The monks of Abbadia Isola truly performed an incredible feat when they reclaimed the marsh that once stretched between the abbey and the fort of Monteriggioni. Unhealthy airs gave way to a cultivable plain right next to the Via Francigena, along one of the road’s most beautiful stretches. Along the way, the songs of birds and the rustling of woods still accompany the visitor on an exciting and enchanting stroll.
But another plain extends today where, up until the eighteenth century, the Verano Lake stood, reclaimed after a culvert was built in an act of incredible engineering for the times, commissioned by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo. The woods, known in antiquity as the "Selva del Lago", bear the memory of that marshy past, which once welcomed hermitages and hermits retiring into the forest for a life of contemplation. Eremo di San Leonardo al Lago with its frescoed apse is still the subject of religious and secular admiration today.
Life in the woods in these areas didn’t just appeal to religious folk. The legends say the Countess Ava Lambardi, founder of the Abbadia Isola, was also attracted to the wild life. The legend handed down the generations and still maintained today says she loved to spend her days with her seven handmaids in the forest, meeting magicians, pilgrims, monks and hermits. It is said that in one glance, she could solve the problems of those she met, which is why Ava is now patron of the woods, as well as its people.
Naturally the stories of the Countess Montemaggio are set in a mysterious era, just like the Middle Ages in popular imagination. It’s why we relive medieval times every year in July during the magical Festa Medievale, held inside the historic fort of Monteriggioni. The powerful 13th century walls happily embrace all who come to visit and join the ladies, knights, jugglers, fakirs and swallowers as we journey back into the mystery of the Middle Ages.
The walls and towers of the fort of Monteriggioni give life to a singular crown form, the expression of perfect harmony between the building and the gentle hill on which it rests. In the past, however, the sight of these walls must have been terrible for the Florentine soldiers who were preparing to besiege it, so much so that Dante in Canto XXXI of Inferno likened the towers to "horrible giants". Today the walls of Monteriggioni remain impressive. Built by the Republic of Siena in the 13th century, they were finally conquered in the 16th century by enemy Florence after resisting numerous sieges.