until 1667? He was succeeded, as ruler of the Principality of Monte San Savino, by the Grand-duchess Vittoria della Rovere of Urbino, wife of Ferdinando. She held the title until 1691, the year of her death.

Monte San Savino in Toscana

A period of independence followed; but, inevitably, Monte San Savino shared the destiny of the whole region and was absorbed by the Grand Duchy of Tuscanyin 1747, ending the feudal period.

In those two centuries the citys appearance did not change; but its inhabitants has enjoyed two exceptional experiences: there had been a rich artistic life on the one hand and a complex development of banks and commerce on the other. One local son, Andrea Sansovino, had gone beyond the borders of the little territory and long before his death in 1529, had become a leading figure in Italian art.

After Andrea, sculptor and architect, Monte San Savino produced at least four important painters: Niccol Soggi (a pupil of Perugino), Stefano Veltroni and Orazio Porta (of the school of Vasari), Ulisse Giocchi (an eclectic, baroque artist), as well as the goldsmith and sculptor Accursio Baldi. No other village of the Val di Chiana, except Cortona, can boast such artistic vitality.

The towns commercial development began in the mid-l7th century thanks to a Jewish community, which settled in the village, creating a synagogue, a ghetto, and a cemetery. For almost two centuries this community controlled all trade in cloth, silver, wool, not only in the valley but also as far afield as Cortona.

During the anti-French uprisings known as the movement in Arezzo in 1799, almost all the Jewish merchants to whom the French had granted civil liberties were forced to emigrate. With them went the poet Salomone Florentine, then the administrator of the community. In 1802 the French returned, incorporating Tuscany into French territory, and in twelve years, through drastic methods, they established various innovations. As elsewhere they instituted the Bureau of Records, the Bureau of Mortgages, and the Registry.

The monasteries were suppressed, and so in 1810 the Augustinian, Camaldolese, and Franciscan monks had to leave the town, as did the Poor Clares.

Meanwhile the idea of national unity was beginning to ripen also in Monte San Savino, and several Savinesi took an active part in the Risorgimento. Norberto Coradeschi fought in the war of Independence in 1848 and with Garibaldi until 1866, and Ferdinando Zanetti, a local surgeon and patriot, operated on Garibaldi after he was wounded at Aspromonte. In 1859 the Grand Duke left Tuscany, and the following year, after plebiscites, the whole region became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

During the past century the town again made a considerable contribution to Italian culture, producing the poet and critic Giulio Salvadori, one of the first professors at the Catholic University of Milan (a movement to have him beatified is now in progress) and the scientist Giuseppe Sanarelli, discoverer of the vaccine against yellow fever. The archaeologist G.F. Gamurrini, the first to carry out systematic studies of Etruscan civilisation, is considered a Savinese by adoption.

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