The following post has been translated and adapted from an article on the history of Montalcino’s fortress and castle settlement by Bruno Bottacci. It originally appeared in 2007 in the “Gazzettino e Storie di Montalcino e del Brunello,” a broadsheet journal published by Fattoria dei Barbi in the 2000s. This is the first of three posts culled from Bottacci’s piece.
The Construction of Montalcino’s Castle
Today, we are no longer bound by fanciful speculation as to the ancient origins of Montalcino. Thanks to recently published research on early fortified settlements in central and southern Italy and the “pace and geography of the expansion of monastic holdings,” it is realistic to date the birth of Montalcino no later than the 10th century C.E.
It was the monastery of Sant’Antimo that founded a settlement with the aim of populating territory given to it in 814 by Louis the Pious. Those lands correspond to the current-day township of Montalcino.
The historical phenomenon of the construction of fortified settlements coincides with the transfer in ownership of the property to the local signoria, a change that came about with the break-down of centralized power in the 10th century. At the time, there were also groups of people “whose destiny depended on local elites, bishops, or monasteries” who had served as leaders in building settlements.
It’s important to remember that the number of castles in Tuscany grew at breakneck speed during the second half of the 10th century, reaching a total of 124 castles. The expansion of abbey-castles during this period reflected a general demographic renewal and an economic recovery “connected to the intense development of lands and populating of deserted areas.” There was also an expansion of military capabilities that either preceded or went hand-in-hand with economic development.
Unfortunately, many details regarding the genesis of the settlement at Montalcino, the wooded mountain known as Monte Lueini, bequeathed in 814, are unknown. We do know, however, that the early-Christian parish title of San Vito “in Pruniano” (i.e., Pievecchia) was transferred to the castle of Montalcino in 992. This came about as Pope John XV called on Abbot Boso to erect a baptistery in the church of Santissimo Salvatore in what is modern-day Montalcino.
As to the distribution of the new presence of people there, the first to settle there did so below the northeast side of the hill where the land is uneven. In the 12th century, this area was given the name Castelvecchio. It’s the same area where the church of San Marco was bequeathed to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, together with the parish of Santissimo Salvatore, by Holy Roman Emperor Henry III on July 7, 1057.
As Oxford professor of medieval history Chris Wickham has shown, settlements during this period tended to be established above or near to the highest edge of the land used for farming. This made it easy for shepherds to access grasslands and the woods where lumber could be collected. It also made it easier for men to reach all the fields around the settlement.