… Castel del Piano to the beauty of the place, for the convenience of its position… it is without a doubt the first among those who stand near it. It is watered by limpid sources and surrounded by a perennial stream of water. Its name was given to it by the fertile plain it sits on, which extends about a mile with its leafy trees, sunny meadows and cultivated fields… (Pope Pius II)
Castel del Piano sits on what can only be described as a natural paradise. Fields of chestnuts and beeches compete for you attention with rivers of spring water that ebb and flow into the catchments serving Grosseto and Siena. Literally overrun by the vast and endless stretches of olive groves, vineyards, fruit trees and mountain forests, Castel del Piano is hard to believe. It’s a town so in touch with the environment that it blends with it perfectly and seamlessly. Although signs of a Paleolithic or Neolithic civilisation have been found in the territory, the town’s most concrete roots sit firmly in the Middle Ages and the era of the Abbazia del Monte Amiata. It was this powerful abbey that began building the churches that would soon earn Castel del Piano the nickname Città delle Chiese (City of the Churches). The town has no less than eight different places of worship from grand churches to more humble chapels and convents.
A late Renaissance building (inspired by Vignola), it was commissioned in 1490 and has to be hands down Castel del Piano’s most splendid church, despite the fact that its current facade and the bell tower (a project of the painter and architect Horace Imberciadori) were only completed in 1870. Outside, the pediment is characterized by the image of God and angels and in the niches are statues of San Pietro, San Paulo, San Vicenzo Ferrer and San Niccolo, as well as the coats of arms of the Municipality, the Medici and the Savoy. The exquistely coloured fresco inside this church was painted by Francis Notari and depicts “la gloria d’angeli e colomba dello Spirito Santo, San Giuseppe, Sant’Aloisio” in the first field, “Cristo nella mandorla, Sant’Anna e Sant’Isidoro” in the second field and “San Vincenzo Ferrer, San Nicola e Santa Lucia” on the arch leading to the sanctuary. It is a sight to behold and quite simply too beautiful to describe is such a short space!! In comparison, the paintings that adorn the interior seem almost inferior to the perfectly conserved fresco piece. However, there are some 17th-18th century works by renowned painters Francesco and Guiseppe Nasini, as well as a magnificient 19th century organ. Madonna Nativity Church
Built in the Renaissance style, this church stands out from the rest thanks to its striking facade, made entirely out of peperine – a brown or grey tufo rock embedded with fragments of basalt, limestone and various crystals. Castel del Piano commissioned the church during the first years of the 16th century. If you look really close at one of the exterior walls, you can see a small inscription and niche said to have been used for the “collection of obols at the ransom of Christian slaves” (1656). Inside are two works by Francesco Nasini – the ‘Madonna del Carmine’ and the ‘Madonna del Rosario con Santa Caterina da Siena, San Domenico, San Francesco d’Assisi e Papa Pio V’ – both of which date back to the 17th century. On the left wall, sits the 19th century adaptation of the ‘Immacolata Concezione’ by Castel del Piano artists Anna Mosses and Alessandro Teerlink, as well as a copy of a painting by Spanish painter Murillo – the original is currently on display at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The church’s magnificent 18th century central altar is adorned by a gold inlaid tablet by Sano di Pietro (15th century) and also portrays the Immaculate Conception. This tablet is so beautiful that there are various copies of it around the world. One is at the Museum of Art in El Paso in Texas, another at the Vatican, this time painted by Joachim Sorbelli in the 18th century, and another at the Palazzo Nerucci in Castel del Piano, copied by Francesco Nasini. Madonna delle Grazie Church
Don’t let the pretty face and steadfast appreciation for religion fool you though! Castel del Piano has a wild side too- it’s home to the Maremma’s only palio, a palio that rivals the one held in Siena. Known as the Palio delle Contrade, this fast and dangerous horse race is held in honour of the Madonna delle Grazie and sees the four districts of Castel del Piano - Borgo, Storte, Monumento and Poggio – skillfully compete to win some highly coverted prizes. IL PALIO