Above: Pope Pius II as depicted by Renaissance Master Pinturicchio (1454–1513).
Montalcino was officially recognized as a city and made a bishopric in 1462 by Pope Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini). Like Siena, it was then divided into three districts: San Salvatore to the west; Sant’Angelo in Castelvecchio in the east; and Sant’Egidio to the south.
The earliest mention of the production of the costly sweet wine known as Moscadello can be dated back to 1348. It’s found in the minutes from a meeting of the council of Montalcino township. By 1472, it was being sold for 60 liras per soma (roughly 91 liters). At the time, ordinary wine cost 3 lire.
The road that led from Montalcino to Rome was a route that provided a clientele for quality wines.
The prosperous city of Montalcino also had an active Jewish community. There are documents that point to a presence of Jews there from the city’s origins through the fifteenth century.
It appears that their bank was located where the Farmacia Salvioni stands today. According to a document dated May 27, 1473, “the Bishop of Montalcino, by commission of Cardinal Filippo Calandrini, Portuense bishop and deputy of Pope Sixtus IV” absolved “seven officials from the community of Montalcino for having allowed Jews to lend money in the city and in his district.” They would have otherwise been excommunicated.
One of the most illustrious descendants of this community, whose members appear in various administrative acts of the city, was Nobel Prize laureate Rita Levi Montalcini. Her surname means literally “from Montalcino.”
In 1553, Giovanni Botti, a judge who had been tasked with reporting on Montalcino to the Holy See, wrote that he saw “very broad streets that had been paved except for Piazza del Mercato and the street that leads from the Hospital to Cervara gate and continues to Rome, which had been laid with brick… Good housing… and numerous workshops along the streets mentioned above where various artisans work.
Botti formulated twelve questions for ten of Montalcino’s leading citizens who were considered to be among the most knowledgeable on the city and its culture.
They responded saying that Montalcino was an industrious, productive city with “many artists, doctors, lawyers, and gentlemen who lived on their incomes. Many artisans of every type. Vines, olive groves, woods, and there is a presence of roughly 300 soldiers and 100 students.”
He described Monte Pio bank as having been founded using 12,000 scudi from the Spedale di Santa Maria della Croce. There were, he wrote, rooms “almost full with pawns, linens, wool, and jackets and every type of weapon” and there were “gold pawns in great quantity.”
In what is today’s Piazza del Popolo, there was a public market “that is held every Friday with many provisions to sell. And there was the beautiful Capitano di Giustizia where “the clock sounds the hours.”