The hilltop town of Montepulciano is renowned worldwide for its excellent wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano, and for the attractions nearby in the Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia, yet sadly largely underestimated for its art and architecture.
In Montepulciano various steep streets lead maze-like from Porta al Prato to the main square of Piazza Grande. Along the way are quaint bottegas with their souvenirs, wines or foccaccias in the shop windows. On the route, if you’re on Via del Poggiolo and pass in front of Vicolo dell’Amore, Love Lane, you’ll chance on the redbrick Convent of St Francis. Originally built in the 13th-century, the convent was enlarged during the 17th century, however, the original entrance is still identifiable. Further ahead, in Via Ricci, is the 14th-century Palazzo Neri Orselli, the seat of the Civic Museum. On four floors, the museum conceals within a beautiful courtyard with loggia and well. Inside the museum you can admire the Etruscan and Roman findings dug up during the last century in nearby Acquaviva, some Della Robbia terracottas and paintings belonging above all to the 17th and 18th century.
Arriving in Piazza Grande, you’ll be received by a 360° backdrop which entirely epitomizes the charm of Montepulciano’s architecture. Outlining the square on all sides are buildings of incredible beauty and prestige. On one side sits the travertine clad Palazzo Nobili-Tarugi, built at the beginning of the 16th-century by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder. On the other side of the square, on top of a flight of steps, is the monumental Cathedral of Montepulciano, Santa Maria dell’Assunta. Built between 1586 and 1680 on a project by Ippolito Scalza, the building stands on the site of the ancient parish of St. Mary of which the massive travertine and brick bell tower still survives today. Inside, among the various masterpieces preserved, there is a massive triptych, Assumption of the Virgin, painted in 1401 by Taddeo di Bartolo, the terracotta Lily Altar (1512 ca.) by Andrea della Robbia and the white Carrara marble tomb of Bartolomeo Aragazzi built by Michelozzo Michelozzi between 1427 and 1436, of which two angels today are to be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum of London.
Sitting between them, on a third side, is the Palazzo Comunale, town hall, bearing an incredible resemblance to Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. This was exactly the will of Cosimo I de’ Medici who had Michelozzo Michelozzi restore a pre-existing palace from 1424 to 1440. Whereas the ground floor of the building is covered in bossage, the rest of the façade is clad in travertine. The terrace is surrounded by Guelph merlon and can be visited, admission by ticket only. Facing the town hall is the Renaissance Palazzo Contucci, seat of the homonymous winery.
Antonio da Sangallo the Elder may have built the lovely Palazzo Nobili-Tarugi but what is considered his most finest existing work as an architect lies just outside Montepulciano. It is the church of San Biagio, whose colossal dome is the first landmark to welcome visitors on arriving to Montepulciano. The church is a Greek cross plan with its exterior covered by travertine slabs. The construction lasted until 1580, well after Sangallo’s death. Today, San Biagio is a favourite wedding location for foreigners wishing to tie the knot in Tuscany. Certainly the church offers a breathtaking backdrop, as well as view, for this special event.
Further down the road, in the valley, lies the hamlet of Acquaviva, part of the commune of Montepulciano. Here in 1957 was discovered the remains of an ancient Roman building and many of these findings, together with other Etruscan finds are, as aforementioned, preserved in the Civic Museum of Montepulciano. Nearby, surrounded by gently rolling hills covered with precious Vino Nobile vineyards and olive groves, lies a holiday complex made out of former redbrick farm houses. There are various types and sizes of flats to meet all requests, each with its own garden, outdoor furniture and barbecue, and two swimming pools. Certainly the perfect place to enjoy a holiday immersed in peace and quiet next to a precious pearl such as Montepulciano.