Tuscany is undoubtedly the land of castles. The combination of a turbulent history of contending city states and marauding foreign armies with a ready supply of stone and stone masons has produced a huge number of picturesque Tuscan castles – fortresses, walled hamlets, fortified abbeys and towers in Tuscany. The amazing variety of fortified stone structures in Tuscany, the great majority of them dating from the end of mediaeval times, makes a drive through the Tuscan countryside or a visit to any Tuscan hilltop town a fascinating journey through history – and a photographers’ paradise.
During the turbulent early days of the Renaissance, many Tuscan villas were, in effect, fortresses in which the ruling families and the aristocracy (not the same thing, in Tuscany) and their supporters could feel safe in the event of popular uprisings, attacks from other factions and even invasion by other cities states or armies from outside the Italian peninsula. The early Medici villas are, for the most part, classic examples of fortified villas, along with the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, essentially a Medici creation, the most impressive of them all.
One example among hundreds of rural Tuscan castles is the Castello di Spedaletto, located in the Val d’Orcia near that splendid humanist creation, the town of Pienza and set amongst the famous vineyards of Montalcino and Montepulciano. This Tuscan castle began life in the 12 C when Ugolino da Rocchione built it as a hospice (spedale – hence the name of the castle) for the pilgrims and travellers passing along Via Francigena, among them Charles II and Pope Pius II. The original spedale was expanded in the 15 C into a square castle with crenelated towers, a splendid fortified portal and a typical Tuscan tower. Inside the courtyard there is a Gothic chapel with magnificent façade decorated with a rose-window and an arched doorway. The Castello di Spedaletto is now a farmhouse that offers accommodation for tourists (an agriturismo).
More about the castles of Tuscany.