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San Donato in Poggio, where florins were once exchanged for emotions

San Donato in Poggio, where florins
were once exchanged for emotions

28 August 2023

A tiny ancient world that teaches the art of harmony.

A gem encircled by old ramparts, this is the picture every traveller is presented with as the small medieval village of San Donato in Poggio comes into view as they journey along the ancient road of Via Cassia.
Perched on top of a hill, suspended between the valleys of Val di Pesa and Val d'Elsa, the village nestles amidst the green hues of this typical Chianti countryside setting, with its rolling hills alternating between dense sloping olive groves and endless rows of vines. In this enchanting land, stretching from Siena across to Florence, history is told through the plethora of medieval villages dotted across the landscape, where the inhabitants, over the centuries, have managed to preserve its testimonies almost perfectly intact.
And the village of San Donato in Poggio is no exception, whose historic centre, with its unique oval shape, is so small that it’s traversed by a single main street with many smaller streets and alleyways branching off. The walls, which still surround the village’s medieval heart, date back to the 12th century and are interrupted by two gates built to face towards the two major neighbouring Tuscan cities, hence their names: Porta Fiorentina and Porta Senese. But, undoubtedly, the most symbolic stretch of wall is that which houses the distinctive Torrino watchtower. The history of San Donato in Poggio is closely linked to that of its larger neighbours, Siena and Florence. However, its prominence increased when it became an important stop-off for anybody travelling along the road connecting Florence and Rome: it was in
San Donato that travellers would stop to exchange currency before arriving in Florence, or continuing on to Rome. As a result, the village saw an important tradition flourish in the Arte del Cambio, one of Florence's major arts and trades guilds.
Unfortunately, in 1260, following the Battle of Montaperti, during which the Florentine Guelphs were heavily defeated and the village of San Donato was sacked, the village lost its central role in the economy of that time. Fortunately, this difficult period in the village’s history didn’t taint the magical, relaxed aura that it still exudes today: thanks to its unique urban fabric and architecture, activities to develop and promote its heritage, its accessibility, the way the buildings harmonise with each other, and the vitality of its community, San Donato in Poggio has become recognised as one of the Borghi più Belli d'Italia (Italy's most beautiful villages).

Local cuisine, traditional dishes, interesting facts

It’s impossible to visit San Donato in Poggio, this iconic destination in the heart of the Chianti region, and not be won over by its distinctive flavours, from traditional dishes to the finest wines, which form an integral part of this village’s very essence. There are many special occasions that bring visitors flocking to the village, among them is the celebration for the feast of Corpus Christi which takes place on the first Sunday in June and includes the creation of the beautiful infiorata (carpets and pictures made of flowers). Everybody’s welcome to come and decorate the historic cobbled paving of the village's central street with colourful designs created from flower petals, leaves and coloured wood shavings: an extravaganza of colours and scents that bestow a truly unique atmosphere on the village.

Where to eat enjoing a bottle
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La Locanda di Pietracupa, San Donato in Poggio (FI)

The fortress with a gentle soul

After a leisurely stroll along Via del Giglio, the village’s main street, having admired the beautifully restored stone and brick buildings, you arrive in the central square of Piazza Malaspina. Here the visitor is presented with a unique octagonal-shaped well, below which sits an ancient reservoir whose size, extending the length and breadth of the entire square, is testament to the fact that this well was once the village’s only water source. The square is encircled by an array of majestic buildings: the imposing Palazzo Malaspina, which now plays host to many travelling exhibitions, the Santa Maria della Neve Gothic church, one of whose lateral naves overlooks the square, and the Palazzo Pretorio. Just outside the village stands the Pieve Romanica, a splendid example of Florentine Romanesque architecture which has been remarkably well maintained and boasts some uniquely beautiful interior décor and features, including a baptismal font by Della Robbia, dating back to 1513, and a triptych attributed to Giovanni del Biondo from 1375.

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Tuscany, between beauty and ancient history

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