The Tuscan Abbey without a Roof

San Galgano abbey no roof

Some road works seem to take forever to be completed… Have you ever had that feeling? This is the case with the still unfinished Superstrada 223 linking Siena to the city of Grosseto and my beloved Maremma, a highway which was already under construction when I moved to Italy to start working at the Brolio winery…two decades ago!

Always very busy during the high season, this road was nonetheless jammed a few weeks ago when I was driving on it in the middle of an ordinary weekday of January. Since I was in no particular hurry, I decided to forsake the “speedway” to take a secondary road, a very scenic one, and make a detour via Monticiano. On the way, I remembered that I would be driving past the superb San Galgano abbey, which I had not seen for many years. An abbey without a roof!

Here’s the story… Built in the 13th century by the Cistercian monks, the San Galgano monastery soon became, after its completion, a key religious center in Tuscany. Made of travertine stone and Sienese bricks, it is a little marvel of gothic architecture. At the end of the 18th century, however, a lightning bolt smote the bell tower and made the roof collapse. A roof which has never been rebuilt since.

After visiting the abbey, walk up the trail leading to the nearby Pieve di Montesiepi, a beautiful countryside church with a striking rotunda. Another jewel of medieval architecture. From the top of the hill, you will be able to enjoy a breathtaking view of San Galgano and the surrounding valley.

From April to October, the San Galgano abbey is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm (8 pm on Sundays and holidays). From November to March, the hours are 9:30 am to 5:30 pm (6:30 pm on Sundays and holidays). Entrance is 2€, but free for children under 6 years and disabled visitors. The Montesiepi church is open daily from 9 am to sunset, and admission is free. A mass is held there every Sunday morning at 11:30 am.

If you can, take advantage of the quiet of winter, as I did, to avoid the larger crowds of the high season!

Katharina's Italy

  • ET

    You forgot to mention “The Sword in the Stone” as one of the major attractions in the adjacent building at San Galgano.

    • Katharina

      Ah, I will look into this. Thank you for mentioning this!

      • ET

        “The Sword in the Stone” is located in the building next to the Cathedral. I think it’s a roundish building. It functions as a museum. There is a whole myth/legend that surrounds this: the original Monk, if memory serves, was from a wealthy, noble family, who gave up all material possessions to live like a hermit. The animals befriended him and (again, if memory serves, he was saved from harm by a Wolf). The real question is whether The Sword in the Stone at San Galgano predates the English Excalibur Legend. If it does, then you know from whence Excalibur was derived. I don’t know why the Italians don’t make this more of a tourist attraction. I know they have concerts inside the roofless Cathedral in the summer because the acoustics are excellent.

        Finally, when we visited San Galgano with my cousin from Siena around 2004, it was a sultry September day with intermittent thunderstorms which always seemed to follow us. We found parking with some difficulty and then joined the line of “Pilgrims” winding our way upward towards the museum building housing “The Sword in the Stone” of San Galgano. We were dressed in decent clothing with my good Echo leather slip on shoes and spent over an hour traversing the wet earth and mud “steps” and finally arrived at the museum building. When we got there, my wife and cousin (a smoker) were sweaty and dirty and sort of tired. When we finished in the museum (and gift shop, of course), they wanted me to get the car and pick them up. We quickly realized that we could have driven the car right up to the museum in about 30 seconds and (I think) parked the car. But, then, our “Pilgrimage” would not have included the proper amount of “suffering.”

        • Katharina

          Thank you ET, this is very interesting. I must go back soon.

      • ET

        I e-mailed some info on San Galgano and “The Sword in the Stone” to your e-mail address The info is from Wikipedia. There is much information about San Galgano that can be derived with some Google Internet searching.


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