In Abbadia San Salvatore, on Amiata Mount – Siena area, Tuscany, Italy – there is a magical and capturing place. You find it on the ancient abbey church. It is a crypt, where you may breath the history and the beauty of one of the most fascinating Tuscany village.
According the documents, the crypt was built in VIII Century. It was restored in XX Century and now we may admire it in all its beauty. Everytime I have the way to visit it, I always feel astonished by its magic. It happened again a few days ago, when I was in Abbadia SS. for the XIII edition of “Penne and Video Sconosciuti”, the national festival for school journals and videos produced by italian schools.
The Longobard crypt shows 32 columns that form 13 small aisles. They are made in various shapes; some of them are round, with different sculpured ornaments. Also the beautiful capitals are sculptured in various shapes, as palm leaves, loto flowers or animal heads.
The abbey and all the Medieval centreare telling us how Abbadia San Salvatore was important in the past. All its area is rich in history and traditions, that to a great extent can be found in documents in the old archive belonging to the monastery dedicated to the Saviour at Amiata Mount. The archive contains many references to the importance and power of the abbey, but little or no reference is made to the early Medieval history of the surrounding land and area, or about the people who used to live there.
The castle of Abbadia is first mentioned in a document dating to 1203, which shows that the community was came under the aegis of a communal hierarchy headed by a Podestà, under the political control of Orvieto. A few years later, the strenght and power of this communal organization are described in the “bill of freedom” (“carta delle libertà”) granted in 1212 to communal chancellors by the Abbot of the San Salvatore monastery.
The pattern of settlements in the area of Abbadia was defined around the mid-XII Century, when under the pressure of external threats, the local population, up until then scattered over the surrounding countryside, came together within one large fortified settlement.
This Benedectine monastery was founded by Erfo, a Longobard nobleman, in the VIII Century, under King Astolfo, and it was dedicated to the Saviour, which was typical of that people and in the tradition of christian religion. It rose on the east side of Amiata Mount in order to reclaim the surrounding woods and forests. It also overlooked the Via Francigena, running through the Paglia Valley.
The imperial abbey greatly developed in the Carolingian period thanks to Charlemagne‘s and Ludovick‘s confirmation of its landed propertues and privileges, Around the year 1000, under Abbot Winizo, it increased its power by acquiring new territories. The church and the crypt were rebuilt in 1036. In 1228 the monastery passed to the Cistercians. It was suppressed by grand-duke Pietro Leopoldo in 1782 and re-opened later.
In the year 1087, a certain Miciarello and his wife Gualdrada made a donation in favour of the monastery of St Saviour. Below the donation document, the notary Ranieri signed three verses, commonly known as “Cartula Amiatina” (“The Amiata Footnote”). This extemporary poem represents to linguists the first voice of vernacular coming from Tuscany. That is, the first expressions recording the evolution of the Italian language.
But this is not the only important document about Amiata History. Till XIX Century, the monastery hosted the famous “Bibbia Amiatina” – “The Amiata Bible” – which is considered the oldest latin version ever known. The Amiata Bible – a real art masterpiece, written by amanuensis monks – is now kept in Florence, but we may see a photo-reproduction in the Monastery Museum.
The historical centre is a well kept fortress-village, where you may walk through incredible narrow streets and squares, all built with the local grey stone. You may admire the Servadio Theatre (1873), a tiny but fascinating place. It was built thanks to the initiative of the Carli and Gragnoli families; it is dedicated to Giacomo Servadio (XIX Century) a Florentine member of Italian Parliament, banker, musician and theatre producer. Between the end of XIX Century and the beginning of the XX, the building was the seat of a friendly Society of the workers of Abbadia, where in XIX Century quicksilver mines began their activities, now closed and presented in a museum.
By ROBERTO ALBORGHETTI