|reconstruction of Chiusdino as it might have looked between the 12th and 13th centuries, around the time Galgano Guidotti lived there|
|San Galgano, Ambrogio Lorenzetti 1338-49,Sala dei Nove, Palazzo Pubblico Siena|
Born in Chiusdino in 1148 or thereabouts, Galgano Guidotti, son of minor nobles and a knight, according to legend led a violent and dissolute youth - until he finally saw the light.
|copy of bas-relief by Giovanni di Agostino on the wall of San Galgano's house in Chiusdino, original in Museum of Siena, depicting Galgano being led by Archangel Michael to Montesiepi|
|Hermitage of Montesiepi|
|San Galgano's sword thrust in the rock of Montesiepi; recent tests at Pavia University point to its being a genuine late 12th century sword. It is protected by a plexiglass dome.|
|beautiful circular stone and brick dome of Montesiepi Chapel|
|the Hermitage complex today: the round chapel is the original structure built at the end of the 12th century to honour Galgano's resting place and his improvised cross.|
|torch ring with sword motif from outer wall of chapel|
|modern bookstand in chapel also sports the sword motif; considering that the hermit was trying to give up his warlike ways this emphasis seems vaguely perverse|
|the chapel's tiny, peaceful (circular) interior|
Later, in the 14th century, a small rectangular chapel was added at the side; it was decorated with frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti which are sadly dilapidated today.
|Lorenzetti at Montesiepi, one of the better-preserved frescoes|
|arable lands, hills and river valley|
|the cypress-lined approach to the Abbey of San Galgano|
These Cistercians had a good business plan; they thrived for roughly a century, taking over the lands formerly belonging to the Benedictines, increasing their wealth and influence thanks to the patronage of emperors and kings, until even the Republic of Siena consolidated its ties with the monastery.
|the Abbey today: still massive after all these years|
Still, the monks reckoned without famine (1329), plague (1348), war and sacking by mercenaries. By 1474 the monks were forced to retire to Palazzo San Galgano in Siena, abandoning the monastery forever.
|the chapter house|
|a detail from the chapter house: imagine the former glory of the abbey itself|
Today there is something strangely attractive and even appropriate about this open-air abbey, at least on a clear, sunny, windy day with clouds moving rapidly across the sky above.
|one of the aisles|
|a scattering of aconites under the abbey's north wall|
|house which has become a chapel dedicated to the local saint|
What strikes one most about the old town is its austerity, its grey stone and brick buildings, steep, narrow passageways, steps going up and down at right-angles to one another, like an Escher drawing come to life.
|cypresses in the wind at San Galgano|