WALK, LOOK, LOVE: the Romitorio of Cetinale – There is a magnificent villa in the peaceful sienese countryside (contado senese). I could tell you that Flavio Chigi wanted this villa to be built to celebrate his uncle Fabio Chigi who had become Pope Alexander the seventh. I could tell you about the beautiful garden with its flower-beds bounded by low box hedges and full of lemon trees in their large terracotta pots. It is all interesting but… not today; today we are going walking in the woods.
The villa mentioned above is called Cetinale and it’s close to the small village of Ancaiano, a few kilometers from Siena. Located at the foot of the Montagnola Senese (lit. small mountain), we have to walk up its woody side to reach our destination: the Romitorio, a beautiful eighteenth century addition to the Cetinale. It’s a pity that neither the villa nor its garden are open for visiting today, but leaving the car near the villa we take a dusty or muddy road, depending on the weather, and we are able to reach the woods, that are very close.
The paths in the woods are well maintained and easy to follow. The woods are beautiful, composed mainly by dark holm-oak and emerald strawberry trees, both very common in this area.
After a while, we notice, on the right, a low stone wall that looks like a ruin. This is the encircling wall of an ancient park called ‘La Tebaide‘. Thebaid was an area of the Holy Land where many hermits retired in prayer and fast for God’s glory. The entrance is closed by an iron gate, but it would not be difficult to jump the low wall. Don’t worry, no one’s privacy will be disturbed if we enter.
The Tebaide is a spiritual wood. Like the hermits in the Holy Land, people came here looking for silence and peace. To be honest, the silence is all around us, so it doesn’t seem necessary to trespass
Going up for a little while, we see a tall building entirely made of bricks.
It is called the Romitorio, and it shows us an impressive façade with a huge Lorraine cross and holy figures inside five niches. It is so obviously a religious building that it seems useless to point it out.
It was made at the beginning of the XVIII century to house holy men who wanted to leave the mundane world and live in poverty and isolation. It’s quite isolated up here, and the world seems so far away, so unimportant!
I really love this place not only for its incredible tranquility, but also for the amazing view. Look around… Cetinale seems so small down there!
Beyond the villa there is a small paradise and to look at it is breathtaking. The colors will change according to the season. Brilliant green in Spring, dry yellow in Summer, bright yellow in autumn and dark brown or white in winter. Believe me, every season has its own peculiar beauty from up here. The Lorraine cross is facing the facade of the villa in harmonious symmetry. This is an amazing exemple of architecture.
The villa and the Romitorio were connected by a long staircase carved in the rock of the hill side. They were called ‘The Holy Stairs’ and today, they are still there like a gash through the wood. The steps are broken and rarely used, but we bravely attempt the way downhill. Careful now, one step at a time.
After a little while, we reach two small pillars marking the entrance to a surprise: a beautiful amphitheater that is part of the Cetinale ‘s garden. The amphitheater seems to open towards the ‘Holy Stairs’ and the Romitorio looming higher above.
A large boulevard runs from here to the inner garden of the villa. Many cypresses are ‘ guarding ‘ this passage like silent but watchful soldiers.
We cannot walk all the way to the villa, someone may complain that it’s private property. But the harmony of this place is so intense that I don’t really care about the villa anymore; I would like nothing better than to sit in the middle of this amphitheater and enjoy the sun, the rain, the wind and even the snow – this place seems such a blessed location to me.
To reach the car we pass by some rustic buildings well kept and probably still in use and we notice the coat of arms of the Chigi family. It is not easy to turn away from the silence and beauty of the place…today is one of those days when more than ever I feel very lucky to live nearby.
Hope you too will find the time to explore this magical place. We would love to know your thoughts and feelings about it once back.