|These are just the ones in the province of Siena!|
Only 40 minutes' drive from Le Ripe, Staggia Senese was familiar to us as a town on the way to Poggibonsi (yes, it is podgybonzy).
Note: despite its delightful name, Poggibonsi is not worth visiting unless you need furniture, advice from a thermo-technician, light fixtures or electronic devices. As a local salesman once announced to us: "Poggibonsi has everything". But it is not beautiful.
|a flattering angle on Poggibonsi|
Every time we drove through Staggia's narrow main street we were intent on a mission, uninterested in this seemingly dull town.
|the main route through Staggia towards Poggibonsi: the castle is visible in the distance, but usually one is so intent on getting somewhere else one misses it entirely|
|the castle seen from a private garden: its towers are different from one another, built in different epochs and for different reasons|
|first view of castle; the shrine indicates that we are on one of the branches of the via Francigena, the ancient pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome|
A slight, narrow-faced man with blue eyes greeted us at the gate and informed us that the guided tour would take 40 minutes. This sounded promising, so we took off with him for the inner ward of the castle.
|current main gateway; in the past others were used|
In the ward we noticed some interesting art work. Installations, our guide told us without elaborating.
|entry to ward|
Our guide explained how the castle, like all ospizi, hospices or ostelli, hostels (both words stem from the ancient custom of providing accoglienza or welcome/reception to travellers, particularly pilgrims) was obliged to offer 'welcome' to those passing by. In the first instance 'welcome' was synonymous with water. Water was considered a public good and as such any resting-place, as a minimum, had to offer water free of charge. Staggia castle had plenty to offer; apart from its well and cistern, the Staggia river runs alongside.
|the door of accoglienza or welcome/reception|
Consequently one of the castle gates near the pilgrims' route was used to serve water to those who requested it. In times of war, plague and other troubles this was a dangerous undertaking, so special channels were carved in the walls to avoid physical contact.
|water poured through here|
|would flow out here, beyond the gate|
The gate, you will note, is very narrow; all the gates were narrow at one time. In case of attack this slowed down the number of soldiers entering at one time. In the 15th century bombards (early cannons) were placed in the captain's tower opposite, directed at the outer gate; if the enemy entered he would be 'bombarded'. The oldest tower, built by the founders of the castle, is the square one, although the crenellated extension at the top and the fancy gothic windows were added in the castle's last period of use, under the Florentines in the 15th century.
|original Longobard tower, dating to 10th century|
Our guide led us into this tower and into another dimension, of history naturally, but also of art, culture and a feeling of vitality, after all the ages of decline and stasis. The tower houses temporary art exhibitions throughout the year. This edition reflects aspects of past life in the castle...
|installation on ground floor: bosco incartato - 'wrapped-up wood', a play in Italian on bosco incantato, enchanted wood...an interactive installation, created together with children and their parents|
|grape vines and bunches of grapes (represented by capiz shell chimes), a symbol of the road (vines which grow and move) and the castle (grapes which enclose); an analogy for the Via Francigena and its ramifications and the castles/waystations|
|il nido, on the floor which was the soldiers' dormitory, representing the nest that the castle became for those who lived in it; the nest is made of olive leaves and the papers contain poems|
|fontana di luce, specchi d'acqua, the fountain of light and water mirrors, representing the importance of water in the castle; apart from the well there was once a cistern for times when there was a risk of the well being poisoned by the enemy|
|below the channels which once directed rainwater down to the cistern, another installation representing the shelter the tower offered to its inhabitants|
|view from castle tower over the countryside towards the Castello Strozzavolpi or 'Throttlefox' Castle: in the past, signalling with flags and mirrors, messages could be transmitted between castle to castle to Florence in a few hours|
|There are not many towns which can boast such an ancient wall, still standing firm.|
Next, on to the first of the two round towers, built under the Franzesi. We entered and found another installation then looked up and found a marvel: a ceiling built in the Moroccan style, a technique no doubt imported by the Franzesi who traded with North Africa.
|stunning domed ceiling in round tower with glimpses of installation|
Then we visited the last of the surviving towers of the Rocca di Staggia: originally elliptical in shape in the late 15th century it was adapted to be militarily more efficient and became round. Known as the Rondella, it was rebuilt by the great Filippo Brunelleschi, famed for his work on the cupola of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
|L'impronta, the (Finger)print, a striking installation in the Rondella Brunelleschi|
|That's the thing about Italy: there are surprises in store everywhere|
|the captain's stone washbasin|
|another great buttress or, more strictly, batter, at the foot of the Rondella Brunelleschi (see Brolio Castle)|
|walkway and parachute|
|the wine bottles are covered in words: the top one says pensieri parole in una bottiglia di vino, thoughts words in a bottle of wine|
|almost all the installations included original lighting|
We left the castle deeply satisfied: we had never expected to be so stimulated and entertained by the visit. An interesting medieval castle turned into a fascinating journey into the past enhanced by contemporary visions of the world of the castle and its surroundings.
Just to complete our tour, we strolled along one side of the city walls, admiring how locals have constructed homes up against the walls (saving on 25% of their building expenses), and in the watchtowers which still stand at intervals all the way around. The road which follows the west walls has not changed course since the middle ages: it was the one kept clear for the war machines.
|city walls to the right with doors to private homes erected on the other side|
|one of the homes built in the wall's watchtowers|
And the parachutes? The parachutes were part of another interactive art performance which took place at the castle a few weeks earlier: the castle was imagined as a sailing ship, the parachutes as sails. In early November a gargantuan spider's web will be woven: participants will throw 500 balls of wool over the castle walls. Nothing if not imaginative...
|a hidden treasure of history and creativity|
The castle changes its exhibitions through the year; next up is work on Italo Calvino, the author who wrote Il Barone Rampante, or The Baron in the Trees followed in March 2014 by an exhibition related to clothes and living, called Abito, Abitare.
The installations are on sale and there are some interesting publications available in the little shop at the entrance.
53036 Staggia Senese (Siena) Italia