Santa Maria a Monte seems designed to represent the kind of medieval Tuscan village that lives in the collective imagination. Just one street winds through the town, forming a fascinating spiral as it twists up the hill. The houses, some of which are adorned with colourful facades, lean against one another. Looking at it from afar, it seems as if the hill that the town sits on is topped by a regal crown.
The largest and most priceless gem here is the archeological area at the fortress, the highest and oldest part of the village, built as a strategic stronghold and bringing visitors on a journey to the past as they gaze at the incredible view down below. But there’s more to this place than what meets the eye: in addition to the impressive sites Santa Maria a Monte has to offer, there’s an underground city waiting to be explored, comprised of tunnels leading from one part of the town to the other, probably meant for military purposes originally. These galleries dug into the tuff rock correspond to the medieval defense walls, allowing the town to be accessed without running any risks. Given the presence of some cisterns in the area, another hypothesis includes the possibility of the tunnels being used for water storage.
The historic centre is home to the Collegiate Church of San Giovanni Evangelista and the Palazzo Pretorio, along with the latter’s bell tower. The church dates to the mid-1300s and conserves important artworks, like a wooden crucifix from the 14th century, the pulpit and the baptismal font by Domenico Rosselli. The clock tower was originally part of the defense system for the second set of walls, but it was later transformed into a civic tower and equipped with a clock during the town’s period as a commune. Today, it houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to the seasons and rural life, with paintings by the artist Giovanni Aiello and tools for working in the fields.
Santa Maria a Monte also has two additional museums. As a tribute to the town’s patron saint, there’s the “Beata Diana Giuntini” Civic Museum, dedicated to her life. Santa Maria a Monte was also home to another important figure, who lived here in his youth: the poet Giosuè Carducci. Today, the house he lived in with his family has been turned into a museum, made even more interesting thanks to works by the artist Antonio Possenti, which provide a pictorial portrait of the poet, depicting his most beautiful poems.
Santa Maria a Monte also has numerous hamlets: among the inhabited centers located in the surrounding area, San Donato, Ponticelli, Montecalvoli and Cerretti are among the inhabited centers in the surrounding area most worthy of mention.
Not far from Santa Maria a Monte is Pisa, the city of the Leaning Tower. Millions of people come here every year from every corner of the world to admire the artistic treasures of Piazza dei Miracoli, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
The Sagra della Patata Fritta is held in August. The event offers the chance to enjoy summer evenings outdoors with a menu based on local potatoes. There are also food stands, an organic market and local products; it’s an unmissable opportunity to discover the village’s cultural riches.
Being an area traditionally suitable for this particular sort of cultivation, Santa Maria a Monte’s potatoes (also called the Tosca), are very adaptable, a quality that makes them optimal for all sorts of culinary preparations (such as soups, pies, omelettes and ravioli).